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IronHead
01-27-2007, 16:26
Today I was talking PVW with the owner of a local liquor store. We got to discussing the Lawrenceburg vs. Frankfort bottlings and he told me something that, if it is true, pretty much blows the whole PVW mystique for me. According to this fellow the PVW brands are nothing more than barrels that are purchased from active distilleries and bottled under the PVW label. I was under the impression that perhaps Buffalo Trace (who I believe now handles the bottling of the PVW line) would be producing a Bourbon following traditions and formulas handed down to generations of Van Winkles.

Now, I am not so naive to think that EVERY brand of Bourbon out of Kentucky can be individually distilled what with there only being somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 active distilleries producing the Bourbon made here. I know that hand selecting barrels under the same roof and bottling them with different labels is a common practice. But for some reason I had thought that with the Van Winkle labels, with their price tags and the mystique it would be different.

Anyone with some time and knowledge care to help shed some light on this for me? Or at least point me to a former thread that may cover it.

Str8RYE
01-27-2007, 20:09
The PVW 15,20,and 23 is filled with one of the most wonderful Bourbon's ever. They are hand picked from casks of OLD Stitzel-Weller bourbon. Julian Van Winkle III family owned the distillery until 1972 and it was closed in 1992. IMHO the whole point of the PVW line is to get us Bourbon nuts some S-W bourbon before it's gone. The ORVW 10 and Lot B 12yo are Bernheim and Buffalo Trace Wheat-ed bourbon.

The price tags reflect LONG GONE bourbon. What you drink in the PVW 15-23 WILL NEVER BE MADE LIKE THAT AGAIN!!! Thats why it's so special. I hope this helps you enjoy it for what it is. One-of-a-kind bourbon..

TNbourbon
01-27-2007, 21:37
Further, the ORVW 10s and Special Reserve Lot B originally were Stitzel-Weller, too. But, do the math -- S-W's closure in 1992 plus 10 or 12 years gets you to 2002 and 2004. Since those years, Julian has used whiskey from other distilleries which match those bottlings' existing taste profiles. In the meantime, Buffalo Trace IS distilling wheated bourbon using the traditional VW recipe, but it hasn't aged to match the bottlings yet.

OscarV
01-28-2007, 07:03
How does today's PVW 20yo compare to VVOF of the S-W releases?

cowdery
01-28-2007, 08:48
The "deal" with Van Winkle is that when the family sold the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1972, it was being run by "our" Julian's father. In the deal, he retained all rights to the Old Rip Van Winkle brand (which was the only "Van Winkle" bottling at the time), and either explicitly or by implication rights to any future use of the Van Winkle name. He also got a bulk whiskey purchase agreement from them and almost immediately began to bottle Stitzel-Weller whiskey under the Van Winkle name. He also did other private label bottlings, primarily with Stitzel-Weller whiskey. He also was able to secure distribution from most of the distributors who had been his customers when he ran Stitzel-Weller, which was a huge leg-up for someone trying to start up as an independent bottler.

Julian III ("our" Julian) soon joined him in the business, which they ran out of the old Hoffman Distillery. They had rack houses and a bottling line. It was never a big business. They, the father and son, were the only full-time employees. They had a part time bookkeeper and a group of women they would call in to work whenever they needed to bottle something. They also did contract bottling for other independents.

All along, most of the whiskey they used was Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon, but especially during the "whiskey glut" of the 1980s, they also bought the odd stock of "orphaned" barrels from defunct distilleries, but if the bottle had the Van Winkle name on it, it almost always was Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon inside.

Stitzel-Weller itself went through several different owners after the Van Winkles sold it and came eventually to be owned by what is now Diageo, which shut down the distillery in 1992. Of course, that left a lot of whiskey in the pipeline so for many years thereafter, very little changed. If it said "Van Winkle" on the label, it almost always was Stitzel-Weller whiskey inside.

When what-is-now-Diageo closed Stitzel-Weller, it did so because it had just built a new distillery at the Bernheim site. They continued to make wheated bourbon there.

Meanwhile, at Van Winkle, Julian's son, Preston, had joined the business and both wanted to keep it going, but the Stitzel-Weller whiskey was running out. What's more, when Diageo sold the Weller and Fitzgerald brands to Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill, they sold all of their wheated bourbon stocks too, both the remaining Stitzel-Welller whiskey, and whatever had been made to that point at Bernheim. Diageo was getting out of the American straight whiskey business for the most part, and definitely out of the wheated bourbon business.

That was the tipping point for Julian's business.

I'm sure Julian bought as much Stitzel-Weller whiskey at that point as he could afford to do, but most of it went to BT and HH. If he wanted to have access to it, he would need to throw in with one of them and it was BT.

Now if there had been a huge amount of Stitzel-Weller whiskey, between what he had and what BT had, there would have been nothing to prevent him from continuing to maintain every Van Winkle label with Stitzel-Weller whiskey, as there is nothing to prevent someone from selling whiskey older than ten years old in a bottle marked ten years, for example. But there was not a huge amount. That's when the Old Rip 15 year old was converted to Pappy 15. For people like us who care about such things, Julian let it be known that he would use the remaining Stitzel-Weller whiskey in the Pappy line, and the Old Rip line would be Bernheim whiskey and, eventually, Buffalo Trace whiskey.

