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Pappy Van Winkle's 23 Year Old Family Reserve

Average score from 5 reviews and 8 ratings 88

Pappy Van Winkle's 23 Year Old Family Reserve

Product details

  • Brand: Van Winkle
  • Bottler: Unknown
  • ABV: 47.8%
  • Age: 23 year old

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Pappy Van Winkle's 23 Year Old Family Reserve

So this is a whiskey about which there is a crazy cult status. I'm already a huge fan of the Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Years Rye, and other Van Winkles haven't quite hit that spot. But when I hear people say the VW are overrated I completely disagree. They are sublime whiskeys.

And this is a special one.

Colour is clear tawny chestnut brown and oily in the glass.

Nose is big brown muscovado sugar, caramel, deep maple sugar and then that classic Van Winkle characteristic of the wheated mash, which gives you that rich grapey white wine vinous aroma and flavour, like a Sauternes or a sweet wine or a cognac (which I also find in WL Weller 12 Year Old - same mash bill). The ageing has done wonders for this. Lots of vanilla oak, stone fruits and a slight dusting of chocolate and some aged wood. It's more complex than the VW 13 Year Rye (but less bright and perky). Getting a depth of floral, toasted coconut and alluring perfume. Could sit and smell this all day long.

Taste is very very smooth. No burn, it just floats over the senses, and builds some warmth on the back of my tongue and flushing my neck. Maple syrup, caramel, muscovado sugar, little coffee granules, vanilla and toffee, and more of that delightful Sauternes vinous grapey character, almost like a cognac.

The finish is long, stone fruits, sweet, maple syrup, vanilla, cognac, and it's here that a slight flaw begins to show. As you sit and let the flavours settle there's a slow build up of slightly too old bitter wood. It's also a bit green sappy. Like licking a too old wood barrel but with a bit of green tree sappiness. To some it wouldn't necessarily be a flaw and I hesitate to call it this, because the rest of the flavours and aromas are so sublime, but it's definitely a point or two away from perfection.

This should not take away from what is probably one of the greatest, most sublime and complex whiskey's I have ever tasted. I still maybe shade the 13 year rye over this, but it's remarkable for its smoothness and softness on the palate, and then a delightful range of rich perfumed flavours.

Oh if only I could buy a bottle without paying $2000.


For my 150th review on connosr I picked something truly special: Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 years old. Through luck and the generosity of a good friend I was able to obtain a bottle in early 2014 and it would have lasted longer had I not been generous myself in giving some of it to my fellow whisky maniacs who were begging me for a sample. Indeed, we do not get to see much of Pappy in Europe, which makes their reaction understandable.

Nowadays, the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve label is produced at Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, KY, but of course that used to be different in the old days. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in 1893 when Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. started as a traveling salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons. He and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery that produced bourbon for Weller. The two companies were merged to become the Stitzel-Weller distillery that opened in May 1935. Pappy who at the time was 61 had a heavy influence on the operations at the distillery until his death at the age of 91 in 1965. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until the distillery was sold in 1972. After selling the distillery, Julian, Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He initially used stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. In 1981, Julian Jr.’s son, Julian, III took over the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery Company, and his son, Preston, joined the company in 2001. Since 2002, the Van Winkle brands have been distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace Distillery as a joint venture with the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery Company. These tasting notes relate to bottle #E-2832.

The nose is lush and fruity with an initial burst of alcohol. Based on what I had heard about this bourbon I braced myself for a wood spice attack, but though the oak was there it was far from overpowering, just sweetly spicy. Instead, vanilla, marzipan and plenty of orange peel were at the forefront, followed by honey, a delightful maltiness and a touch of ginger as well as nutmeg. Wonderful! Adding water decreased the intensity of all the flavours.

The palate is full-bodied and rich, yet very smooth and rather dry. Honey and ginger are back, together with vanilla fudge, cinnamon and hints of dark chocolate. With water the dryness disappears but is replaced with wood spice.

The finish is long and warming. Wood spice mingles with sweet vanilla flavours. Hints of oranges and honey round this off.

Did this live up to my admittedly high expectations? The nose and finish certainly did. I found the nose to be lush, rich and sweetly spicy – in short: sheer pleasure. The palate, on the other hand, was a bit weak – despite the high ABV – and rather dry. In my opinion this should be enjoyed neat as water does not add to the experience. Thus, and to sum it up, I did enjoy this bottle tremendously but I might not do my utmost to try and secure a second one.

Pappy coveters might hate this, but let me tell you about the one time I had this. I'll say at the outset that I'm not a bourbon guy.

My family was staying a week at an uncle's vacation home that had all kinds of random people staying there all the time. My wife's uncle had previously had nothing but Dewar's White kicking around in previous years, but last year there was a pretty full bottle of Pappy 23 from, presumably, one of those random guests that preceded us. Nobody knew anything about it and nobody cared if I tore into it.

I didn't like it at all. It was like acetone, or nail polish remover, or some sort of solvent. (Is that typical for a well-aged bourbon, by the way?) I'm exaggerating the negatives here, but it really wasn't to my taste. I tried it a couple different nights; I tried it neat and on ice. It always ranged from "off-putting" to "OK" for me.

