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Old Rip Van Winkle's 15 Year Old Family Reserve

Average score from 6 reviews and 13 ratings 92

Old Rip Van Winkle's 15 Year Old Family Reserve

Product details

  • Brand: Van Winkle
  • Bottler: Unknown
  • ABV: 53.5%
  • Age: 15 year old

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Old Rip Van Winkle's 15 Year Old Family Reserve

Well, I tasted the 2011 and the 2012 within five days of each other at bars. I liked the 2011 better, but the 2012 improved vastly with about 25 minutes in the glass.

Both were delightful and worth every penny that I spent on the glasses.

Scent: Green apple; caramel; branch snapped off a maple tree; leather; maraschino cherry.

Taste: Oak; cashews; salt; cardamon; baked apple tart with hot pie crust; sweet corn, alcohol.

Finish: Medium long; oak; whipped cream; caramel; nougat; walnuts; cherry.

The 2011 was less sweet but better balanced. The tasting notes were similar, with the 2012 having more hot alcohol and the typical cherry profile of a bourbon with some corn mash in it. I hope this coming year tastes more like the 2010/2011 rather than going even farther past the direction that the 2012 is going. That would be a shame, even though the 2012 is certainly quite good.


sample from a friend (S-W distillate)

Nose: Light and elegant. It suggests its age with a hint of varnish, and then quickly yields to richer elements. Honey, caramel, gentle spice, and soft cinnamon. The crust of creme brulee. Buttery rich vanilla (and salted butter). Residue of anise or menthol. What strikes me here is the balance of the aromas, and even more that they're all high quality components.

Palate: Toffee mixed with syrup. Some varnish follows for the oak. Buttery butterscotch with a few grains of sea salt. Sweet maple. Salted caramel. Almost a puff of smoke. The same vanilla quality in milky-buttery goodness. Not the widest profile; it just hits these points very well. With more time, some of the deeper and richer notes fade and the varnish becomes more prominent.

Finish: More on the salted caramel, maple, light spice, butter, and oak/varnish in varying levels of emphasis as it continues to evolve. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the hullaballoo about Pappy, but then, at other times, you get an older pour like this and you can see why it was such a fan favorite, current craze aside. I love salted caramel/toffee, though I'm never quite as keen these varnishy notes. Thankfully, even when it's present, it's not dominant. In all, an excellent dram. I did like it with a bit less air (and varnish), yet taking it all into account, A- (91.5)


Black licorice, caramel, chocolate, honey, and maple syrup adorn the very dark nose. Another review hit the nail on the head with furniture polish!

Unctuous and chewy on the palate. Along with the beautiful flavored mentioned above, there are stunning notes of clove and mint. This dazzles, and goes back forth between dark and goopy to light and spicy (doesn't sound possible, I know, but it's achieved here).

In my opinion, the Van Winkle bourbons represent the pinnacle of American whiskey. Unfortunately for us, there isn't much to go around, so savor what you can find!

Is your reviewed bottle 'new 15' or 'old 15'? ...ie was it released Spring 2011 or before, or Fall 2011 and after? Two different bourbons, from two different distilleries.

If the ABV is actually 53.3% as indicated above, I suppose this is a bottle from a new release. 53.5% ABV was always the strength in the past.

Your description of 'dark' notes sounds more like the recent Buffalo Trace product.

Victor- Fall 2010 actually, had this one for a while...


Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo bourbon has legions of rabid US fans who buy up every available bottle of it when it is released in the US in the fall and, usually also, in the spring of each year. The Stitzel-Weller distillery at which it was made was closed about 20 years ago. For several years bridging stocks set aside have been used to supply the market. While rumours have abounded for several years that the Pappy Van Winkle 15 released has not been completely from the Stitzel-Weller distillery, Van Winkle has always asserted that the distillate was from Stitzel-Weller right through the Spring 2011 release. Julian Van Winkle has recently publicly confirmed that the distillate in the Fall 2011 Release is, for the first time, distillate 100% from the Buffalo Trace distillery.

