Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s #1 whisky of the summer issue

May 24th, 2012

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year old, 53.5%, $75

Sometime recently, the source of this whiskey changed from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery to Buffalo Trace. No matter. This whiskey is still the best of the Van Winkle line. It’s crisp, clean, vibrant, impeccably balanced, and nicely matured. Complex fruit (bramble, candied citrus), caramel, coconut custard, maple syrup, fresh spice (vanilla, warming cinnamon, nutmeg, a dusting of cocoa powder) on a bed of nougat. Outstanding! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96



No Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s #1 whisky of the summer issue”

  1. Josh West says:

    Good choice!

    I’ve always liked the 15yo more than the 20yo. Easier on the wallet too.

  2. Texas says:

    I have never won the PVW 15 lottery. Managed to get some Van Winkle Lot B and some Old Rip Van Winkle 10. Maybe this fall I will be able to get a bottle of the 15 year. I wasn’t that impressed with the Lot B for the price this year. I thought the Weller 12 year for half the priced was just as good if not a tad better.

  3. ps says:

    The past few years I’ve been able to casually pick up a couple bottles every release, but this spring was a different story (as everyone knows): No bottles even made it to the shelves around here, not even the Van Winkle 10 year olds.

    Pappy 15 is great, but I’m perfectly happy with Weller 12 and Antique and Maker’s Mark 46, which are always on the shelf.

  4. Adam E. says:

    I have been in the liquor sales business for over 4 years now and every year it has become more and more difficult to keep up with customer demand when the Antique/Pappy releases hit my warehouse. I remember when I use to be able and give multiple bottles to people without issue, where as now I have over 450 people on a list without allowing multiple bottles. Simply put, people started talking, sharing and bragging about these fantastic whiskeys and now everybody wants these whiskeys. Heck some people have no clue what they even are when they come in and ask for it, they just simply heard about the whiskey(s) from people or read about in a publication. There is no simple solution to the issue of allocation and pleasing everyone.

    With that said, I have to agree with fans of the Pappy 15 Year, it is the best of the Pappy line in price, quality & flavor.

  5. JoshK says:

    This stuff is too popular now for anyone I know to ever get a hold of it. We need like a 10 year ban on talking about it on forums or publications till the casual drinkers interest can wane a little.

  6. Kevin says:

    I try to hit some of the smaller stores around my area and just see if I can get lucky. Actually got a 20 yr. bottle that way a few months ago. Did anyone see the 23 yr. decanter and collector set that just sold on e-bay for $1500?

  7. iskch1 says:

    Great. More fuel for demand and less of chance to get a bottle.

  8. woodisgood says:

    I’m a big believer in opening the 2011 15, pouring a few fingers, then letting the bottle rest for a month. My palate finds doing so makes it nearly approach ye auld SW days of Pappy 15. A bit of that early harshness mellows out (for me) doing so. Maybe it’s psychological, I dunno. I did it with my three bottles, and they were a dream.

    I thought the 20 this past release was soooo drinkable; I actually preferred it out of the bottle straight away more so than the 15.

    I will say, though: 2011’s Sazerac 18 rye beat both by a country mile. Wish I had bunkered just a couple more of that one. THAT was heaven in a glass.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      The Saz 18 can be found at a reasonable price but the Pappy cannot even be had for an outrageous mark up.

      • woodisgood says:

        I’ve been pretty lucky with scoring my Pap 15 at near retail but yes, it’s usually impossible to find.

        That being said, where can I find more Saz 18 at ANY price? Sold out everywhere I go in three states.

        • Jason Beatty says:

          beattyja(at)live(dot)com send me a message and I’ll see about a place that had an 2010 the last time I checked.

  9. Gary says:

    Your speaking my language! Nice. This is a beautiful whiskey, as are all the Pappies!