By the end of the week, I was using it as a 50:50 mixer with the Laphroaig 10 CS that I had brought from home in my flask.

Apologies to the collective denizens of whiskydom who would have appreciated that Pappy 23 more than I did.

PVW 23, it's the new 20. Perhaps literally. Much less woody than it used to be and the 20 is much less complex, but still quite delicious. The 15 now tastes like the 12 used to. Think it's an "inside job?" Well, you can't blame "slippery bottle dates" that on a heist. . . .

I miss the good ole days when I could walk into the liquor store and buy a bottle from the shelf around the holidays. And the price in bars is outrageous now. Still, I am want to splurge from time to time. A glass here, a glass there. C'est la vie. This year I didn't even try to get a bottle. I could have, but why? It's just not worth the trouble.

I'm happy with Old Weller 12 and 107 Antique for the holidays, along with a bottle of Glendronach 1975 DT Three Generations. The '75 is less expensive than a Pappy's 23, or even a 20, and I like it much better.

As for the Antique 107, it's certainly a good enough bourbon to impress most of my dinner guests. Very festive and full of holiday scents, tastes, and after tastes. This year, I'm giving out the 107 as holiday presents for my friends and a few colleagues. In my opinion, it's a really fine bottle and it takes water quite well. On ice, especially a big round icecube? Wunderbar!


First of all, Van Winkle is not a distiller from what I understand. Van Winkle obtains its stock from distilleries but does not make its own any longer. Correct me if I'm wrong. I could be wrong, since I heard this fact from a bartender who might be full of hot air.

For the past couple of years, Van Winkle's has selected Buffalo Trace barrels. It seems this tradition may continue. My good friend, who shall remain nameless but who stars in a very popular television program these days gave me a book on Buffalo Trace called The Great Crossing: A Historical Journey to Buffalo Trace Distillery. It's quite interesting.

Let's get started on the comparison. I should probably state up front that I am pretty much a single malt scotch man. I rarely drink very much bourbon, but the Pappy's line is among my favorite whiskey (and whisky) of all time. Its up near the top, even though there are some very old and very nice single malts that occupy very top spots in my brain's ability to rank magickal ichors.

I've been sipping at the Pap's glass nipple since back when it was readily available on the shelves of my favorite liquor store in town and I rue the day it became so popular and hence so hard to lay hands upon.

Then again, my past glowing reviews of Pappy's stuff has not helped to keep it a well kept secret among whiskey lovers who cannot help reaching for the best that they can get/afford instead of so-so bottles.




15 YEAR I liked the 15 year better last year. It was more balanced. However, that's not to say I didn't like the fifteen this year. Oh hell yes I did. But not as much as last year. In some ways the nose was more like last year's 20. The first thing I noticed on the nose was the pungent grip of model airplane glue from my childhood. It's not an unpleasant smell to me and it makes me nostalgic for simpler times when I built plane after plane. Little to no wood on the nose. In the mouth nougat, vanilla. Lemon thyme. Treacle. Burnt caramel. The finish was medium length but very nice.

20 YEAR Very sweet. Not as defined of a burnt treacle note as the 15. A little flat compared to last years but perhaps better balanced. There is vanilla, some oak. The nose is surprisingly vacant. Finish is medium.

23 YEAR Nose: Model airplane nose (like the 15). Not as much caramel as the 15. Nice oak, but not overpowering. Palate: exquisite. Cherry note. Nougat finish. Homemade marshmellow. Vanilla. Marshmellowy goodness, some caramel. The finish is very long indeed. Wow. I'm speechless. . . .


20 Cherry note dominant now. Opened up, not so flat. The most "conventional" bourbon finish. Not so dry as last year. Seems like a lower ABV? I hope the bar didn't water it down or I will need to call some wise guys to help me ge to the bottom of this quandary (just joking, it's a jooooooke!) Still, I think I will taste the 20 elsewhere just out of curiosity. If I find a glaring difference from this review, then I will state it in a new review on the 20.

15 The marshmellow note is more palpable now, and distracts a little from the rest. Not as balanced as last year's offering.

23 Cherry flinty note fades, wood seems more piney like pine, oak subsumes other flavors on finish but pleasantly, drier finish than others. I should add water but I just can't bring myself to do it. Yes, if I were tasting professionally tonight I would, but I'm not so I won't. Sorry, just can't water this stuff down to experiment with it. It's too precious to do that.

SITTING IN GLASS FOR THIRTY MINUTES: 23 pulls ahead and is my favorite. Right out of the bottle, I like the 15 the most. The 20 stays more constant. It's very even keeled this year. Still, it's a bore when compared side by side to the 23.

FINAL OBSERVATIONS: The 23 is quite good this year. If you passed on it, you are missing out. Sorry to break the news. Yes, it's mind blowing. The 20 seemed flat compared to last year but it is easier to drink, if that makes sense. I didn't add water to these bourbons. I just couldn't do it after spending so much on the glasses (I won't say how much but OWCH! if this wasn't a passionate hobby I wouldn't have spent the money).