As for whether or not the Family Reserve was or is Stitzel, I think it is. I don't think any of that is Bernheim, despite the "math," but I could be wrong.

There was a lot made when the Van Winkles hooked up with BT that they were going to make wheated bourbon the Van Winkle way, but BT was already making wheated bourbon and I think most of that was fluff. I certainly haven't heard of anything concrete that changed when the Van Winkles came on board. The still at Stitzel-Weller is unique, designed specifically to make wheated bourbon. The stills at Bernheim and Buffalo Trace are making both wheated and rye recipe bourbon.

So, Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon is a finite resource. There is still a fair amount of it in barrels and in "dusty" bottles out there in the world, but someday it will all be gone.

Obviously, the Pappy that is being bottled now and the Van Winkles bottled in recent years have been from the last decade or so of production at Stitzel-Weller. Most bottles of the perhaps-now-too-legendary Very Very Old Fitzgerald that I have had or seen were made from whiskey distilled before the sale in 1972 or not long after it. Stitzel-Weller didn't change much in the 20 years after the Van Winkle family sold it, but I don't think any of the later stuff quite equalled the VVOF.

For example, when they first came out with the Very Special Old Fitzgerald, it was 12-year-old Stitzel-Weller whiskey, just like VVOF, but it wasn't the same.

But, that said, even lesser barrels of late-period Stitzel-Weller whiskey are terrific and well worth having, even if they aren't comparable to the distillery's all time best. I have been telling people for years to buy all of it that they can and I have tried to follow my own advice to the limits of my modest resources. Also, Julian has tended to be that exemplar of an independent bottler in that he has very high standards and won't put his name on anything that is less than excellent. That alone should keep knowledgeable American whiskey buyers trusting the Van Winkle name for many years to come.

tango-papa
01-28-2007, 10:34
The "deal" with Van Winkle is...

Stitzel-Weller itself went through several different owners after the Van Winkles sold it... If it said "Van Winkle" on the label, it almost always was Stitzel-Weller whiskey inside.

Now if there had been a huge amount of Stitzel-Weller whiskey, between what he had and what BT had, there would have been nothing to prevent him from continuing to maintain every Van Winkle label with Stitzel-Weller whiskey, as there is nothing to prevent someone from selling whiskey older than ten years old in a bottle marked ten years, for example. But there was not a huge amount. That's when the Old Rip 15 year old was converted to Pappy 15. For people like us who care about such things, Julian let it be known that he would use the remaining Stitzel-Weller whiskey in the Pappy line, and the Old Rip line would be Bernheim whiskey and, eventually, Buffalo Trace whiskey.

As for whether or not the Family Reserve was or is Stitzel, I think it is. I don't think any of that is Bernheim, despite the "math," but I could be wrong.

So, Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon is a finite resource. There is still a fair amount of it in barrels and in "dusty" bottles out there in the world, but someday it will all be gone.

Obviously, the Pappy that is being bottled now and the Van Winkles bottled in recent years have been from the last decade or so of production at Stitzel-Weller...

But, that said, even lesser barrels of late-period Stitzel-Weller whiskey are terrific and well worth having, even if they aren't comparable to the distillery's all time best...
Also, Julian has tended to be that exemplar of an independent bottler in that he has very high standards and won't put his name on anything that is less than excellent. That alone should keep knowledgeable American whiskey buyers trusting the Van Winkle name for many years to come.

Chuck,

First, please accept my sincere thanks for (always) sharing what I find to be fantastic and useful information - your post above is, IMO, priceless. This board, and some of its members have been most helpful in my new-found love of Bourbon. My primary focus right now is older WT bottlings and, of course, all things S-W and Van Winkle with S-W! If not for you and (specifically) Randy (aka: doubleblank), I wouldn't know which VW bottlings were which when it comes to S-W whiskey inside.

And, if I might add, for those interested...
ORVW 10 year/107 proof bottles with the L'burg address on the back are S-W whisky vs. the Frankfort bottles which are not - but it's really good stuff as well!!! My thanks to Randy (doubleblank) for that bit of very useful information :cool: !

Second, I just purchased your book :bowdown: and really look forward to increasing my Bourbon knowledge - thanks!

~tp

OscarV
01-28-2007, 13:04
Chuck,.... I see now. Thanks for lining it up for me.
I am finally hooking up names and places with brands.
Your post was most imformative, and I appreciate it for both the facts and your opinions.

But now I want to try VVOF even more.

IronHead
01-28-2007, 14:00
Mr. Cowdery,

Wow. Thank you for such an informative answer to my question.

I couldn't tell you which bottlings I have sampled, but I have had the PVW 15, 20 and 23. All of which I thought were excellent. However, with my "limited resources" I like to be very picky about which bottles I add to my collection seeing as how I am more than likely only going to be buying one bottle. Certainly that holds true with Bourbons that carry a price tag like the PVW 20 and 23.

As someone who enjoys Bourbon, but knows precious little about the "who, what and when" of it I came away from yesterday's conversation feeling as though perhaps I shouldn't waste my money on a PVW bottling. It seemed probable that I could get the same stuff under another, possibly cheaper label, especially since I am not in the position to buy a bourbon solely with the intent of selling or trading it later down the line.

I appreciate your taking the time to answer my question in such detail. Now, with that being said I think my next purchases are going to be something from the PVW line...and your book.