Have you ever found a book that you didn’t know you needed to read until you read it?
The other day, I was browsing through my Amazon recommendations when I ran across a great suggestion: Sally Van Winkle’s But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, This book, originally published in 1999, is the story of the Van Winkle family and distillery, as told by a granddaughter of the original Pappy, Julian P. Van Winkle. Ms. Van Winkle provides a fascinating account of her own family’s association with the bourbon-making; in the process, she paints a vivid portrait of both the distillery industry and life as Louisville bourbon royalty.
There's plenty to learn about the old days of distilleries, and Ms. Van Winkle provides a good overview, recalling the days when the Master Distiller took a little bit of the company's proprietary yeast blend home at night, in case some tragedy befell the still. The family's commitment to the art of bourbon-making shines through in the anecdotes and recollections that make up much of the story.
Revised in the mid-2000s, But Always Fine Bourbon follows the Van Winkle family from patriarch Pappy's first job as a salesman for the Stitzel Weller Distillery through Julian III's creation of the Pappy Van Winkle label. As Pappy rose from sales to the president's seat at Stitzel Weller, his name became synonymous with Old Fitzgerald bourbon. Mad Men fans will love the stories of old school business meetings and cocktail parties, while bourbon fans will cheer for the rise of the premium, wheated blends for which the Van Winkle family is famous. Those of us who are simply in love with Kentucky will be fascinated by the stories of distillery families sticking together -- Ms. Van Winkle passes along tales of her father and grandfather helping out "Uncle" Owsley Brown and Bill Samuels when times got lean for each of the storied distillers.
If you haven't already, pick this one up. Collectors' copies run as high as $50, or you can find it in the Kindle store for a quick read. Cheers!