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Pappy Van Winkle's 23 Year Old Family Reserve

15, 20, and 23 Real Time Comparison

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RReview by @Rigmorole

12th Jan 2014

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Finish
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  • Balance
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  • Overall
    92

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

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.

THIS IS A SIDE BY SIDE COMPARISION, THREE LONG STEMMED WHISKY GLASSES LINED UP NEXT TO EACH OTHER ON THE TABLE:

HALF EMPTY BOTTLES ON ALL OF THEM:

RIGHT OFF THE BAT:

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. . . .

SITTING IN GLASS FOR TEN MINUTES:

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.

-finis-

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1 comments

@Pierre_W
Pierre_W commented

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. :-)

8 years ago 0

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