- Mash bill – Exact percentages unknown, rumoured to be 70-80% corn and the rest split between wheat, rye and barley.
- 53.5% Alcohol By Volume
- Official Website
Van Winkle bourbons are some of the most sought after spirits on the planet. Limited releases and almost universal acclaim have made acquiring a bottle almost impossible, with examples sometimes retailing in the thousands of dollars. There is a cottage industry in even spotting bottles for sale, with the Pappy Tracker app and social media tie ins helping fans worldwide not only capture a bottle, but share the triumph with other fans.
So – where did it start? Why is Pappy the apex predator of the bourbon world?
It all started in the late 19th century, as Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle dreamed of one day owning the wholesale alcohol business (W.L Weller) for which he worked. In 1935, he and his friend Alex Farnsley made this dream a reality, merging Weller and it’s contracted distillery Stitzel into the (very imaginatively named) Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
Julian Sr ran the company through the dark days of World War 2 up until his death in 1965, at the ripe old age of 91. His son, Julian Jr, would not prove to be the businessman his father was, being forced to sell the distillery 7 years later.
Despite the setback Julian Jr was not deterred – using the remaining stock he resurrected an old and recently unused brand to market – Old Rip Van Winkle. This proved to be a success. Without the operational overheads of running an active distillery, Julian Jr was able to focus on what he was passionate about – crafting bourbon of the very highest standard. His son, Julian III was able to continue the tradition from 1981, when his father passed away.
The business started kicking into high gear in 1996 when the revered Beverage Tasting Institute gave the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old Family Reserve a then unprecedented 99 points out of 100.
Fearing the end of the original supply of distilled unaged spirit, Preston Van Winkle (son of Julian III) signed a deal with Buffalo Trace Distillery in 2002 to continue the tradition. There is a very interesting interview with Preston to be found here.
My first encounter of Pappy Van Winkle was guffawing with some friends about the insane price. I thoroughly believed that the company had deliberately produced very little and set a high asking price in order to create a mystique of desirability – similar to the way Apple markets its products.
Then one day in Melbourne, I went to an upscale American themed bar with a fellow bourbon loving friend and there it was – Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. Suffice to say my mind was blown. Other whiskey really never tasted as good again. Hopefully one day I can get hold of a bottle to do a proper review, but I digress.
All Pappy Van Winkle bourbon shares the same mash bill – one that is relatively high in wheat content. The differences in the labels have more to do with the storage of the barrels and how long they are kept in virgin oak before bottling.
The Van Winkle I am reviewing today – Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year – is the entry level Van Winkle and by far the easiest to get hold of. By that, I mean available in extremely limited amounts every November, for several hundred dollars.
The spirit itself is a deep amber, with almost reddish tones. The bottle has an intense picture of an armed Rip Van Winkle, from Washington Irving’s original tale. The old style typeset and yellowed label work nicely with the image to create a sense of age.
Nose – The initial pour fills the room with a heady and sweet fragrance – fruit and warm spices. As I lean in to fill my nostrils, vanilla and charred oak jump into the bouquet before a strong tingle makes a high ABV promise.
Palate – This promise is kept in full during my customary long held first sip. The initial mouthfeel (once I can actually feel again) is silky smooth, with an oily texture coating my tongue. This intensity of texture is matched by the strength of flavour – with deep plum and vanilla vying with sweetness initially before warm nutmeg and cinnamon transition the profile into charred oaken tones. The complexity of flavour creates a very welcome problem – in order to articulate the flavours I must imbibe more of the delicious liquid.
Finish – The sweetness of burned caramel and dried fruit co-exist with nutmeg and charred oak for a lengthy and pleasant finish.
In summation, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year is an absolutely phenomenal spirit of any stripe and a truly transcendent bourbon. It lacks the refinement of the 12 & 15 year old examples I have tried , but certainly makes up for that in intensity, specifically over the 12 year old. The flavours lack the complexity of the 15 year old, but then again, so does everything else.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys spirits, but especially for those who enjoy wheated, fruity bourbon. If you see it, buy it!