According to the Buffalo Trace Distillery which manufactures Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, says that its namesake Julian Van Winkle Sr. was one of the founders of the infamous Stitzel-Well Distillery. They produced a bourbon made with a high concentration of wheat in the mash bill. This helped it to stand out from the other more rye-heavy offerings of the time.
Robb Report says that as demand for bourbon faded over the century, Van Winkle’s son Julian Van Winkle Jr. had to sell off much of the brand’s old stock to keep the brand alive. Many of the assets that were used to make the bourbon had to be given up. Then, in the early 2000s, he began working with Buffalo Trace Distillery to try and recreate that same successful bourbon. At the same time, whiskey was quietly making a comeback, and those with the insider knowledge knew to ask for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon by name.
VinePair reports that those insiders were inspired to track down as much of this bourbon as possible when the Beverage Testing Institute issued it a 99 out of 100. This was the highest rating ever given out at the time, cementing it as one of the best whiskeys available.
This reputation paired with the whiskey’s low supply has helped it frequently sell at a prestige price point, per Liquor Laboratory.