Flight Club has selected a 2011 bottling of 20-Year Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bourbon as the 2016 End of the Year Bottle (EOYB). A brief overview of the 20 Year Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bourbon can be found here: http://www.oldripvanwinkle.com/whiskey/family-reserve-20-year/.
The significance of this bottle is twofold. First, obvious to many is that the Pappy Van Winkle name carries with it a certain mystique and pride. Second, this bottle was produced at the now famous Stitzel-Weller distillery and the bourbon inside is some of the last bourbon produced at the distillery and the last 20 year Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve ever produced there.
As to “Pappy” bourbons generally, even casual whiskey aficionados have heard the legends of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons– ever highly rated and ever scarce. Over the past ten to fifteen years, the bourbon has developed a reputation of being the pinnacle of bourbons and thus has been increasingly difficult to find or purchase. Today, the bourbons are nearly impossible to find in any retail environment or at manufactures suggested retail price. Bottles are allocated, reserved, and sold to the most loyal of customers or to the highest bidder. On the secondary market, availability is limited, and the price for any bourbon carrying any Van Winkle relation demands often greater than five times retail price. In many bars, a pour of “Pappy” can cost $100’s.
But this is no “ordinary” Pappy. The Stitzel-Weller distillery is now a legendary and defunct distillery located outside of Louisville, Kentucky. It was first opened in 1935 by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. It produced various wheated-bourbon products, including the lineup of Van Winkle bourbons, and brands such as Weller, Old Fitzgerald and even Rebel Yell. After the distillery closed in 1992, the various wheated bourbon brands’ owners transferred production
elsewhere, including the then new Bernheim distillery, and some of the various brands were sold off.
Distillation runs up to the date of Stitzel-Weller’s closing would have produced Old Fitzgerald up to around 1997 (a roughly 5-6 year bourbon) and Weller products until approximately 2000 (for the Old Weller Antique). The various Van Winkle lines (ranging in dates from 10 to 23 years) would deplete the Stitzel-Weller stock in stages, up to approximately 2015 with the final bottling of 23-Year Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (rumor has it that those bottles of 23 year were blended with Stitzel-Weller and Buffalo Trace/Bernheim stock over the final few years). The 20-Year 2011 bottling is believed to be one of the last purely Stitzel-Weller bottling of any Van Winkle bourbon and the last 20-year Stitzel-Weller bottling ever.
Since 2002, the Van Winkle brands have been distilled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Of note, the Van Winkle bourbons purport to be produced by the “Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery;” however, this branding is in name only and physical production only occurred at the Stitzel-Weller distillery, the Bernheim distillery, and now the Buffalo Trace distillery.
Accompanying the 20-year Pappy will be a 2016 bottling of Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year. This bourbon is bottled at 107 proof. It was produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery. Tasting notes, as available on the Van Winkle website, are as follows: “See a rich, copper color. Smell enticingly sweet, spicy, caramel-nut-fudge aromas. Enjoy a fruity, medium-to full-bodied palate with intense dried fruit and toasted nuts notes. Each sip finishes with a very long, bold wave of peppery brown spices, floral honey and charred barrel flavors that balance the weight of the alcohol. It’s a big, bold, aged bourbon that has great balance for its high proof and flavor.”
Formal tasting notes from both bourbons will be available soon.