I am just amazed at how damned frickin good these bourbons taste and how wonderfully they behave with some air. I was just itching to find weaknesses, especially after spending so much money to taste them this year, but I have to admit that I just adore them. The only drawback: the 15 was better last year. This said, the 23 is MUCH better this year.

The colors of the whiskies are remarkable, absolutely beautiful. They get darker as they got older, of course. The 23 is a work of art.

I wish I had been able to find a bottle of the 23 this year.

Last year, I obtained a bottle of the 20. In retrospect, wish I'd snagged the 15 instead last year.

2013 was the year that the 15 really shined, IMO. This year, the 23 reigns supreme.

At the end of my little tasting experiment at Vintage Cocktail in SE Portland, I poured the 20 into a Glen Cairn to see if it changed the nose. It did indeed, surprisingly for the better . . . or perhaps this was due to the fact that some oxygen had worked its magic by then on the whiskey.

MY RATING BELOW IS FOR THE 23, NOT THE 20 OR THE 15. I just love 96, partly because I'm a stickler and I have rarely ever used it in a whisk[e]y rating. It's a very interesting number, indeed. Poetically reserved and yet lavish at the same time. Okay, I'll shut up now. Seriously, there's nothing like a line up like this to make a guy wax poetic. I feel fortunate to have been able to taste all three Pappys next to each other.


What a lively review, @rigmorole! I envy you as Pappy Van Winkle is virtually un-obtainable in Europe. A great and entertaining review, and btw I, too, built plane after plane in my childhood. :-)


Many thanks to @numen for the reviewed sample, which is from bottle C 7390.

Nose: strong intensity, sweet wheat/oak combined flavours. Lots of vanilla and perfume of roses. A very lovely nose. Water softens the nose a little, but offers little change otherwise

Taste: lots of old oak with the wheat here. Slightly tired wood, but still enjoyable. Quite sweet with strong vanilla from all of that wood aging. Significant alcohol greeting. Water muffles the flavours and doesn't add anything

Finish: long, sweet, goes a little bitter toward the close. Leaves a good bit to be desired. As with the delivery, water muffles the flavours and adds nothing except to soften the alcohol greeting

Balance: this is enjoyable, but stops short of greatness because of the very old slightly bitter wood. The alcohol hit is also pretty strong relative to the %ABV. I have had samples of Pappy Van Winkle 23 yo from other bottles which have been better than this and at least one that was worse than this. So, for me, this is a bourbon that can range anywhere from 75 to 95 in score. Today's sample would be a good median to my cumulative tastings of Pappy Van Winkle 23. I enjoyed this nose immensely and am always happy to drink Pappy Van Winkle 23, but it is extremely expensive at $ 225 in the USA, and the younger Van Winkle bourbons have better balance

@numen, it is funny how there are certain flavours for many individuals that just kick a whisky out of the desirable category for that individual. If I had perceived a smell/taste of 'varnish' I am sure that my experience of this sample of PVW23 would have gone from "flawed, but capable of being enjoyed" to "just not good enough to like". As it is, this one sample from bottle C 7390 seemed to me much like going out on a first and only blind date, and making the best of it despite some obvious flaws. I have had better PVW23 than this sample, though, so I know that it can be better. For the money, however, I would not be wanting to be taking the risk of getting a bottle with tired and bitter oak.

@Victor I'm glad that you enjoyed it (and much more than I did). I re-tasted the other day, and the varnish that I found unpleasant dissipated somewhat, but tulip shaped glasses like the Glencairn did it no favors. You're right about the younger PVWs, and this bottle, to me, is a good teacher on the lesson that older whisk(e)y doesn't mean better.


Color: Gold, tinge of copper Nose: apple pie, cinnamon, some combination of varnish and paint thinner, vanilla extract, some oak and wood dust.

Palate: medium-thick. honey, light caramel, oak. there are trace amounts of spice (nutmeg, allspice, and anise), but it's fairly subdued after the honey. Oak is somewhat drying, and there's a hint of slightly old cream-cheese.

Finish: This is usually the weaker point of the PVW line to me - usually an issue of length - and it's the weak point of the 23. The finish is bitter-dry, and a lingering sense of the varnish. I'm not sure what happened to the bourbony goodness of the 20, which, though lighter, has the classic wheater profile. The three years more in barrel did something to the liquid, and I don't like it. I have tasted this multiple times and have come away with a similar impression each time, so it's not just a bad taste here or there. I'm probably punishing it a little for the finish; the nose and palate are good, but not spectacular, but the finish really kills this for me. Very disappointing.

Well, after a bit of time, I finally finished the bottle tonight. It's bitter-sweet (the moment and the spirit). On the one hand, I'll never get this again. On the other hand, I wasn't really keen to get it again.

I let oxygen take away a real chunk of the spirit, and it was for the best. It's less varnishy and not so badly over-oaked, but it's just sort of weak and bland. That's not a surprise as it was extremely low-fill for a long time. All the same, farewell!

A bad finish leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth, literally. Unfortunately many, perhaps most, batches of the Pappy 23 YO would seem quite over-oaked to many people's taste buds, including mine. And the finish is when you notice that characteristic the most.

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