Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15-year old Bourbon

Opened: December 1, 2011
107 proof (53.5% ABV)
Price: $59.99
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 15 years old
– bottled in 2011 –
Producer-distiller: Buffalo Trace
Tasting Dates: January 9, 2012; February 7, 2012

Color in glencairn glass: Rich caramel with maple tinge.

Nose: 1st taste – syrupy raspberry molasses, lemon, vanilla and wood, hot mulled spices. 2nd taste – weighty, citrus-hued caramel. Sweet vanilla turpentine, sweet smoke.

1st Taste: Vanilla springs forward right away, healthy dose of wood on the back end, pleasant burn on the finish. Mid-palate brings spicy, bitter oak. There’s a weighty maple sweetness that brings out the most delicate notes of this whiskey; it starts on the entrance and follows the woody center, surrounding it. The heat brings a wood-dominated spicy complexity. The overall texture is full but granulated.

2nd Taste: Less vanilla on the entry, more upfront sweetness. The back end of the palate is loads richer and rounder, with sugary vanilla caramel bringing rich notes of citrus and banana pudding. Maple-molasses candy melts on the back of the tongue. It finishes with more rich, sweet vanilla leading to a mellowly smoked spice burn. All the flavors present have rounded themselves out since last taste for a softer and richer mouthfeel.

Value: $70/$60

I really did not care for this expression upon first taste. It proved to possess the characteristic that I disliked the most in the William Larue Weller: the grainy, clinging texture. It was clear to me from the first sip how closely related the two bourbons are; after all, they are made at the same distillery and assumed to use the same mashbill, or recipe. However, the time the last third of my bottle had been left to sit with air exposure has elevated what I first characterized as an admirable effort to a truly elegant and worthy successor to the Pappy moniker.

Alright, I’m not sure who my audience is right now. The name Pappy Van Winkle is used in three bourbons: a 15-year, a 20-year and a 23-year. Before Pappy 15, there was Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW) 15-year old, and before that there was Old Fitzgerald*. Pappy has its roots in one of if not the most fervently worshipped distilleries this side of prohibition: Stitzel-Weller (S-W). When I found Pappy 15, it sat on the shelves like any other bourbon and cost me around $42. This was in 2006 and my burgeoning fascination with whiskey was given a mighty tip of the hat with a wise recommendation by a super-friendly employee at the Binny’s location in Lakeview. Pappy grew on me like wrinkles on a worrier, and I quickly adopted it as my standard-bearer.

S-W ceased all production in 1992, which would give the oldest stock of S-W-made whiskey a 15-year birthday in 2007. In 2002, knowing stock of the S-W whiskey that filled his bottles was quickly drying up, the proprietor of the Pappy label, Julian Van Winkle III (Pappy’s gradson), partnered up with Buffalo Trace (BT) to secure the needed juice for future bottlings of Pappy and ORVW.

As of this writing, Buffalo Trace sells wheated bourbon for the following labels:
Weller Special Reserve (7-years, 90 proof)
Old Weller Antique (no age statement, 107 proof)
W. L. Weller 12-year old (12-years, 90 proof )
Old Rip Van Winkle (a 90 proof and a 107 proof, each 10-years old)
Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot ‘B’ (12-years, 90.4 proof)
William Larue Weller (unfiltered, no age statement, barrel proof varies by yearly release)
Pappy Van Winkle 15-year old (15 years, 107 proof)

This 2011 bottling marks the first release of the Pappy 15-year old that has been confirmed as 100% BT bourbon. Having already been an ardent fan of past bottlings, I was worried that the BT-made whiskey would not do justice to its S-W pedigree. It needs a few weeks to drink in the air, but I am encouraged to report that, although limited in availability, Buffalo Trace has the capability to produce bourbon worthy of the Pappy name.

*The current Old Fitzgerald stocking the shelves is made by Heaven Hill distillery and is said to be quite unpalatable. It bears little resemblance to the bourbon produced for that label by S-W.

~ by WhiskeyWonka on February 7, 2012.

6 Responses to “Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15-year old Bourbon”

  1. Where can I get it?

  2. Depending on where you live, the difficulty of obtaining a bottle of this from a retail store can range from getting lucky to impossible. Your best bet is to strike up a conversation with an employee at your local spot (or better yet, spots), find out who in the store does the buying and ask him if he is expecting a shipment. The Old Rip Van Winkle Facebook page gives updates on when they ship and to where, so you can check that against your local whiskey-buyer.

    But maintaining an affable and consistent relationship with who you buy your booze from is your best chance of snagging one of these at retail. Otherwise, higher-end bars or those that specialize in whiskey will likely have a bottle shortly after allocation time. The Van Winkle line of whiskies are typically allocated twice a year: Spring allocation and Fall (late fall usually) allocation.

    Thanks for the comment, and I hope that helps!

  3. […]  a definite family resemblance to the 2011 William Larue Weller (WLW) and the Pappy 15 that I reviewed in these pages. My score of the bottle I reviewed stands, but it’s clear that the label […]

  4. […] a bit, so does their price; four years ago I could walk into a Binny’s and buy a bottle of Pappy 15 off the shelf for under $45. The price has risen to $60, and I do not expect that inflation to […]

  5. Lucky Dog! I have a bit of money stashed away just for the day that this whiskey hits my local area. I’m hoping for a bottle of the 23 year, but we’ll see! This is the stuff of bourbon legend, so it’s worth the wait/hunt if you get the chance. Another great write up! Glad I stumbled across your little corner of the web. Keep it up!


    • Chuck, if I were you I’d taste some of that 23-year old before you buy a bottle. Many, many people consider that both the 15-year and 20-year trump the 23-year when it comes to taste. The 23-year usually sticks around the longest after allocation given its prohibitively high price for a bourbon, but again, I would caution against dropping that dough, at least until you’ve had a taste.

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