Who Was Old Rip Van Winkle?

Who Was Old Rip Van Winkle?

Who was Old Rip Van Winkle anyway?

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that much of what we imagine to be old Christmas traditions were reimagined and made beautifully nostalgic by writers like Charles Dickens and Washington Irving.  Washington Irving was an American author, historian and diplomat from the early 19th century.  He wrote some of our culture’s favorite stories like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”  It is the Rip Van Winkle story that I find so compelling- especially with that famous whiskey brand being so coveted…

The story of Rip Van Winkle is about a man that lived in the Hudson Valley near the Catskill Mountains of New York.  Van Winkle lived in America while the British were still running the show.  He lived in a small town and was a loved by all the townspeople (especially the children), with the exception of his wife, who thought him to be a lazy good-for-nothing.  She may have had a point, though, because, although he helped everyone else he knew, his own farm was the least productive and shabbiest in town.  One day, Rip followed a man into the mountains and joined the man’s friends for an afternoon of nine-pins (similar to bowling) and many sips of moonshine.  He fell asleep from all the drinking on a hillside, but, when he woke, 20 years had passed!  Of course, he didn’t realize this until going back into town and seeing everything so changed, including himself.  His son was married, his nagging wife had passed away, and he was now a citizen of the new United States.  Only a few townspeople were able to recognize him as the man they knew.

I, personally, love this story.  My inner children’s book illustrator can’t help but imagine the picturesque town and the little grove where Rip Van Winkle fell asleep.  My inner whiskey enthusiast can’t help but imagine the labels on Julian Van Winkle’s Old Rip Van Winkle’s labels!  They show Rip Van Winkle as would have looked after waking up.

Julian Van Winkle, Jr., “Pappy” Van Winkle’s son, was forced to sell the now famous Stitzel Weller distillery and the family’s brands back in 1972, with the exception of the Old Rip Van Winkle brand.  After his death in 1981, his son, Julian Van Winkle III went on to bottle whiskey under that brand, as well. It was a bad time for whiskey sales, but the family remained vigilant and continued to sell Old Rip Van Winkle decanters and bottles filled with sourced whiskeys.  In 2008, a sourced whiskey bought from Wild Turkey, who, in turn had sourced it from Old Boone distillery (which had closed in 1971) was entered into a spirits’ competition and received a score of 99.  How old was the whiskey in that bottle?  It was 20 years old.

Was it a coincidence that the Van Winkle product that kick started the stardom of Pappy Van Winkle was 20 years old?  Some say that Rip Van Winkle was a real person and the story that Washington Irving tells is just a retelling of the true story of a man that disappeared into the Catskill mountains for 2 decades.  Again, my inner children’s book illustrator prefers to envision the fairy tale.  Sometimes it takes twenty years to get something just right…

The label of Old Rip Van Winkle

The label of Old Rip Van Winkle

An Old Rip Van Winkle decanter

An Old Rip Van Winkle decanter