Our Heritage, Shared: Entertaining

  • by
  • 10 min read

Sharing the Heritage and Legacy of Pappy Van Winkle: Entertaining

Entertaining is as much a part of our heritage as anything else we celebrate. It does make some kind of sense when you think about it in the perspective of the business of making bourbon. Bourbon is meant to be shared. It’s meant to be enjoyed and it’s meant to toast -in bad times, sure, but in good times, certainly.  

A love of entertaining has been passed down to us, as precious, present and constant to us as a physical heirloom. Our great-grandmother, Pappy Van Winkle's wife, Katie Smith Van Winkle, "Nana" was a natural hostess. She was warm, generous and fun, but also formidable, strong and supportive of Pappy's business. She played the role of hostess beautifully and effortlessly. Traditional, with a real sense of flair, she was known for her playfully   themed Christmas decorations, surprising the family and guests each year with her colorful and unpredictable choices. Our aunt Sally still remembers a blue "Cinderella tree" one year that left an endearing memory on her impressionable young mind.   

As Sally also recalls, "their garden was a firefly filled neverland, " where the neighborhood children, and cousins gathered to play endless games of kick-the can and dance through the gardens in their pinafores and lace. Their table was always set, even for breakfast, with silverware and a great silver bowl spilling forth with flowers. Theirs was a home that was warm and inviting, and visitors, whether they were there simply to pick up Pappy to drive him to his office, or stop by, found themselves sitting down to breakfast, or joining the family for a meal. 

This was how Pappy conducted himself at work, as well. Their offices were commonly referred to as feeling like a home, and you were as likely to end up on a walk, at a lunch table, or simply invited home as you were to have an actual business meeting. It is this naturally inviting and hospitable nature that we continue to honor. Represented in the keys of hospitality that hung on his door, and are now represented throughout our Pappy & Company logo, collections, and everything that we do and make, we are constantly striving to embody that original sense of welcoming hospitality.  

To say that Pappy and Nana were known for their Derby party would be a bit of an understatement. Hosting what was originally referred to as “mint julep parties,” their Kentucky Derby parties were legendary and the stuff of old Louisville lore. So much so that they caught the attention of Life Magazine, who featured their Derby party in the 1937 edition of "Life Goes to a Party," remarking on the many a "pleasant scene of hospitable preparation" where "trayful after trayful of silver-mugged mint juleps" were passed to their appreciative guests. 

Life Magazine also featured in their article, the recipe for "The Stizel-Weller Julep" served in an iced cold traditional mint julep cup bearing Pappy's initials, with an inviting and refreshing sprig of mint, more than likely freshly plucked from Nana's garden that very morning. 

The traditions begun by Nana and Pappy, the magic of walking through their door, and the ever present sense of a celebration just waiting to happen have been carried forth through each generation. Our grandmother, Kate Van Winkle, our grandfather Julian Van Winkle II's wife, was as known for her beauty and kindness as she was her natural inclination for entertaining. A natural hostess, she embodied the same spirit of hospitality that generations of Van Winkle's have come to represent, a helm our mom has naturally taken over. 

Charming and charmed, the Van Winkle women we so proudly follow are natural hostesses. They possess(ed) a singular confidence, a welcoming spirit and the uncanny ability to genuinely make whoever they are talking to feel like the most important person in the room. It isn’t an uncommon sensibility, to this day, for someone who has just met our mom to walk away with the feeling they’ve just met their very best friend. Whether this comes from their shared sense of natural curiosity and genuine interest, their sense of humor, or just their kindness, it is a rare and beautiful thing to witness. 

Of course in our own lifetime, while certain traditional forms of entertaining have been altered in our modern world, we still embrace their entertaining sensibilities and joy. Growing up in a busy house with four kids meant there was pretty much someone always coming and going. We have big families on both sides, full of cousins, and aunts and uncles, and of course quite an extended group of family friends, who we consider "family" as well. That means that it is not uncommon for Thanksgiving to see us hosting an intimate crowd of fifty, or a casual Sunday gathering to swell with friends, neighbors and maybe just anyone we ran into that day, coming and going with a natural ease. 

