15 YR, 20 YR, 23 YR / PAPPY VAN WINKLE
Pappy Van Winkle is like the unicorn of bourbons. If rainbows were made of beautiful, beautiful bourbon, a bottle of Pappy would lie at either end. It is a legitimate fact that you’re more likely to see Bigfoot than a bottle of Pappy in your liquor cabinet.
Do you need us to make any more bad metaphors or similes? Because we’ll do it.
The point is, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve is super rare. They come in 15-, 20-, and 23-year-old versions, and despite their modest suggested retail price of between $80 and $250, these bottles of bourbon routinely fetch anywhere from $750 to over $5,000 on the market.
But why? Why on earth would we possibly pay thousands of dollars for something that will eventually filter through our kidneys and return to the world as urine. Why should we literally piss away our money?
Well, here’re a few reasons:
One of Pappy’s most noticeable distinctions is its ageing process. Even its “bottom shelf” offering, the 15-year label, is still aged more than three times as long as brands like Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and twice as long as Bulleit.
And when it comes to bourbon, the longer it sits in its barrel, the better it generally is.
But you ask, “Is the bourbon even good?” Well, yes. In fact, it’s so good that celebrity chef and social culinary anarchist Anthony Bourdain once announced on Twitter that he was seriously considering a Pappy Van Winkle-themed full back tattoo. No, we aren’t kidding.
Many attribute Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve’s unique taste to its heavy use of wheat over rye or corn. It gives it less of a “bite,” and is far more refined and softer than most other bourbons, which very well compliments its velvety mouthfeel and notes of vanilla, cherry, and light smokiness.
If “Best Bourbon Ever on the Whole Planet” was an actual award, there are very few who would doubt that it’d go to Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. The bourbon has won just about every award worth winning, including Wine & Spirits “Spirit of the Year” award, a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a Best-In-Class Gold Medallion in the International Wine and Spirit Competition, a score of 99 from the Beverage Testing Institute, and a slew of others.
Whether on paper or in your mouth, it’s the best of the best.
News broke recently that this year’s stock of Pappy Van Winkle was roughly half of what it usually is, after it was discovered that several barrels in this year’s crop didn’t meet the standards of quality by Buffalo Trace Distillery, the place responsible for bottling the bourbon (in a joint partnership with the Van Winkles).
According to a statement released by Amy Preske, a PR person at Buffalo Trace, the “the angels were extra greedy” this year. By angels, she refers to “the angel’s share,” a percentage of whiskey in every barrel that evaporates from the casks during the initial period of maturation.
While most casks usually only lose about 2 percent of a barrel in maturation, those casks with bourbon aging 15 years and longer can expect to lose more than half of their total contents. Ugh.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: A lot of Pappy’s price lies in its availability (or lack thereof). The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery (which actually isn’t a distillery at all), only releases between 7,000-8,000 bottles of Family Reserve every year, which makes it excruciatingly rare and highly, highly collectible; so much so that entire lottery systems are dedicated to giving people the chance to swipe a bottle.
Bourbon drinkers go so nuts for a taste of this sauce that there’s a tracker app you can use to find some. It sucks, but it exists. So there’s that.