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Join us October 8 for the Bourbon Salon at Oxmoor Farm: Women Distillers

I was still working for United Distillers when Sally Van Winkle Campbell started to research this book. Sally enlisted the aid of her friend and local historian, the late Sam Thomas, to help her do the research and the pair came to visit me at the United Distillers Archive. They spent an afternoon looking at the files created by her grandfather in the 1920s and 30s. Her dedication to getting the research done really comes through in this book. It is not just about family stories – there are many of those – but also about the history of the brand Old Fitzgerald and the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. This is a book that should be in every whiskey lover’s library.

But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, by Sally Van Winkle Campbell. Louisville: Limestone Lane Press, 1999. Contents, Preface, Illustrations. Pp.211.

Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle played an important part in the history of 20th-century distilling. He entered the business in the late 19th century as a salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons and continued in the industry until his death on 16 February 1965. Early in the 20th century he and Alex Farnsley gained control of W.L. Weller and Sons and by Prohibition they had formed a close business relationship with the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. During Prohibition they continued to sell whiskey for “medicinal use” to the nation. After Prohibition they formally joined to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, Inc.

The legendary status of “Pappy” Van Winkle took off in the 1950’s. His two partners had died and he controlled the reins of the company. He used that control to introduce extra aged versions of Old Fitzgerald and the first post prohibition barrel proof bourbon. He gave tours of the distillery and had many signs placed around the campus such as “No Chemist Allowed” and at the entrance “We Make Fine Bourbon, At A Profit If We Can, At A Loss If We Must, But Always Fine Bourbon”.

Sally Campbell is the granddaughter of Pappy Van Winkle. This book is her attempt to introduce the rest of the world to her grandfather as a person and a businessman. She starts the book with a speech given by Pappy on his 75th birthday and then goes on to tell of his early years as a salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons. This is followed by the story of how Julian Van Winkle met Katie Smith and married. 

The great accomplishment of this book is the combination of this business and personal history. The book is filled with great stories about Pappy and his business practices such as why there was “No Chemist Allowed” at Stitzel-Weller, but also personal stories such as why her grandmother received the winning roses from the 1938 Kentucky Derby. It is of great interest to historians, but also a good read for those who simply have a love of whiskey.

The book also looks nice. It is very well designed with a great layout and quality illustrations. Photographs of the family and the distillery contribute to the contents with a nice splash of color added by photographs of label and bottle shots. This is a book that is worthy of anybody’s library and the second edition has a chapter about her brother, Julian Van Winkle III and his continuation in the family business.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller