July 14, 2015

Pappy Hits Puberty

With the Van Winkle craze not showing any signs of relent, we've been nursing out last few drops of the coveted wheat. But hey, whiskey wasn't meant to sit on the shelf, so we figured we'd line a few of our last bottles up and see how they fair in a quick vertical.  These are the young Van Winkles, the 10, 12, and 15 year.  Basically right when Pappy hits puberty...  (We've never even owned a 23 year, and the last of our 20 has been gone a while!)

Old Rip Van Winkle "10 Summers Old"

"Asleep Many Years In The Wood" adorns this bottle next to a heavily armed bearded dwarf.  What does that mean to us?  Little, except that for a bottle with a $39.99 retail price, we grumpily shelled out $100 when we saw it on the shelf in Massachusetts.  It's a 107 proof bottling, which is always a good thing, and this is a newish release so it's most certainly 100% Buffalo Trace bourbon.

Nose: Nice, if sort of unremarkable nose.  If you gave us this blind, there's no way we'd think it was anything special.  Perhaps we'd pick out that it was a wheater.  It doesn't smell spicy and has a mellow sweet and kind of "buttered popcorn" nose to it. We could easily be fooled into thinking it was a high-corn bourbon and missing the Winkle-tude altogether.

Palate: Ok, well the palate is a little more impressive.  It's got some class to it, this one, and we're definitely not mistaking it for a young craft whiskey. The buttered popcorn thing hangs around and it's got a nice thickness to it.  Still this is not a crazy rave "hide under your bed and drink this alone" type of thing, but it's definitely enjoyable.

Finish:  The high ABV is nice, actually the 107 proof is just about perfect at this age and with just the right level of fierceness.  It's a very long finish for a bourbon leaving the tongue coated in honey (or maybe honeydew melon), cherries, and lemon cake.

Lot "B" Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old

Pure class on this bottle with not a lot of marketing pumpandstink.  (Just made up the word "pumpandstink", pretty good huh?).  It's lower proof, only 45.2% (90.4 proof) and only two years older, so you'd think that it would be weaker in flavor than the 10-year. This one is also a pretty recent release (2012) so it's probably 100% Buffalo Trace.

Nose: Totally different nose than the 10-year.  It's got that Van Winkle signature aroma all over it.  Honestly smelling these two next to each other it's almost like they're from completely different stocks.  This one has that cracking wheat, the dry punchy but rich and smooth complexity.  We're pretty sure we could pick this one out as a Van Winkle from a mile away, while the 10-year might easily fool us for some run-of-the-mill bottle.  Little pops of hot chile peppers here, vanilla, way more oak, and some saddle leather.  Beautiful nose, really just in a different league.

Palate: Well we wanted to go in chronological order here, but after the high proof on the 10-year, the Lot "B" is coming across a little flat.  It's delicious but very much on the smooth side without a lot to write home about.  There's a lot of baking stuff going on here, sort of like the crust of a fresh white Italian bread.

Finish: Nice, but short and unremarkable finish (again probably due to the higher proof 10-year going first).

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15-Year

The only Bona Fide "Pappy" in the lineup, this one is another recent release (Buffalo Trace sauce). Man isn't there just something totally awesome about popping the cork off these bottles with the old man smoking a cigar on the label.  Couldn't people just stop giving a crap about bourbon and move on to mezcal or armagnac or something so we could find these on the shelves again??

Nose: Well shit, it really just is that good. Wish we could have come up with some rationale about how the 10 year is just as good or that the 12 was better, but no.  This one has all the boom shakalacka of the 10-year in terms of presence, but with all the signature Pappy shazaam to boot.  It's just a big kick ass wheat bomb that puts you right into leather, tobacco, bbq sauce, vanilla, wet grass, a little hint of char smoke, and then just at the end some of those citrus candies.

Palate: Yeah.

Finish: It just starts big and stays big.  The palate wraps up all that good stuff in sweet, bold, rich, and smooth flavors, and the finish lets it linger on the tongue while the warmth spreads from the chest to the throat.  It never overpowers, just kind of moves in on you like a comfy chair or an old pair of jeans.

The Wonder Years

Well that was fun.  If there's any advice here, maybe don't go too crazy for the 10-year. It's really not anything that super special, certainly not worth anything more than the $100 we paid for it (if that).  But who's kidding who it's a Winkle after all and if we saw another one at that price we'd probably buy it.  The 12-year really is awesome stuff and the 15 is wicked good.  Sorry, but it is.  Please don't take this as any kind of consent to spend $700 on a bottle (and that is what they cost on the second market).  Nothing is worth that, especially something that comes out every fall.  Seriously, don't do it.  But if you've never tried it, do spend $40 or something like that to buy yourself a glass at a good whiskey bar.  How many times have you blown $40 on something not nearly as cool as a glass of Pappy??

Cheers everyone!  How is your summer going?  Please leave us a comment and let us know what's happening.  /SB


  1. Summer is rocking and rolling up here in the Pacific Northwest! Just went to the Washington Distillers Festival a couple of nights ago and found out... I'm spoiled, from having a nice little collection of quality bourbon in the basement. I didn't find anything at the Festival that I really liked but am very impressed with the burgeoning distilling culture taking hold up here.

    My favorite open bottle at the moment is a 2014 Michter's 10 year Bourbon.

    Cheers Smoky Beast!! Just keep doin your thing!

    1. Thanks! Yeah it's a blessing and a curse having a basement (or cabinet) full of good bourbon. Often people take us to the local bar and ask us to recommend something. There's nothing wrong with a little Blanton's or Knob Creek, but you wouldn't take a wine buff to Friday's and ask them to pick out a bottle :). Thanks for checking in!! The Michter's 10 is awesome, it's actually been pretty hard to come by in NYC this summer. What's everyone else drinking??

  2. Shhhhh already! I moved on to Armagnac in 2013. ;)

    Which year is the 15 from?

    I have two bottles of bourbon open on my shelf these days. One's a notable Four Roses CS store pick and the other is dusty ER10 from 2006, which tastes nothing like the current stuff. There's not much to offer in current shelf bourbon. It's sad and won't get better any time soon, Pappy included.

    1. Haha Funky. Yeah Armagnac is where it's at, everyone get on board!! There's some great stuff on the market now. ECBP, EHTBP, some great Willett 10-years, SAOS picks, stuff like that, 4R always a solid choice. Plenty of good bourbon as an alternative to $750 pappy :).

  3. I agree with you that the 15 is stellar, but not at the interstellar secondary market price. I was fortunate enough to obtain a spare bottle of EH Taylor Cured Oak (which is pretty nice), which I traded for 2 EU 700 ml bottles of an all-time favorite, the magnificent Four Roses 125. Oh my, I can just nose that whisky and get all kinds of excited ... But then I take a sip and it gets even better! Love your blog and appreciate your intelligence and passion. Cheers from this former New Yorker!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Yeah the 125 is an all-time fav here as well. Totally hits the spot! Congrats on your trade. Good drinking this summer!

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