  10. Judd says:

    I love this. I have 3 bottles of the 23 and a bottle of the cask strength 23, and given my drinking habits, that will probably last me 5 years or so. I love the 15, too, and agree it is the best value/taste proposition. Amazing spirit. As stated, too bad it’s so darn hard to find…

  11. Jason Beatty says:

    I had to break down and buy Pappy insurance: pay a fee to be given the opportunity to buy one bottle which they jacked up the price on.

  12. Ben McNeil says:

    I like the William Larue Weller 2011 a bit better at the moment, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

  13. Harry g says:

    After drinking Pappy for 15 years and totally knowing and understanding what and why it’s special there’s still loads of mystery in it. The 15 is a great example. SW stops Distilling in 1992, the deal with Buffalo Trace happens in 2002. Although Trace makes some Wheated before 2002 what’s in a bottle of current ORVW 15 is most likely NOT BT as the blog states. Unless Hansel was able to look behind the curtain and find out who’s barrels these are for certain and if any of the 15-23 is tanked (the 13 Rye is/was), it’s hard to say its Buffalo. All the gushing could very well be from Bernhiem juice. Yes, the maturation and Julian’s selection plays a big part. As for the semi annual pappy circus/song and dance I find it hard to fall in love with a brand that by admission has had and continue to plan to make it almost impossible to get even if a future supply is avaibable to meet demand. Lots of other great choices, would love to see a blind taste test of quality Wheated.

    • John Hansell says:

      Our focus here in the Buying Guide is on the product and our assessment of the quality of the product, not an investigation of the integrity of the Van Winkle family.

    • Josh West says:

      I doubt they make the 15 etc intentionally unavailable. Thats just bad business. Sure, it adds to the allure and hype, but a bourbon that rates at 96 is still a bourbon that rates at 96. Its going to be sought after and purchased by bourbon fans if there’s 1000 or 30000 bottled available.

      I think I prefer the annual releases, instead of if they handle their stock via vatting. Like I said, I think if its good, it will be chased down to the last drop by afficionados/fans/collectors until its all gone. Then none of us would get any since the last time it was available was N years ago. All we’d see is it on auction sites with very high prices along with the occasionsl reference somewhere of “hey remember that PVW 15 from 2005?!” Certainly wouldn’t be fun or fair to the incoming freshman batch of new bourbon drinkers each year.

  14. Harry g says:

    Why is Chuck about the only one willing to ask and report on the behind the scenes “irregularities” of what we are drinking? At minimum its confusing and arguably deceptive? You say you report what your told but why not ask the next question that you obviously are aware of? I think that the BT “prime” juice is every bit as good as SW but I’d like to know what I’m drinking and chasing. If they are truly proud of the new stuff  lets shed light on not just this one but the dozens of micro distilleries that responsible journalism needs to address. There are lots of new Bourbon/Rye drinkers that could use a heads up. If someone wants to imply their Rye is made on some quant little farm in Vermont then if you report/rate it say its trucked down in a tanker from Canada. Lets not let advertising dictate the quality of your reporting.

    • John Hansell says:

      Harry, this is our Buying Guide. This is the most recent release of PVW 15 and our review of it. It’s that simple. This is not the appropriate forum to question whether the Van Winkle family is being untruthful about the source of their whiskey. And contrary to your statements above, I was not aware of your accusations.

      Chuck is one of our writers. If he has an issue or has uncovered untrue statements by any whiskey company, then he should bring it to our attention and we will investigate it. Regardless, I will approach him about the issue.

      Our reviews have nothing to do with advertsing. Shame on you for even suggesting it!!! You just crossed the line!

      • Ben McNeil says:

        your job is to avoid being the slightest bit inquisitive!

        • John Hansell says:

          That’s not true, but like I said above (twice), a buying guide review limited to 80 words or less whose purpose is to review and rate product is not the proper forum. Stay tuned…

        • Red_Arremer says:

          Ben, it is what it is.

