Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle began making exceptional Kentucky bourbon over 100 years ago. Little did he know, his family would still be continuing his legacy four generations later.
Pappy’s great-granddaughters (who are triplets!), Chenault, Carrie and Louise, were proud of their heritage in the bourbon business but never played an active part in the Pappy Van Winkle company. Then, they realized it was missing something: a strong promotional branch. So the sisters teamed up, combining their impeccable styles with their natural entrepreneurial skills, to create Pappy and Co.
“We started mainly with a need to take care of the promotional side of the bourbon,” Carrie says, “because we had this famous bourbon brand, but there were no promotional products like hats or t-shirts or anything for all these fans to wear to represent the brand they loved.”
Pappy Van Winkle bourbon certainly is beloved — it’s coveted, high-end and fit for the finest of bourbon connoisseurs. But the brand wasn’t always so glamorous, and the Van Winkle family worked hard to achieve their success. Pappy himself was most famous in his day for owning the Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, Kentucky. Unfortunately, the bourbon industry faltered around this time, and Pappy’s son, Julian Jr., was forced to sell the distillery. However, Julian Jr. knew that wouldn’t be the end of his family’s bourbon legacy. He kept the rights to the Pappy Van Winkle label, which then allowed his son, Julian III, to pick up where he left off.
“What the company is today is what my dad basically started over from nothing. He rebuilt the original older Van Winkle label,” Carrie says. “I definitely compare my dad to Pappy in terms of what he’s done for the industry.”
Spending their childhood watching Julian III work tirelessly for the company inspired Chenault, Louise and Carrie to eventually try to make their own mark on the Van Winkle legacy. “The older we got, the more we realized how special this history was within our family, and we didn’t necessarily work directly with our dad, so we had no role in the bourbon business,” says Carrie. “So starting Pappy & Co. just felt right.”
The sisters decided that Pappy & Co. would sell a variety of Pappy-inspired items, from cigars to men’s and women’s clothing to high-end barware. As Chenault and Carrie are both interior designers, it was easy for them to apply their design acumen to market an already exceptional bourbon. “We have a good sense of style, so we don’t feel worried about either diluting the brand or disrespecting the brand because it is just a part of us,” Carrie says. “We make sure we hold true to that and don’t do anything that feels too far-fetched or out of place with how we live. So a lot of the products we carry, people enjoy even if they don’t necessarily love bourbon.”
One of the ways they bring their ideas to life is by collaborating with other companies to make products that are uniquely excellent. “When we come up with an idea, we try to find someone who makes a really high-quality version, someone who is the best in their field,” Carrie says, “because together in a collaboration, we make a product that you really can’t find anywhere else.”
A prime example of this is Pappy & Co’s famous bourbon balls. It is their only product made with Rip Van Winkle’s actual 10-year bourbon and is crafted locally in Louisville, Kentucky at Sugar Mama’s Bake Shop.
“Bourbon balls have always been a tradition in our family,” Carrie says. “Especially around the holidays in Louisville and other places in the South, it’s just natural to make bourbon balls.”
Many of Pappy and Co’s other products are similarly born from customs in the sisters’ lives. “Our products come from things that we love and that we want ourselves or use ourselves or eat ourselves or wear ourselves,” Carrie says. “So a lot of times it’s something we already use … so we might as well use our own version. Or something that we want in our lives, either for our husbands or for ourselves. All the products come about because it’s just an extension of who we are.”
Pappy & Co’s distinctive rustic barrel decor — ranging from chairs to tables to sculptures — displays this better than anything else, as it combines the sisters’ classic taste with relics of Pappy’s empire.
“Our favorite way to furnish our own homes is by taking those old pieces and incorporating antiques into modern lines and fabrics. We’re all about mixing, and I think that says a lot about the products we create because it hints at our past and the traditional aspect but in a modern, current way.”
While the company is flourishing, Chenault, Carrie and Louise no longer work side-by-side every day. Chenault spends a lot of her time focusing on her own company, Chenault James Interiors, and Carrie now lives in Idaho. But they all continue to dedicate as much love, time and effort as Pappy would have wanted.
“We run Pappy & Co as three sisters and the great-granddaughters of Pappy. So it definitely is really family-oriented and everything revolves around decisions made by us as sisters or by the family as a whole,” Carrie says. “It’s all very related and really represents who we are.”
And at this rate, Pappy may even end up with a fifth generation of Van Winkle’s involved. “It’s fun for kids because they probably would never have learned who Pappy is otherwise,” Carrie says. “Traditions in family heritage can get lost so quickly through generations, so it’s kind of neat how they all refer to Pappy and like to say ‘Pappy would have loved this.’”
Learn more about this amazing Southern company and shop their collection of products at pappyco.com.
SB TIP: We also carry Pappy & Co. products in our SB Shop as part of our Father’s Day Collection! From their whiskey glasses emblazoned with ‘Pappy’ or ‘Old Rip Van Winkle’ to specialty ties in collaboration with Collared Greens, we picked the items we knew Dad would love. Shop them now!
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