Stories / Drinks

Q & A with JBF Award Winner Julian P. Van Winkle III

Anna Mowry

Anna Mowry

October 04, 2011


Anna Mowry interviews Julian P. Van Winkle III, winner of the 2011 JBF Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional
Winner of the 2011 JBF Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, Julian P. Van Winkle III carries on a century-long tradition of producing premium bourbon at Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.

The James Beard Foundation: Rip Van Winkle is a four-generation family company. How did you get involved in the business?

Julian P. Van Winkle: I started working for my dad in 1977. At that time we were selling just one age of Old Rip Van Winkle. We also sold decanters filled with our whiskey. I took over the company in 1981 after my father passed away.

JBF: Can you describe your bourbon recipe and the impact it has on the flavor of your products?

JPVW: Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn. Rye or wheat can also be used. My grandfather Pappy always used wheat instead of rye, which we continue to do today. The wheat gives the bourbon a sweeter, smoother flavor, and wheat-based bourbon ages more gracefully than a product made with rye. It doesn’t pick up as much wood and char from the barrel. It’s like rye bread versus wheat bread: rye is a bit spicier than wheat, while wheat is softer on the tongue.

JBF: We recently learned that, by law, bourbon has to be aged in new, charred American oak barrels. What happens to your used barrels?

JPVW: Since we can only use our barrels once, we sell them to producers of Scotch, Canadian whiskey, blended whiskey, añejo tequila, wine, and beer. Eleven Madison Park has partnered with Brooklyn Brewery to make a bourbon barrel–aged stout, and they age it in our barrels. I’ve also sold them to Goose Island Brewery in Chicago and Red Brick Brewing Company in Atlanta.

JBF: What’s your favorite bourbon from your product line?

JPVW: My favorite is our 15-year-old, 107-proof Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. To me, it’s just right: very complex flavor and not too much oak.

JBF: What’s your favorite bourbon cocktail?

JPVW: Definitely an old-fashioned. I don’t use a maraschino cherry or soda. I prefer Angostura and orange bitters, along with a raw sugar cube muddled with orange fruit.  

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2011 issue of JBF Notes, the James Beard Foundation member newsletter. Don't miss out on future articles; become a member today!