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Publisher's Summary

An instant New York Times best seller

From the best-selling author of The Cost of These Dreams

The story of how Julian Van Winkle III, the caretaker of the most coveted cult Kentucky Bourbon whiskey in the world, fought to protect his family's heritage and preserve the taste of his forebears, in a world where authenticity, like his product, is in very short supply.

As a journalist said of Pappy Van Winkle, "You could call it bourbon, or you could call it a $5,000 bottle of liquified, barrel-aged unobtanium." Julian Van Winkle, the third-generation head of his family's business, is now thought of as something like the Buddha of Bourbon - Booze Yoda, as Wright Thompson calls him. He is swarmed wherever he goes, and people stand in long lines to get him to sign their bottles of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, the whiskey he created to honor his grandfather, the founder of the family concern. A bottle of the 23-year-old Pappy starts at $3,000 on the internet. As Julian is the first to say, things have gone completely nuts.

Forty years ago, Julian would have laughed in astonishment if you'd told him what lay ahead. He'd just stepped in to try to save the business after his father had died, partly of heartbreak, having been forced to sell the old distillery in a brutal downturn in the market for whiskey. Julian's grandfather had presided over a magical kingdom of craft and connoisseurship, a genteel outfit whose family ethos generated good will throughout Kentucky and far beyond. There's always a certain amount of romance to the marketing of spirits, but Pappy's mission statement captured something real: "We make fine bourbon - at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon." But now the business had hit the wilderness years, and Julian could only hang on for dear life, stubbornly committed to preserving his namesake's legacy or going down with the ship.

Then something like a miracle happened: It turned out that hundreds of very special barrels of whiskey from the Van Winkle family distillery had been saved by the multinational conglomerate that bought it. With no idea what they had, they offered to sell it to Julian, who scrambled to beg and borrow the funds. Now he could bottle a whiskey whose taste captured his family's legacy. The result would immediately be hailed as the greatest whiskey in the world - and would soon be the hardest to find.

But now, those old barrels were used up, and Julian Van Winkle faced the challenge of his lifetime: how to preserve the taste of Pappy, the taste of his family's heritage, in a new age? The amazing Wright Thompson was invited to be his wingman as he set about to try. The result is an extraordinary testimony to the challenge of living up to your legacy and the rewards that come from knowing and honoring your people and your craft. Wright learned those lessons from Julian as they applied to the honest work of making a great bourbon whiskey in Kentucky, but he couldn't help applying them to his own craft, writing, and his upbringing in Mississippi, as he and his wife contemplated the birth of their first child. May we all be lucky enough to find some of ourselves, as Wright Thompson did, in Julian Van Winkle, and in Pappyland.

©2020 Wright Thompson (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Pappyland is as invigorating as the smell of freshly cut Kentucky bluegrass, and goes down as smoothly as a glass of Pappy's beloved bourbon.” (Shelf Awareness)

 “A fast-paced and colorful history of 20th-century Southern culture, told through the story of charismatic cult-bourbon maker Julian P. Van Winkle III....‘Being Southern,’ Thompson writes, ‘means carrying a responsibility to shake off the comforting blanket of myth and see ourselves clearly.’ Thompson more than fulfills that burden with insight and eloquence.” (Publishers Weekly, starred) 

“An amiable journey, courtesy of ESPN sportswriter Thompson, into the arcana of American whiskey [...] If you’re a fan of the magic that is an artful bourbon, this is just the book for you.” (Kirkus

What listeners say about Pappyland

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Is Pappyland about fathers ..or bourbon ?

I say “false advertising”. I bought the book thinking this will be all about Pappy van Winkle - the family, the legend, THE BOURBON and all that might be peripheral to that. Some of that is in this book BUT I’d say perhaps 50% - or less! The rest is more an autobiographical rambling by the author. Frankly I didn’t get the book for that. He’s a sports writer so you have discussions of horse racing, short “takes” on college football, golf and so on. While I think it’s nice he has nostalgic thoughts about good times with his Dad or missed times with him ( thus maybe the title IS correct - Pappyland ? ) or he and his wife’s difficulties with in vitro fertilization, WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH BOURBON ? So, this was NOT at all what I thought it was going to be. I do have a bottle of 23 year old PvW. I thought I was going to learn a lot more about it “all” by this book. It falls VERY short of that or what was said about it could have been condensed in a short magazine article.

3 people found this helpful

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Wright Should’ve Narrated

Wright Thompson is one of the best authors of our time. But he is also one of the best story *tellers.* As in... with his voice. Abernathy is mediocre at best. He runs through the copy like it’s his first pass. Like he’s never read Thompson before. With no regard for the gravity of the situation or the emphasis needed to express that gravity or sentiment. I’ll buy the hard copy and read it myself because Thompson is that good. But I’m super disappointed.

2 people found this helpful

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Fascinating history

The history of the van winkle family is fascinating. This book could use less of the seemingly irrelevant personal stories and random political remarks. You will find yourself fading out in the chapters where the author talks about personal stories instead of focusing on the van winkle family.

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Hard to follow

I’m only halfway through the audiobook and I’m having a hard time keeping interested. The narration is so stop and go. It sounds like the author is grimacing, every, time, he talks. Sentences and chapters often end without really making a point. I’m a bourbon fan, and smalltime collector. I was really interested in this book, but not sure if I can finish it. Seems like the book could’ve been a lot better given the access the author had to the Vanwinkle family.

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Preachy...

I thought I bought a book about bourbon. what I got was both more and less than that. Instead of simply telling a story about bourbon and the people who make it, the author tells his own story along with that of the VanWinkles; a somewhat pleasant surprise until he starts preaching his political views... early and often throughout the book. I read plenty of books about politics, I chose this one as a reprieve from that... it wasn't to be, I suppose...

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Decent

I like Wright Thompson and I like Bourbon. It was interesting to learn about the Van Winkles. The Narrator’s cadence is so annoying. He almost ruins the book.

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Too much author.

The Pappy story is amazing but you have to wade through the authors story as well. I appreciate the authors connection to his father and all but too much. The injection of politics was unnecessary.

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Worth your time

If you love bourbon this will be a must read. If not it’s good, but if feels like the book wasn’t going to be long enough so the author started weaving in his story to it. I wish the book had more of a straight timeline and deep dive into exactly what happened at each stage.

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Refreshing and Enjoyable few hours

Over the last 5 or so years I have had a growing appreciation for fine bourbon. Pappyland was a really refreshing tale of the history of one families journey over 4 generations to keep a really fine bourbon alive. And the impact the researching of that tale impacted the story teller. My appreaciation has only deepened after Pappyland. Heck, this is just a good story even if you dont appreciate bourbon.

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Great book with some hiccups

When on topic this book is great. The author does not seem to be able to help himself from bringing in his political opinions in pointless ways. If you remove his rants it’s an excellent book.