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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.