Someone was always cooking, people were always stopping by, one of us was always hosting a group of friends or a team. We hosted family birthday parties, holiday brunches, or just Sunday nights on the back porch. Of course the method of roaming entertainment is never more evident than our summer's in Michigan, where each day is essentially a giant potluck, and each sunset provides another opportunity for a roving cocktail party. Where an open door or a wave of the hand from the front porch is an ever present invitation to join and we celebrate just for celebrations sake. Read more about our summer entertaining traditions here. 

In years past we have thrown up a giant tent in our parent's yard and brought in family friends who have a BBQ food truck, We've hosted our own version of a legendary Kentucky Derby brunch (although we've been asked to not repeat that particular activity), and now, as adults ourselves, we've adopted a very similar open door policy in our own homes. That means a party is always ready, you just need to show up.


We have carried on, both innately and on purpose, these traditions ourselves. For us, the key to entertaining is to actually enjoy it. That means you have to take the stress out if it and not make it intimidating. We aren't worried if there are kids toys in the hallway - there are kids in our houses! We aren't worried if the dog (or bunny, or chickens, or get the idea) are running around - they live here too. You are just as likely to find a prepared ahead of time menu as you are to get the call that Uncle Ed had a successful hunting trip, so throw together a salad because he's firing up the grill! 

You may find appetizers created out of whatever was in the kitchen, or pizza served straight from the box alongside an elegant crudité served on our great grandmother's silver tray. Drinks may be served from a cooler on the porched or mixed and served from an elegant pitcher that may or may not be a treasured family heirloom. You may have generations old silverware alongside paper napkins. What you will have for certain though, are hosts and hostesses who aren't stuck in the kitchen - they will be a part of the party, for the joy is often in embracing the chaos. 

So it’s really no surprise that when we founded Pappy & Company 10 years ago, as a way to share the traditions and heritage of Pappy Van Winkle with all of you, that as we began to think in earnest about product development - the majority of things on our list were ones that would, in fact, facilitate entertaining.  Food, drinks, glassware, home decor - all designed to elevate or invite celebrations, to introduce flavor and to make entertaining easy and therefore, fun. Always inspired by the generations before us and the traditions that have been passed along.

Since the cornerstone for any good celebration, and the element we happen to enjoy the most - is good food and good drinks, we naturally started there.   We enjoy being creative and playful with our food, just like Nana and her famous brunch recipes, we know that simple doesn't have to mean bland and that delicious doesn't have to mean complicated. We know that just a few quality ingredients can make something incredible and that you can make a delightful setting out of what you have.   

One of the first products we created was our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup. Likely because it reminded us of big Sunday breakfasts growing up, where the table was crowded with homemade pancakes and crispy. Now while our table wasn't necessarily set like Pappy's with silverware, you would still find us all gathered around, and the table, just like Pappy and Nana's  - full of whoever happened to be around.

 Crafting the perfect maple syrup, full of signature Pappy Van Winkle flavor, has resulted in probably our most used product yet. Beyond drizzling it over hot off the griddle pancakes, we've found that the perfectly balanced notes of caramel, vanilla and the unmistakable aroma and taste of iconic Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon is delicious in an easy marinade or served atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Of course, naturally, we have also discovered that it makes a truly special and unique craft cocktail! Find out all of the ways you can use our pure maple syrup to infuse easy flavor in your entertaining recipes!

Speaking of cocktails, that was next on the list of products we wanted to conquer. We wanted to create ready made mixers to make Pappy hour even easier. We were picky though, as while we had found a few Bloody Mary mixes that we enjoyed with a little doctoring (we're looking at you Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Aged Pepper Sauce), we typically found most other ready made mixers to be too sweet or too full of unnecessary ingredients. Just how finding the right partner in Bissell Maple Farms worked for our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup, we needed the right partner for this endeavor. Fortunately, we found Bittermilk, based in our beloved Charleston, South Carolina and thus our original Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned Mixer and more recently, our Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky Sour Mixer, were born. 

Barrel-Aged in retired Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels for an infusion of iconic flavor, our Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned Mixer makes this absolutely classic and essential bourbon cocktail fool-proof and delicious. Typically a complicated flavor profile that only the craftiest of mixologists can get right, we've taken the guess work out of it. With a simple list of ingredients that pack a powerful, yet delicately balanced flavor punch, with Old Fashioned essentials of bittering agents like gentian root and cinchona bark along with burnt sugar, spices, and a bit of orange peel, this mix boasts an extra element of elusive Pappy Van Winkle flavor. 

