Pappy Van Winkle. Just saying those three words in a room of bourbon enthusiasts will cause all heads to instantly turn towards you. For many bourbon fans, “Pappy” is the holy grail. It’s the peak of Mount Everest. Bourbon nirvana. Once you’ve attained “Pappy”, you can go no higher. What used to collect dust for under $100 less than two decades ago is now a ghost, a whisper, a myth. Its yearly release vanishes before it hits store shelves, only to reappear all over secondary markets and auction sites at more than ten times its suggested retail value. Nowadays, it seems that bottles of Pappy are little more than unopened trophies pridefully displayed in the den of collectors, or commodities stashed away by investors wishing to see their value continue to rise.
While we at Whiskey Enthusiasts won’t judge the collector, flipper, or investor (well, some of might), we are here to explore and appreciate the smell, taste, and intrinsic quality of whiskey, not stare at sealed bottles or stash them for future profit. My friend Aaron was kind enough to share his bottle of the 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle with me, so like any good enthusiast, I eagerly dove into its smell and taste in order to pass my verdict onto you all. Is this unicorn worth the extreme effort (or mortgage payment) to seek out?
I’ll only throw in one history nugget before we get to the review: the Stitzel-Weller Distillery closed in 1992 and production of wheated bourbon for Pappy Van Winkle bottles was moved to the Ancient Age Distillery (now known as Buffalo Trace). That means that this 2017 release was made on the Buffalo Trace column still.
- Mash bill of 75% corn, 20% wheat, 5% malted barley (allegedly)
- Distilled and aged at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY
- Bottled at 45.2% ABV (90.4 proof)
Nose: Rich, gourmet caramel and oak, with sweet, creamy, butter cream and vanilla frosting. Molasses and brown sugar are noticeable, as well as a hint of coconut and chocolate reminiscent of Almond Joy candy bars.
Palate: Big, oily, rich butter and caramel fill the arrival with a warming burn carrying a wave of flavor. Not as sweet as the nose indicated, with more of a toasted, dry oak mingled with the rich, creamy caramel and faint butterscotch.
Finish: Creamy and buttery with plenty of lingering caramel and corn. The finish is sweeter than the palate and reminds me of caramel covered popcorn. The finish is epically long with a bit of warming spice and a tartness from the oak lingering seemingly forever.
Buying Recommendation: Worth Buying a Pour. Find a pour at a bar, or if you happen to win your local retailer’s lottery, pick up a bottle for close to MSRP, but don’t get swindled by the flippers. This is a great bourbon and if you like rich yet not overly sweet, this could very well be something you love. The nose is great and the finish goes on for eons, but the palate is a bit muddled and comes off a bit sour. This elusive and expensive bourbon deserves some of it’s reputation but not all of it in my opinion.[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year (2017 Release) – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]