          When you say it’s John’s job “not to be inquisitive,” you’re blaming him for a much larger state of affairs. Namely, that the culture of whisky is a consumer culture– And not a very enlightened one. Consequently, whisky buying guides have this underwhelming and off-putting ideological dimension– They appeal to people whose only concern in buying things is their own satisfaction. The position of professional whisky reviewer also inhabits this dimension.

          Neither buying guides nor professional reviewers, as such, draw attention to the fact that every dollar spent on whisky shapes the whisky world on some level, promoting certain states of affairs and excluding others. Neither makes the consumer feel responsible for the impact of his whisky purchase or encourages him to have a deeper richer relationship with the world of whisky.

          John, however, has made his job about more than just being a professional reviewer. This blog is one example. The archives go back 4 or 5 years. He’s started/hosted/encouraged some really good discussions. He’s also written or editorially overseen countless substantive articles on whisky.

          Personally, I don’t agree with him that this post isn’t the place to inquire into the things Harry’s interested in. However, I see no reason that this inquiry should take such a confrontational and accusatory tone.

      • Tadas says:

        I disagree. If the seller lies about the product it is a lie and there is no word twisting or any justification, avoidance of the issue or ignorance won’t make it right. It is still a lie. Can’t they be straight what it is made off? Like single malt soctch, which is labeled only by the name where it was made. Or just say we will never disclose it and it is just a blend/vatting of what we have at hand. But all the word twisting that Van Winkles are telling to create mistique, part of it is lie for sure. Too many contradictions. Kind of sad since Pappy Van Winkle was a straight guy.
        I would be in favor of making changes to regulations that straight bourbon/whiskey can only be called straight bourbon/whiskey if the source is disclosed.

    • Josh West says:

      Perhaps I missed something, but where again was their deception? I understand your issue with the confusion surrounding Whistlepig and Vermont/Canada, and I was aware of the marketing fluff before I made a purchase, but yet I still went after a bottle. And I enjoyed it. Not because it was drom Vermont or Canada, but because it was good. I feel the same about the Pappy Van Winkles. I don’t give a flying hoot what distillery its from. If its labeled as bourbon and is actually bourbon… If its labeled as 15yrs old and is actually 15yrs old… If its consistent across all the bottles… And if its damned good. Thats what I think folks should care about.

      Same reason I go for some of the Black Maple Hill bottlings of rye. I don’t care what distillery its from. Its good stuff and thats whats matters. (Yeah, we all know where BMH sources, but like I said, who cares?!)

  15. John Hansell says:

    Harry, Ben: We will be discussing this whole issue at our next editorial meeting and hope to address it either here on the blog or in WA in some manner, with Chuck’s input.

    Oh, and the next time you want to make false accusations about someone or attack someone’s character, pick someone else (and a different blog).

    • Jason Beatty says:

      I read only this blog to stay away from nonsense… Keep this place filled with proof!!!

  16. Ben McNeil says:

    Yeah, I’m sorry about my dumb comment – that was unfair. For the record, I don’t give a hoot about the Pappy “controversy” and the buying guide indeed is no place for that discussion. I love the history of bourbon and I follow the news on who is sourcing what from where, but IMO there is no reason to write a long angry paragraph about this issue in a comment to a review.

  17. Charlie F says:

    Fairly knew to this blog and rating stuff but I have a suggestion (maybe it has been done, I don’t know). How about a top ten list of whiskies a consumer can actually go to any decent retailer and purchase for say under $100 and is readily available without all the rare and ultra limited releases and scary prices?

  18. Charlie C. says:

    Preston Van Winkle has gone on the record in stating that PVW 15 is not SW juice but BT juice (i.e., weller formula). The Van Winkles go in and pick out the honeyed weller barrels and those are aged longer and blended to give you ORVW 10 (90 and 107), lot B and PVW 15. The 20 year and 23 are still SW.

    All of this info is via Preston on a podcast he did with K&L.

