Pappy Van Winkle’s Whiskey Alter Egos: A Closer Look At Hoffman & Old Commonwealth

Pappy Van Winkle’s Whiskey Alter Egos: A Closer Look At Hoffman & Old Commonwealth

In his latest column, Whisky Auctioneer’s Joe Wilson takes a look at two rare bourbons Pappy fans should take note of

Auction News with Joe Wilson | 04 Jul 2024 | By Joe Wilson

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This promotional feature was created by the Whisky Magazine team in partnership with Whisky Auctioneer

The histories of American whiskey brands so often manifest as an intricate entanglement of different companies, distilleries and people, that dealing with old and rare bottles can feel more like detective work than anything else. While single malts are associated with one specific distillery, bourbon and rye brands in America are tradable commodities, and this means two bottles with the same label are often far from the same once you open them. To give some of the biggest names as examples: old bottles of Eagle Rare were distilled at Four Roses, there are old batches of Buffalo Trace’s flagship Weller brand that were distilled at Heaven Hill’s distillery, and there are Heaven Hill bourbons from the mid-1990s that were distilled at Jim Beam and Brown-Foreman. Like staring into a Jackson Pollock painting, it’s a fascinating mess.


Understanding these intricacies of American whiskey is therefore all about looking for the names behind the names. While many of these are obfuscated behind a myriad of different doing-business-as alter egos of the same company, there are others that, thankfully, have actively celebrated their own legacies. One such company is that run by Julian Van Winkle III. Many will be familiar with his iconic Pappy Van Winkle brand and the man behind that name, but there are also a pair of rare bottles in our June 2024 auction that highlight some of the lesser-known, but equally important names that were integral to its creation.


The first of these is a Hoffman branded bourbon, bottled in 1988. The label takes its name from the eponymous distillery that was purchased by Julian Van Winkle III in 1983. Converting it to a warehouse and bottling operation, it was the home of his company until 2002 and the birthplace of some of American whiskey history’s most important brands, including Pappy Van Winkle, AH Hirsch, and Very Olde St Nick. Exceedingly rare, Hoffman was only sold in small batches and exported to Japan.


The second bottle is one of the last to be filled at Hoffman in 2002. Produced exclusively for Sam’s Liquor in Chicago, it is labelled Old Commonwealth in a revival of one of the brand names used by Van Winkle and his father, Julian Jnr, when the latter established JP Van Winkle & Son in 1972. A sentimental family, the company Julian III ran at Hoffman was also called the Commonwealth Distillery Co — a name that makes a rare appearance on the label of this bottle.


Whether intentional or not, the naming of Commonwealth Distillery Co upon one of its final acts of creation functions as a pertinent and graceful bow from behind the curtain, just as it closed upon its short but seismic chapter in the history of American whiskey. What followed was a partnership with the Sazerac Company and its Buffalo Trace distillery, but these are names behind the name for another day. While the legendary ‘Pappy’ will always be the star of the show, these fascinating old bottles of Hoffman and Old Commonwealth are artefactual American whiskeys that show there is much more to the Van Winkle family story than just one man.


This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and was created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.


About Whisky Auctioneer

Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.


Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.


Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.

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