I was in Beltramo’s Wines and Spirits the other day, perusing the Scotch, when I overheard a fellow customer asking an employee whether they had any Pappy Van Winkle’s Bourbon. I could tell the Beltramo’s rep was stifling a laugh. “There’s a waiting list,” he said. “How long? Very long.”
This is a pretty common story. Pappy Van Winkle tends to do releases by allotment once a year, generally in the Fall. Stores that have placed orders get an unpredictable number of bottles – or none at all – and these all go to the waiting list participants, some of whom may have been waiting for years to get their hands on some Pappy’s. Even sadder, according to Bourbon Dork, there’s speculation that the era of Pappy’s is coming to an end, with stock of the original wheated bourbon (Stitzel-Weller, which closed in 1992) running dry this year with the 15-year-old, and in 5 more years, the 20 will be gone as well. By “gone” I mean it will be made with Buffalo Trace spirit, but sold under the same label. Only time will tell if the level of quality will remain as high, or if this gem will be truly gone forever.
The whiskey mashbill contains wheat instead of rye, although some rye-like spice notes emerge. It was aged for 15 years in “deeply charred” mountain oak barrels in Kentucky.
I don’t normally mention appearance, but this bourbon has a truly beautiful red-gold color.
Thanks SO much to Tim, who kindly sent me some samples of precious bourbon. Here are my notes on the 15-year:
Nose: Caramel corn, treacle and cinnamon taffy. The wheat component is very reminiscent of rye – hints of nutmeg and clove. There is an unctuous depth to the nose – dark wood, grilled sweet corn on the cob, and whole roasted pecans. A little vanilla bean ice cream or crème anglaise on top. Big and potent.
Palate: Big wood influence, lacquer, nutty and dark, with a little cherrywood. Dry cigars, hickory smoke, blackened corn. Medium bodied.
Finish: Oh so smooth. The cherrywood and varnish notes stick around, and the oak tannins take up near permanent residence in the back of the throat.
Don’t bother adding any water to this one… It doesn’t need it.
Overall: Everything you expect in a bourbon with a healthy spice profile, but amplified. It makes other bourbons taste watered-down in comparison. The wood integration is masterful – you’d expect 15 Kentucky summers to reduce this to a glass of liquid wood extract, but instead it just makes everything taste… Bigger. Excellent.
I marked this “must try”, but I suggest trying a few cheaper bourbons first, and if you like them, you’ll love this, so seek out a glass or a bottle (if you can), and be quick about it, in case next year’s allotment isn’t as good!