Pappy Van Winkle. It’s a name every bourbon lover knows, but very few will ever taste. The whiskey is rare, pricey, and tasted by only the luckiest few who are willing and able to pay up for its liquid-gold status. (A bottle of Pappy retails for around $1,000 on the primary market but can go for up to $18,000 on the secondary market).
But what if whiskey geeks could get a taste of Pappy extravagance another way? Enter: Pappy & Company, a line of Pappy Van Winkle-inspired products that spans silk bow ties adorned with bourbon bottles and cigars, to bourbon-barrel-aged coffee. Each lavish accessory offers a small piece of the Pappy Van Winkle legacy and lifestyle for a more affordable price. Though $28 for a Pappy visor may seem a bit steep to the penny-pinching consumer, it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to the much steeper price of Pappy’s whiskey.
Owned by Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle is one of the scarcest, most expensive bourbons on the market. With its motto “at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon,” Pappy Van Winkle only releases 7,000 cases of its products every year, which is around 84,000 bottles. The brand’s popularity took off in 1996, when Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year was rated 99 out of 100 by the Beverage Testing Institute — the institute’s highest-ever rating for a whiskey.
Pappy & Company is a lifestyle brand launched by Louise Breen, Carrie Greener, and Chenault James, a trio of fourth-generation Van Winkle sisters who wanted to share the magic of their great-grandfather’s namesake whiskey with “friends and fellow aficionados.” They did so by launching a lifestyle brand in 2013, offering 170 bourbon-inspired products, from ties, to T-shirts, to hats and even kids’ clothes — allowing bourbon enthusiasts and their families to wear and share their love for Pappy.
The brand’s apparel and accessories are available online, as well as at the brand’s temporarily closed brick-and-mortar store in Louisville’s East Market District, an hour away from the Frankfurt distillery where Pappy’s bourbon is made.
Who’s buying Pappy & Co. products?
It’s probably true that most Pappy & Co. fans have never tasted the famous whiskey. (Although, according to Pappy & Co. head of marketing Mollie Patton, some of the online store’s referral web traffic comes from the Pappy Van Winkle website. We can dream, can’t we?)
According to Patton, Pappy & Company finds most of its success with consumers in the Southeast, as well as in California, Texas, and New York. There’s a near-even split between male and female buyers. The brand’s customers are loyal — many of the site’s product reviews suggest a large number of repeat customers.
A review of the branded kids’ green T-shirt reads: “Absolutely love the Pappy brand. The pepper sauce is 10 out of 10 and I own at least 6 of the shirts that are available on the website I wear them often. Great brand, great folks and you are missing out if you aren’t on the Pappy wagon! – Andrew from MN.”
A large part of Pappy & Company’s customer base are “foodies,” says Patton, who buy a variety of barrel-aged food items such as hot sauce, Old Fashioned mix, maple syrup, bourbon nib brittle, and coffee beans. These products, while never actually touching a drop of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey, are aged in Pappy barrels, leaving just a hint of spicy, bourbon-y flavor. And they’re a hit.
About the Old Fashioned mix, one happy customer wrote: “This makes by far the best Old Fashioned I have had. Now if I can just win that bottle of Pappy Van Winkle to mix it with, that would take it to a whole new level.”
Bourbon-barrel-aged pure maple syrup is one of the brand’s most popular products, receiving hundreds of glowing, and some vaguely threatening, reviews: Nick T. writes, “Don’t buy this, I want it all.” Another review, written by Barbara Cain, is just an emoji with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth, proving that an emoji is worth a thousand words.
Pappy & Company “also attracts a lot of cigar connoisseurs,” Patton says. The brand offers traditional and barrel-fermented cigars, which come in three and four sizes, respectively. Additional stogie swag is available, too: 12 cigar smoking accessories include leather cigar cases, walnut cigar cutters, wooden and leather torches, and more.
So why buy products affiliated with a whiskey you may have never tried? Just as car brands like Porsche and Ferrari have become synonymous with luxury, Pappy Van Winkle is not only the product it sells. It has become something bigger — a symbol of a lifestyle just out of reach for most consumers.
Just ask Andrew, Barbara, or Nick: It’s the best they’ve ever had, and will likely be the closest to Pappy Van Winkle they’re ever going to get.
Published: September 21, 2020