I missed my chance to restock my Pappy Van Winkle 15, my all time favorite bourbon. Apparently it comes out in the spring and fall, and maybe not at all this coming fall, as the stock used to make it was from an old distillery called Stitzel-Weller, and there is none left. Buffalo Trace is making the recipe now for the Van Winkle family, but it may be a couple of years before another bottling of the 15. I hunted for a "dusty" bottle of it in a bunch of local liquor stores, but could only find the 20 and 23 year Pappys, both being more than I want to spend. So I figured I could cry over spilt milk or try some other bourbons from the Van Winkle line, which are available. I picked up a bottled of the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year and one of Old Weller Antique 107. These two bourbons are probably the same recipe, with the Weller being aged a few years less and the Van Winkle being selected by Julian Van Winkle himself. Thus the difference in price: 20 bones for the Weller vs. close to 40 for the Van Winkle. Theoretically the Van Winkle 10 should boast the same flavor profile as Pappy 15, which is also the same whisky, but do those extra 5 years make all the difference between mediocre and superb? We'll get to that, but first the comparison.
The Weller was nice, nicer than I remember. It's a wheated bourbon, so it has that soft, round mouthfeel that you get from Maker's, but at 107 proof, a bit more heat and bite, in a good way. It poured an amber-brown color, the Van Winkle in the glass next to it looked quite red compared to it. I'm not one for a ton of descriptors but the Weller had a nice mellow flavor, easy to sip but not so simple that you almost forget what you are drinking, as you do with some bourbons in this price range. The finish on it was substantial, maybe a little longer than even the Van Winkle, which surprised me. Overall, solid bourbon at a solid price. Maybe not my favorite $20 bourbon, but a nice entry point to wheated bourbon.
Now, the Van Winkle 10. Wow, from the nose to the first sip, this boasted of quite a bit more complexity and intrigue than the Weller, both of which come in at 107 proof. The Van Winkle 10 tastes exactly like Pappy 15 to me, at first, but it's not quite as honeyed and rich. Pappy has an almost syrup-like nature where this Van Winkle is a bit thin by comparison. But it did indeed have the same flavor profile and many of the same characteristics, rich and fiery yet soft and round, sweet, lots of vanilla, some spice, and easy to sip at 107 proof. On the whole I liked it quite a bit more than the Weller. Is it worth twice the price? Probably, but there was a part of me that wished with each sip that it would magically barrel age 5 years in front of me and the picture on the bottle would morph into Pappy with his big cigar.
Yes, the 5 years was a huge difference. But, I think the 10 year is a great whisky in its own right, and well worth adding to your collection. There's something to be said for availability, too.
I'll have to try the 12 year Van Winnkle Family Reserve next, but that comes in at 90 proof, so I worry that what you might gain from 2 years of age you lose a bit of by watering it down. Only one way to find out. It'll be my next bottle.