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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.)