cover image Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last

Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last

Wright Thompson. Penguin Press, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2125-3

Sportswriter Thompson (The Cost of These Dreams) uncorks 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. “He’s a man around whom others tend to revolve,” Thompson writes. The story begins at a recent Kentucky Derby, where Thompson meets Van Winkle III amid a crowd of people with “seersucker stuck to their thighs” who “hold liquor like ninth graders.” In digging into the Van Winkle family’s saga of loss and internal conflict, he recounts three generations of successes and failures: It starts with patriarch Julian Proctor “Pappy” Van Winkle introducing Old Fitzgerald, a top-shelf 100-proof bourbon in 1935 and ends with the family’s reluctant sale of its distillery in 1972, due to “an eroding business and family politics.” However, the wildly successful Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that Van Winkle III created, is “a chance to soothe the pain his father felt when he lost what Pappy had built.” But it can’t revive a fading Southern culture that was largely mythical in the first place. “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. (Nov.)