Newest to our roster is our Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky Sour Mixer. A versatile powerhouse of flavor, this mixer is a one-stop-shop for craft cocktails. Simply pour, stir and sip for a Whiskey Sour, or a Tequila Sour, or get creative with add-ins for your own twist on a smoky margarita or a Pappy-fied Pisco Sour. Honestly the options are unlimited when you start with wildflower honey that is slowly smoked over a retired Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrel-stave and mixed with pure lemon juice and orange peel for a delightful sweet, smoky and sour flavor combination. 

Now our bars are always ready for a reason to entertain. A mix of glassware, some passed down, some from our own personal collections and wedding gifts, and some from the line of glasswarewe created specifically to give us the exact glassware we wanted to have to serve at our own parties - alongside our syrup, spicy syrup and mixers.  Set out a selection of glassware, or plastic Pappy Hour cups, ice, and a few add-ins like Orasella Maraschino Cherries, lime wedges, or orange slices. Or make a batch of spicy margaritas using our Pappy Van Winkle Spicy Pure Maple Syrup, or an easy Tequila Sour, and set out a pitcher with a simple note card inviting guests to enjoy what's inside. (Check out some of our favorite Pappy inspired summer cocktail recipes here)

Our glassware collection was both inspired by the legacy and love of entertaining that we have inherited and our own desire to create and invite the next generation to make their own traditions and enjoy the art of entertaining as much as we do. From the retro and sophisticated Nick and Nora Cocktail Glasses to the traditional Old Fashioned and Double Old Fashioned, our glassware line has sleek Tall Tumblers for a cold beer on a hot day, and a classic set of Coupe Cocktail Glasses for an elegant and classic touch for a more elevated Pappy Hour.  

When you enjoy entertaining, hosting and gathering - the prospect isn't overwhelming - but the key to that is to find the way to be a part of the fun. We truly enjoy hosting, cooking, crafting recipes and filling our houses and back yards with the sounds of laughter, and children running around. Perhaps it is just innate to us, having grown up in a large, boisterous family, but it is something we enjoy fostering and sharing with our own children. We simply don't take it too seriously - just as Christmas at Pappy and Nana's house meant you might find a flocked Christmas tree next to an elegant silver bowl, we keep it fun and light. 

Mix and match, don't be afraid to pull out the special heirloom bowl that is hiding away in a corner cupboard and fill it with snacks. Or grab a few small containers of herbs, or plants from the store and tuck them into your punchbowl, pluck an assortment of flowers from your yard (or ask your neighbor) for an easy, bright and seasonal display. 

We love using our treasured family heirlooms in a variety of ways, A selection of beloved mint julep cups become the perfect receptable for silverware on a buffet, or line them up along your dining room or kitchen table with a mix of greenery or flowers from the garden. Old and new work beautifully together and it is usually in this eclectic aesthetic that you discover the true beauty of entertaining.  

Food doesn't have to be overwhelming either. Dessert at our parties means a beautiful tray covered in an assortment of our delicious Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrel-aged gourmet goodies. From traditional bourbon balls to caramels studded throughout with Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrel-aged coffee nibs, the beauty of these is that they double as the absolute easiest and most delicious hostess gifts. Dinner is usually something off the grill slathered in a simple marinade using our syrup or hot sauce. Our go-to appetizersrange from carrots and hummus, to truly fool-proof range of options that require very simple ingredients. Take our goat cheese drizzled in pecansthat have been roasted in our Spicy Syrup or sausages simmered in our original Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup and set out with a shot glassfull of toothpicks. You also might just find our stunning new Everyday HeirloomsPappy tray, crafted with precise craftsmanship in solid bronze - piled high with some chicken nuggets. Mix and match at its finest...

We host because we enjoy it. We entertain because we want to be together, we gather because we want to share these traditions with our kids and our families and we want to continue to the time honored traditions introduced by Pappy and Nana. Someone once remarked as they were either picking up or dropping off a child, “it always seems like a party at your house” and that’s just the way we like it.