Van Winkle 12 Year old Special Reserve

From A Good Family

Reviewed by
Connosr member:



28th Mar 2011

Reviewer rating:


About this score:

  • Nose: 22
  • Taste: 22
  • Finish: 22
  • Balance: 22

The average score for this whisky is 88.

Best price to buy online:

Tasting Notes by Victor

"Lot B" 12 year old Van Winkle Family Reserve bourbon is, like all of the other Van Winkle bourbons, a wheated bourbon,i.e. a bourbon containing wheat as the "flavouring grain" instead of the rye which is used as the "flavouring grain" in 95% of bourbon whiskeys.

Nose: refined sweet honey, slightly spicy wheat, and the oak flavours of vanilla and caramel. This is aromatic and pleasant to the nose.

Taste: refined sweet wheat flavours with very noticeable oak-- both oak as oak and oak as its cousin flavour sweet maple. If you are in a mood for subtle and refined, with a clean palate, you can enjoy this mightily. If you are expecting an aggressive display of fireworks or your palate has anything on it you will not taste much.

Finish: there is a fairly lengthy finish of a blending of the oak and wheat flavours, rather melded together and not easily distinguishable. The finish is as sweet as the delivery on the palate.

Balance: this is gentle, refined, and a little subtle. I would attribute the subtlety largely to this being bottled at 45.2%. This is dilute to my taste, expecially when compared to the 3 years older Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo, which is also sold at the much less diluted 53.5% ABV. This is a lovely refined wheated bourbon, but I would like it much better at a higher ABV with more concentration of flavours.


Whisky details


Van Winkle




Young Sauternes



lucadanna1985 wrote:

useful, enjoyable and elegant as always! thank you Victor!

31 March 2011 08:15

flyfish wrote:

Victor, Do you think the subtle flavor is the result of lower ABV or to spending less time on the oak? It seems to me that wheated bourbons benefit from more barrel age. Thus, the 15 YO Pappy Van Winkle has considerably more heft than the 10 YO from the same family of bourbons.

09 April 2011 23:39

Victor wrote:

@flyfish, I would attribute the more subtle flavour of the 12 yo Lot B Van Winkle bourbon compared to the 15 yo Pappy Van Winkle BOTH to the more diluted ABV and also to the 3 fewer years of aging. That said, 12 years is a more than sufficient length of time for a bourbon aged in new oak to gain and retain a great deal of flavour. So, on balance, I would ascribe more significance to the dilution factor of the lower ABV than to the lesser degree of aging.

10 April 2011 03:35

Victor wrote:

Update: I am now sampling a new bottle of the spring 2011 release Van Winkle 12 yo Special Reserve bourbon. This sample from the new batch is VERY piquante, spicy in both wheat and oak flavours, far more so than the last release of fall 2010. These flavours come closer to the flavours of Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old than did the last batch of 'Lot B'. I recommend this batch highly, and would rate this bottle at 91/100. Otherwise good luck with any of you out there looking for some Pappy Van Winkle 15! The dog-eat-dog battles to the death over the few scarce bottles of it under current release right now are going on all over the USA as I write this. I have the scars to prove it...

10 May 2011 19:56

stevesmyth30 wrote:

Hello all: First of all, let me start by saying I am still considered a novice by many, but I know what I like :) I have found, in general, that the Pappy/Van Winkle bourbons are a bit over rated. I think people seek them out so often because they are so hard to find up here in Boston. But I sat with a few friends last Sunday and we included this bottle (Van Winkle Special 12 year) along with a bottle of Parker Heritage 10 year (in the cognac barrels), Vintage 17 year, and a bottle of Pappy VW 15 year old. I have had the 15 year for a couple years now, and decided this was as good a time as any to break it open. We found the Parker ranked first with 3 of the 4 gentlemen in our little blind test. My wife did the pouring and labels so it was a true blind test (God I love that woman). We found the Parker's to be smooth, but still a bit of that "old school bite" that I love so much. We all loved the Vintage 17 year and it was second in 3 of the 4, and first in one. This is a good bourbon but another that is so hard to find. Strangely the two Van Winkles finished 3rd and 4th. We all agreed they were great bourbons, but the other two were a bit better. Thus the Pappy/Van Winkle bourbons have, in my opinion become somewhat of that carrot we all reach for so badly, and when we get it, its almost a let down.

14 March 2012 16:34

Victor wrote:

@stevesmyth30, frame of mind has a lot to do with choosing a whisky for a particular time and place, as do general taste preferences. As relates to Van Winkle bourbons, they occupy a rather unusual niche with regards to both taste profile and vary a good deal with respect to concentration/abv among themselves. Something like the Van Winkle 12 yo often (especially the Fall 2010 release) has a delicate flavour profile which I find I cannot even taste if I have been drinking anything else first. That one I can enjoy fully only on a very clean palate. Parker's Heritage Wheated 10 yo, a wonderful wheated bourbon, is also barrel proof, with typical %abv in the 60s, compared to the 45% of Van Winkle 12. Looking at VW12 and Parker's 10 side by side is to me almost analagous to comparing Aberlour 10 and Aberlour A'bunadh. And Vintage 17, do you have a wheated one there, or is that the usual rye-mash Vintage 17 bourbon? Wheated and rye bourbons are such totally different flavour profiles. I tend to only compare them according to type.

Not everyone is going to like Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 15, either. But you can dispose of the rest of your bottle in a millisecond. I'll be the first in line.

14 March 2012 17:35

stevesmyth30 wrote:

Victor: I didnt even think to compare wheated to rye-mash. I agree they are very different. As I am still so new to this, the Vintage 17 does not indicate which, however based on the slight spicy notes, should I assume Rye? its the green label 17 year old. Please, be patient with me, as I am learning. We enjoyed all the bourbons we tasted, thats sort of why I brought those 4 out, as they were my 4 favorites in my collection. I also often perform the cardinal sin of having a good cigar with my bourbon, which friends say hides the taste of the "juice"....but I know I like what I like. As far as the 15 year old...there is still half a bottle left, and I have been reading about not letting bottles with less than 1/2 sit for too long...opinions vary, but why take the chance? If you come up to Boston area, stop by and we can finish the rest of it, Victor. It does taste best when we are at the beach house we rent for 3 weeks every summer on Cape Cod.....somehow "frame of mind" in those instances do make it taste better. :) happy sipping

14 March 2012 18:44

Victor wrote:

@stevesmyth, thanks for the invitation! If I am in the area I will drop a line if I am able. One item of good news on the (Stitzel-Weller, which yours is, since it is two years ago released) PVW15: in my experience its change after the bottle is open is pretty negligible. Most bourbons evolve flavours quite a lot with an open bottle, more often than not to the good. That one, "Old" Pappy Van Winkle 15 holds up very well after the bottle is open. I am finding that the "New" PVW15 (Fall 2011 release), which is quite a different whiskey (since it was distilled at a different distillery, Buffalo Trace) seems to change flavour profile more than the original releases, but it seems to change in a good direction.

Vintage is a brand owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd., who buy from other distilleries and bottle the product. I have a bottle of it also, but I gather that there is probably a good bit of batch variation, so the two bottles may be quite different. Your Vintage 17 is probably a standard rye mashbill bourbon, like 95% of bourbons are. Mine is. I will be happy to try both your Pappy and your Vintage if the opportunity arises, and I will bring along a few of my own!

14 March 2012 19:27

Add a comment

You must be logged in to comment if you don't have an account why not sign up?

Whisky reviews by distiller (A - D)