Pappy is rich in lore, scandal, and history, too. The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery started off in the late 1800s when Julian Van Winkle, a salesman with W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale bought the house and then the distillery that made whiskey for Weller -- A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. In the early 1920s, while most spirit producers were closing shop during Prohibition, Van Winkle got a stranglehold on the booze biz by nabbing one of just six US permits to produce medicinal whiskey. (Because remember kids, bourbon cures.) So, when Prohibition ended in 1933, Van Winkle had the kind of back stock needed to create an aged bourbon whiskey. And others had none.
By 1935, Van Winkle had created Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which he opened on Derby Day and continued to run until his death 1965, at which point Julian Van Winkle Jr. took over. They made W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still whiskeys as they went. But in 1972, like a feud straight out of Dallas, family members who were shareholders forced Julian Jr. to sell. Uncowed, he turned around, resurrected a pre-Prohibition label -- Old Rip Van Winkle -- and began making new bourbon with whiskey stock he’d squirreled away during the sale of Stitzel-Weller.