Van Winkle has for some years now been using Buffalo Trace distillate to make the 10 year old Rip Van Winkle bourbons and the 12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve bourbon.

The labeling for the Buffalo Trace "New 15" is identical to the old labeling for the bottles distilled at Stitzel-Weller. Only tasting or very trustworthy information on original release dates can confirm which Pappy 15 one has in the bottle in front of one. This is a review of New 15, 1.0, Fall 2011 US Release. The reviewed bottle has been open for four months.

Colour: dark from 15 years in new oak.

Nose: burnt maple sugar, caramel, vanilla; lots of bass notes from the wood, far more so than Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 15. This is a very pleasant nose, which has opened a great deal in the four months the bottle has been open.

Taste: the flavours from the nose translate onto the palate strongly. This is a whiskey with many more bass notes than the traditional Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo produced at the Stitzel-Weller distillery.

Finish: all of the flavours stay strong for a long time and fade very slowly.

Balance: this is a very good bourbon which works well if you like a very woody wheated bourbon with a lot of wood bass notes. Some will like the 'burnt' flavour here, others not so much. For me, this is good, but it is a far different flavour profile compared to the Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 15 bourbon which I love.

I consider the Van Winkle 12 yo Special Reserve to usually be a lot closer to the flavour profile of 'Old 15' than is this 1.0 release of 'New 15'. Because the VW 12 and the New 15 are both made at the Buffalo Trace distillery, this leads me to believe that, if Sazerac company and Van Winkle want to, future releases of Pappy Van Winkle 15 may quite possibly more closely approximate the Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 15 taste profile than does this first "1.0" version.

(Parenthetical note: compared to the smooth and gentle 90.4 proof Pappy Van Winkle 20 yo bourbon, this is a bruiser of a whiskey.)

Huge surprise yesterday, when Big Sis brought over this reviewed bottle, i.e. HER 80% empty nearly 2 years open bottle of Buffalo Trace distillate Fall 2011 release Pappy 15, and it tasted BETTER than when the bottle was opened, and for the following 18 months. The heavy bass wood notes have receded with a lot of air here, and the net effect is a taste much closer to the Stitzel-Weller pre-2011 Pappy 15 that we both love. I would rate this same bottle 93 now, compared to the 88 from the review. This is huge news for me, because it radically raises in my own mind the personal value which I attach to the bottles of 'New 15' which I own...even though I might have to wait a couple of years to see the same effect.

Sounds wonderful Victor! Do you know what would be even more wonderful though!? Doing a trade with me for one if those Pappys... ; )


The late Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle is one of the great icons of American whiskey. Beloved for his bourbon, rye, and witticisms such as “We make fine bourbon/At a profit if we can/At a loss if we must/But always fine bourbon”, his name lives on through a number of eponymous whiskey brands, all coveted by American whiskey devotees. These whiskeys remain the core of the family business, first owned by Pappy, then by Julian Van Winkle, Jr., and now by Julian Van Winkle III and his son, Preston. To this day, they still hand bottle the whiskey.

It’s difficult enough for whiskey appreciators to sort out the parent owners of various brands—Sazerac, for instance, owns the Barton, Benchmark, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, and Weller brands, to name just a few—but the Van Winkle name poses the opposite problem: work is required to establish not the owners, but the many sources of their whiskey. This is because the Van Winkle whiskeys that currently grace the shelves of some (lucky) stores are sourced from not one but four distilleries. The Old Rip Van Winkle and Van Winkle Special Reserve bourbons are produced at Buffalo Trace, using the Weller mash bill (the wheated bourbon recipe produced at Buffalo Trace). The Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is a “co-mingling” of Medley and Bernheim (Cream of Kentucky) rye, though it will eventually be made entirely at Buffalo Trace. Finally, the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons—anything with that charming image of Pappy smoking a cigar on the label—originate from a wheated mash bill produced at the now-defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, built by Pappy himself (one suspects with the help of a construction crew) in 1935 and closed in 1992.

