It’s officially Pappy Season! Sazerac just announced that the new 2022 line of Van Winkle whiskeys are being released throughout October. And this year, there are more bottles hitting the shelves than last year. With the fresh news, I decided it was high time to re-taste and re-rank the six core bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, to give you an idea of which bottles you should be chasing.
Before we dive in, let’s get a little background here. This year’s release marks the 20th anniversary of Sazerac moving the Van Winkle portfolio of wheated bourbons and one rye to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. That means that the 20-year-old expression of Pappy is pretty much only sourced from the new distillery now (old stock from the Stitzel-Weller distillery — where Pappy was born — is almost gone, folks). There’s also more Pappy hitting shelves this year for two reasons. First, Buffalo Trace started shifting some effort to putting down more barrels ten years ago and they’re reaping those benefits this year for the first time. Second, Buffalo Trace said it got a “higher yield” from barrel to bottle this year. While that doesn’t mean the market is suddenly going to be flooded with bottles of Pappy, it does mean there’s a tad more to temp you out there.
Lastly, we have to talk about price. Like Blanton’s (also from Buffalo Trace), this whiskey is rarely going to be available at MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). I’ve included Sazerac’s MSRP for each bottle to give you an idea of where these bottles would usually fall on the liquor store shelf. I’ve also included retail prices if you want to pay those hefty markups. My suggestion, find a great whiskey bar and get a pour there first. It’ll still be silly expensive but it’ll at least give you an idea of what you’re in for when you pay those insane markups.
Okay, let’s jump in and rank some Pappy!
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6. Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-Year-Old
Average Price: $2,000
This is an interesting wheated bourbon. The “Lot B” moniker means that these barrels were tested at 12 years and marked for “Van Winkle” batching, which means they weren’t going in the right direction to be batched into the “Pappy Van Winkle” line with more aging (which is 15 years and older). So instead of aging further, the barrels are set aside, batched, and cut with that soft Kentucky limestone water to bring them down to a manageable 90.4 proof, then bottled.
The nose opens with a throughline of a caramel apple with a slightly tart edge, sourdough apple malt doughnuts dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar, and a braid of old dry sweetgrass, cedar bark, worn leather, and dry tobacco leaves. The palate adds some walnuts to apple pie filling with a hint of rum-raisin sneaking next to vanilla malts, salted caramel, and a dash of eggnog spice. The end leans into the dried fruit and spent vanilla pods with a sweet sense of cinnamon and apple-spiced tobacco leaves folded up with old leather and cedar with a whisper of dark chocolate bitterness behind it all.
Look, this ranking is about which bottle really stands out. I’ve never been a huge fan of this one mostly because it feels the most classic without adding that extra layer of “wow” to the mix. It’s great but not something you dream about.
Honestly? This feels like an $80 to $100 bottle of really good bourbon. You don’t have to pay the markup to get something at this level.
5. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year
Average Price: $5,156
This expression spends a long 23 years resting in new American oak, partially at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery and partially at Buffalo Trace. Not every one of those Stitzel-Weller barrels makes the final cut but most do. Only the “honey barrels” — the best of the best — are selected for marrying, proofing, and bottling for this very limited release.
The nose opens in a fresh apple orchard on a sunny day fall with tart apples handing low and taking on a hint of fermentation next to a jar of dark cherry spiced with cinnamon bark and cedar, old sheets of leather, and a hint of vanilla pudding powder mixed with dark and waxy cacao nibs. The palate really leans into the bitterness and waxiness of those cacao nibs while layering old and dry tobacco leaves, shards of nut brittle, woody cinnamon sticks soaked in apple cider, and a mix of dried cherries, figs, and dated mashed into tobacco and cedar bark and buried in rich black potting soil. The end leans into that old leather, wood, and dirt with a sense of old cellars and cobwebs next to cherry and cinnamon bark.
This feels a little too old. It gets very dry and bitter on the back end, which happens with bourbon that spends over 20 years in oak. That said, a lot of folks love that vibe. If that’s your sense for bourbon, then you’ll love this. For me, I need a rock to calm that dry bitterness down and let the fatty creaminess come to the surface with a vanilla pudding, dark chocolate sauce, and salted caramel vibe with moist marzipan at the center.
4. Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
Average Price: $1,799
This is basically Pappy at ten years old but not “technically” Pappy (as mentioned above, this is still a “Van Winkle” expression). Semantics aside, this is the same wheated juice that hits its prime at ten years instead of 12 or 15 or 20. The main difference here — besides the younger age — is the proof. This goes into the bottle with only a touch of water, keeping it far closer to barrel-proof at 107 proof.
The nose opens with a sense of rum-raisin folded into a honey-nut creamy fudge cluster with pecans and walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar, sweet cinnamon, and orange zest. The palate leans into salted caramel with vanilla cream next to stewed apples with maple doughnut frosting and a twinge of old dates soaked in black tea. The end has a moment of black pepperiness before heading toward woody winter spices, old piles of orchard wood with a hint of black mold, and soft leaves of chewy tobacco laced with dark chocolate, salted caramel, and marzipan.
I really like this one. It punches way above its ten-year-old vibes and just hits so goddamn delicious from top to bottom. When you sip this, you get it — immediately. You understand why there’s so much hype.
If this was still 70 bucks a bottle, it’d be the best value in bourbon of all time — which I guess is why we are where we are with the price these days.
3. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Years Old
Average Price: $2,399
This is the only non-bourbon whiskey in the Van Winkle line, obviously. While we don’t know the exact mash bill, Buffalo Trace does use a rye mash bill that’s very low-rye (how low we’ll never know, but it’s way closer to 51 percent … I heard somewhere). Either way, the juice is then barreled and allowed to mellow for 13 years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Imagine old rye crusts with a hint of caraway spiked with red peppercorns next to rich salted caramel apples and plenty of Christmas spices layered into a sticky toffee pudding all wrapped up in old worn leather with hints of fatty nuts and dried fruits on the nose. The pepperiness mellows quickly as powdery white pepper leads to a soft vanilla cream pie cut with bitter orange zest, dark chocolate flakes, and a hint of salted black licorice. The end pops with sharp anise and clove next to a fleeting sense of mint chocolate chip tobacco folded up with that old leather and plenty of soft cedar.
This is subtle and delicious rye. It’s a little dry on the end but it works with the flavor profile here. If you want to be really cheeky, make your next Manhattan with this. It’ll be phenomenal (and honestly wouldn’t be that big of a deal… if this was still only $120).
2. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year
Average Price: $2,999
This is where the “Pappy Van Winkle” line starts in earnest. The juice in this expression is pulled from barrels that are at least 15 years old. Once batched, the whiskey is just touched with water to bring it down to a sturdy 107-proof.
The nose opens with freshly fried sourdough fritters dusted with ground almonds, sharp cinnamon, cloves, orange zest, burnt sugars, and maple frosting with a hint of old vanilla pods next to soft figs. The palate leans into rich toffee with a sense of minced meat pies covered in powdered sugar frosting right next to sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel, orange zest, and tons of brown wintry spice countered by a moment of sour mulled red wine cut with dark maple syrup. The end has a soft cedar vibe that leads to vanilla and dark cherry tobacco leaves and a hint of pine next to old white moss.
This has a beautiful balance of a great dessert with just the right amount of earthiness to really shine. It’s just delicious. I almost ranked it first but the next pour just hits that little bit harder.
1. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year
Average Price: $4,099
This is the Pappy that made “Pappy” what it is today. The wheated bourbon rests for 20 long years without any meddling. The barrels that actually make it to the 20-year mark are batched and that juice is then proofed down before bottling.
Moist and spicy Christmas cake brims with walnuts and pecans, dried fruit and candied fruits, and dark molasses sweetness next to woody cinnamon bark, clove berries, star anise, and a hint of salted black licorice as soft woody maple syrup hint at a sourdough pancake griddled with brown butter on the nose. The palate adds in a sweet sense of vanilla creaminess with soft apple pie filling before heavily roasted chocolate-covered espresso beans pop in with a touch of bitter orange. The end combines all of that toward an old tobacco pipe that’s burnt a century’s worth of rich tobacco flavored with all of the above.
This is the sweet spot for Pappy Van Winkle. This just slaps. It’s also one of those sips where you immediately think, “Oh, I get it now. This is f*cking spectacular.” All the hype suddenly makes sense.
If you try or try to buy one Pappy this year, make it the 20. It’s the best. Though the 15 is damn close this year.