Some of the most sought after whiskeys in the United States are from Buffalo Trace Distillery. Their yearly release of the Van Winkle line has become a news-worthy event, setting off a horde of bourbon and rye whiskey drinkers trying to find these whiskeys.
Due to social media hype these bottles now fly off the shelves so fast that no store can keep them in stock. Liquor stores nowadays try to find fair ways to share the bottles with their customers. Many raffle them off, or sell them to winners of a lottery, to quell the voices of those that try so hard to obtain a bottle.
What bourbon whiskeys are in this series? Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year, and Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year.
As always when dealing with hype, one needs to ask “Even if popular, is it as good as they say?” Keep in mind that the price of these bottles has risen astronomically in the past five years. Instead of paying $30 to $90 for these whiskey, these bottles now have a list price of $70 up to $300. And that’s if you can actually find a bottle – if you look to the secondary market you’ll find that these bottles go for many hundreds of dollars each, Some folks are willing to part with over a thousand dollars for a bottle.
So how does the average person get to experience this? Your best bet is to find a bar that offers flights and try them out in a more affordable way. Luckily enough for those of us here in New England, Julio’s Liquors in Massachusetts has an annual event where folks can purchase tickets to try out each of the BTAC offerings.
Proprietor Ryan Maloney is gracious enough to take time to set up several great whiskey tasting events throughout the year, including this Van Winkle event, but also the amazing Go! Whisk(e)y Weekend.
These are all distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
With one exception – the Van Winkle Rye – everything that we’re reviewing today is a wheater bourbon – a bourbon whiskey made with wheat as the second most common grain in the mash bill. (Most whiskeys are corn, rye, and barley. These are corn, wheat, and barley.)
Now, there’s one thing you should know: All of the original hype was about Van Winkle whiskey from the Stitzel-Weller distillery. But they closed back in 1992. The name was sold to Buffalo Trace, and what is inside these bottles nowadays is a different bourbon. Now, is it still good stuff? Absolutely. But we should deserve to know what is really inside these bottles. See There’s no classic Pappy in new Pappy
Here are my notes from this whirlwind tasting event:
Pappy 23 year old 95.6 proof. MSRP $300. Delicious, and nowhere near as over-oaked as I had been led to believe. Spicy classic bourbon and caramel flavors. Top notch job.
Pappy 20 year old 90.4 proof. MSRP 4200. For many of us at this event, this was our least favorite of the offerings. Noticeably weaker than the 23 year old, and although younger it was more oaky. Of course, it does have redeeming qualities. On its own it is a decent bourbon – but the kind that one would pay $50 for. I personally wouldn’t pay the list price for this.
Pappy 15 year old 107 proof. Much better than the 20 year old. Not as good as the 23 year old. I like this, absolutely, but not necessarily better than Old Weller Antique. At list price this is worth buying to drink. Here’s my review of the 2017 Pappy 15 year.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old. Seems similar to the Weller Lot B. 107 proof. Is this rare? Yes! Yet is it magically that much better than other options that are readily available? No. Great value for list price.
Van Winkle Family reserve rye 13 year old. 95.6 proof. This is very hard to find. There was some pleasant, almost sparkling spicy notes. 95.6 proof. Big full flavor and a long finish. Here is arelated review for the 2018 release, from Bourbonr.
Weller Lot B, 90.4 proof, 12 year old. The mouthfeel is a little short compared to the others. At list price I’d pick this up in a heartbeat. You should be aware that the difference in taste between this and the more common Weller 12 year is pretty minimal.
Nose: Like the other whiskeys in this line, this doesn’t have a typical bourbon nose. Instead, there is a soft cherry scent which is very appealing. Slightly oaky. Warm and pleasant.
Palate: Flavors of cherry and oak, soft and sweet, a touch of apricot. Superbly balanced.
Wheater Showdown: Weller 12 Year VS. Van Winkle Lot B 12 Year
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