    • Ben McNeil says:

      Charlie – please, just don’t start. What you added can be contradicted or at least qualified by others, including Harlan Wheatley, master distiller at BT. And then those statements can be countered by more measured statements from Preston, which can then be called into question by comparing those statements to previous statements he’s made, and then someone will vouch for his honesty and integrity, and so on. I think we should just let this one go! It’s all been run out already.

  19. H. Diaz says:

    I can remember when Pappy 15 was around $45 and was not so hard to find here in central Texas. I haven’t seen one out in the wild for quite a few years, like 7 or 8, maybe more.

  20. Tadas says:

    Pappy’s 15 MSRP is $75 per bottle but nowhere will you find it for that price or any price lower than $200. Things are changing….. Prices are going through the roof just in couple years. From the top 10 whiskies in this latest magazine issue only one I can actually get – Lagavulin 16. And it is the cheapest one at paltry $90 😀 Just a year ago I bought a bottle of Lagavulin 16 for $60. Others are super expensive, super rare or not even available in US or most of Europe. I wonder why is that? Is whiskey getting very popular? Is there not enough supply of old whiskey?

  21. Mr Manhattan says:

    At the risk of derailing this thread a bit further, I’d like to share the advice I give to my bar patrons when they come in and ask for Pappy (of which we only currently have the 23): “Pappy’s great stuff but there are a lot of other great whiskies out there to try and savor, many of them less expensive and easier to find. Might I interest you in one of those tonight?” I’ve actually started to see Pappy as a kind of “gateway whiskey” since it’s generally neophytes who are the most rabid for it and most crestfallen when they learn we don’t have any. I consider it my personal mission to broaden the experiences of these people as much as I can.

  22. Andrew says:

    Just putting the words “Pappy Van Winkle” in an article is a quick guarantee to raise comments ten-fold.

    @Tadas — while the most recent shipment of PVW product was of limited quantity, it was available. Even here in FL where prices are a bit higher than many locations, 10/107 was available for under $50 while 15 was available for under $85, though it went quick. As for the supply of old whiskey… no there really is not a lot to go around. The recent explosion in demand used up much of what was available in old stock and you just cannot turn the taps on to create new. To have product available today, say for your PVW15, you would have had to put it in a barrel 15 years ago when the demand was not there for the product. With higher demand and a limited product supply, prices are going to go higher as everyone sees a chance to increase their margins at every step along the distribution route.

    Sage advice, Mr. Manhattan. I agree that much of the demand for their product is driven by new bourbon drinkers and also those looking to make a quick buck by buying up all the stock and reselling on eBay. There is plenty of other product of good quality which is reasonably priced to choose from.

    • Tadas says:

      You got lucky! Everywhere I asked around for Pappy Van Winkle had a waiting list of hundered people or bottles were already spoken for before they arrived 😀

  23. Bob Siddoway says:

    Great bargain… if you can track down a bottle. 🙂 I still have yet to try it…

  24. Vince says:

    I was fortunate enough to get 3 bottles of the 15 this year. I agree with John that this is GREAT bourbon! My personal favorite and in my opinion, every bit as good as the S-W juice that was available previously.

  25. Esprada says:

    Nice review John, I believe someone mentioned that if the whiskey is good why bother listening to the rhetoric of what other’s think is the truth. If it’s the best you’ve ever had, who cares what other’s want you to believe. Much like all of the other posters had said Pappy can be very difficult to acquire, over the course of three years i’ve managed to pick up one bottle of the 23 yr old and six bottles of the 20 yr old albeit at increased rate. My initial three bottles of the 20 yr old were purchased from a store that had plenty on their shelves and were offering it at $75 a bottle. Nowaday’s, retail will charge you anywhere from $120-$150 a bottle of the 20 yr old and $250-$400 of the 23 yr old. Happy Hunting Gents!

  26. […] few weeks ago, when I posted my review of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year old here, a big discussion ensued about the source of this whiskey (and other Van Winkle expressions). I […]

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