“Who’s Your Pappy?” – 52 Pickup, Week 14

Question #15

from Herman Moller:

“First the mystery, and always the question that was in the back of my mind, “Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve”. I knew Lucian could afford it from reading the Longmire Mysteries. I just want to know where he buys it so readily. I want to give his supplier a call. LoL”

Well, Lucian being a Doolittle Raider and public figure has many suppliers who are more than ready to help the ol’ bird oil his cylinder heads… I’d like to help you out, but then Lucian might not get his, and I don’t want to be responsible for that! Along those same lines I sometimes get a letter from business owners, companies or product representatives who write to tell me how much they appreciate my including them in the books, but last week I got one from Buffalo Trace, the distillers responsible for Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. When I was writing my first book in the Walt Longmire series, I thought that the old sheriff, Lucian Connally ought to have something very special in that corner cabinet at the Durant Home for Assisted Living. So, I snuck a bottle in there for Lucian just as a lark, unfortunately a year after The Cold Dish came out The New York Times rated PVW23 as the best bourbon in the world and six months later the Wall Street Journal said the same thing pretty much elevating it out of reach to us mere mortals.

Now, for those of you who haven’t ever heard of the stuff let me give you an education. Back in 1893 Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. started working in the bourbon industry of Kentucky and pretty soon had his own distillery and a legend was born. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve has been called “The impossible to get bourbon” and “One of the five most expensive liquors in the world”—but it wasn’t always that way… People ask me how a broken-down old sheriff in Absaroka County could possibly afford such ambrosia and I have to remind them that Lucian, besides being a persona of some repute, is also one of the richest men in Absaroka County, just after Omar Rhoades. That curiosity having been satisfied, they then ask how a broken-down writer in a Wyoming town of twenty-five could possibly have found out about the stuff?

I’ve told this story before, but hopefully some you won’t mind the retelling.

My wife, Judy and I were traveling across the country about thirty years ago when we decided to stop in Louisville, Kentucky, which has always been one of my favorite towns. We decided to spurge well beyond our means and stay at the venerable Brown Hotel downtown. The Brown was going through a rebuilding phase and hadn’t been bought out by any of the big conglomerates and the rooms were at least partially affordable.

After we checked in at the opulent front desk, my eye drifted to a small bar on the mezzanine level behind us and asked the young lady at the desk. “Is that the only bar in the hotel?”

She smiled. “No, that’s the bourbon bar. The other, larger bar is at the end of the hall to our right.”

I glanced back at the tiny bar and the bartender who looked like he’d been there since Prohibition. “Only bourbon, huh?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Grabbing our bags, I headed up the steps with Judy in tow. “Where are we going?”

“I don’t know anything about bourbon, do you?”

“No.”

I pointed toward the wizened old man. “Well, he does.”

Sighing, she followed me to the tiny, dark-paneled bar as the tiny man looked up expectantly as I seated her and sidled onto a stool. “My good man, what’s the best bourbon you’ve ever tasted?”

Somewhere in the wrinkles, the words came out. “That would be the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, the twenty-three-year-old, Sir.”

“Well, let’s have one.”

He looked at my battered cowboy hat, my scuffed boots and threadbare snap-front shirt. “It’s seventy-five dollars a tumbler, Sir.”

Obviously, he’d never dealt with a westerner before. As I glanced at Judy and winked. “Well then, better make it two.” Luckily, I caught him before he poured the second one—I’m not sure if at that point my truck was worth seventy-five dollars…

—Craig

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