Because all of the whiskey in the Pappy Van Winkle line is sourced from the Stitzel-Weller distillery, we are nearing the end of the supply. Many will be sad to see this venerable “juice” go, myself included. It is as if we are tasting history.

The nose is profoundly delicious, with heady butterscotch, cinnamon, sarsaparilla syrup, and cherries. Occasionally, there arise notes of damp sawdust, grapefruit, and maple syrup stirred into oatmeal.

The palate is rich, with butterscotch, baking spices, and a touch of furniture polish. Grapefruit appears again, carrying through the finish.

The Pappy Van Winkle bourbons have a “cult” following, and it’s not hard to see why that is. It is exceptional bourbon, and it is nearly gone. One can only hope that the other Van Winkle brands are of similarly good quality. Word has it that they very well might be.

Adam Carmer, proprietor of The Whisky Attic (Las Vegas, NV) has said on YouTube this is a "bourbon lover's bourbon", the best bourbon available. I have to agree with Adam and with dbk.

Pappy van Winkle is a FABULOUS bourbon, all age statements. The 15yo in particular: heaven!

This is a lovely review and a fitting tribute, @dbk. Thank you. Pappy Van Winkle 15 is the ONLY bourbon for which I get intense periodic recurrent visceral cravings. This is truly magnificent whiskey! It remains to be seen how close new product issues from a different distillery, Buffalo Trace, presumably, can come to the taste profile of the Stitzel-Weller distillery produced Pappy Van Winkle 15.


The Van Winkle bourbon label is one of only five labels of bourbons using wheat instead of rye in the mashbill as the "flavoring grain". The others are Weller, Maker's Mark, Old Fitzgerald, and Rebel Yell. Wheat has a much different flavour from rye and unless wheated bourbons acquire strong wood flavours from aging 15+ yrs, they are usually not capable of the same intensity of flavours obtainable by rye formula bourbons. All of the Van Winkle bourbons tend to be scarce and sparingly allocated, even in the United States. My own local liquor distribution system, which is usually excellent, had no new Pappy Van Winkle products make it onto the shelves during the most recent autumn 2010 release cycle, for example.

Nose: Moderate caramel, honey, maple, oak

Taste: All of the above flavours come alive and sparkle in the mouth reminiscent of champagne. This is a whiskey of many high notes, a few middle notes, and the 15 years worth of wood adding a few bass notes. The taste experience is exhilirating and enlivening.

Balance: As champagne is different in style from other white wines, so this wheated bourbon is a distinctive kind of ethereal experience. I have tasted the 20 yo and 23 yo Pappy Van Winkles, and find that the extra wood aging seems to weigh on them compared to this 15 yr old. This is one of my go-to all time favourite whiskies.

If you are a fan of the Van Winkle line and just can't seem to find it/them, then try a search for Jefferson's Presidential Select bourbon's. Jefferson bought out a Stitzel-Weller distillery several years ago and low and behold, there were a few vats of good ole "Pappy" aging there. Jefferson labeled it "Jefferson's Presidential Select" and the race was on. The first releases were all 17 yo offerings, the earliest of which were so amazing that I bought a case of it. It that as has been mentioned that Pappy Van Winkle is hard to come by, it is actually spoken for well in advance and is gone without ever seeing shelf life as it is indeed, a very special find in the sophisticated sipping bourbon realm.

I was lucky enough to obtain a bottle this year, fall,2012 through a drawing of which twenty bottles were procured by a local outlet of which there were 500 requests.

Amazing stuff. Heavy in the vanilla/caramel on the pallet which stays with you long enough to let your imagination go crazy.

@Victor, I've had my Noah's Mill for several months, and I really have not noticed any change in it. I have however, experienced noticable transformations in several single malts ... and between new and old bottles as well. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure that I am not the one undergoing the change :)

Frequency of sampling may also play a part ... as I tend to sample Scotch 75% of the time, then bourbon, then rum and brandy, and finally poor tequila and vodka, which rarely make it to the front of the queue. The 'waters of life' appear to be quite abundant :-)

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