A bottle that hardly needs an introduction, 2018 Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year bourbon.
The Pappy Van Winkle brand has become its own metaphor. Instead of describing Pappy Van Winkle bourbon as the “holy grail” or “golden goose,” other products can be aptly described as “the Pappy Van Winkle of [fill in the blank].”
And what would the metaphor be describing? A mix of something elusive, hyped, quality, luxury, famed, and overblown.
But, let’s set all that aside for a moment. And rather than focus on the phenomenon, let’s see what we think about what’s inside the bottle.
We recently sat down to sample a 2018 bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year bourbon. This is a bourbon produced from a mash of corn, wheat, and malted barley, distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace Distillery. There was a time when this was distilled and aged at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery prior to the brand’s purchase by Sazerac/Buffalo Trace. But for the past several years, the bourbon has been distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year (90.4 proof)
Nose: Like opening an old cigar box; there’s also a savory scent similar to capers, followed by oak; cherry; strawberry; red apple; allspice; dried raisin and prune; faux leather/new car; and finally a bit of a wet denim smell with time. A rich and complex nose that is surprisingly not dominated by oak. (4/5)
Palate: Black grapes lead the way, along with figs; oak; dark chocolate; apple cider; cherry; some butterscotch and caramel; apricot; and a mild cigar. Again, for 20 years in the barrel, this is not the oak-bomb that could be expected. There’s much to enjoy here. (4/5)
Finish: Dried chocolate; a bit tannic; particle board; musty; some tobacco leaf. The age catches up more here than on the nose and palate. (3.5/5)
Overall: Again, setting aside all the noise surrounding the brand, this particular bottle delivers a quality experience. Aged for two decades, it has an undeniable complexity without being barraged by oak. It’s not earth shattering, but there’s a lot to like. (4/5)
Value: Suggested retail on this is about $150. Add another zero, and you can probably find someone willing to sell it to you online. We got a pour locally for $20. A 20-year bourbon, with complexity beyond just different shades of oak, satisfies that price. (3/5)
Stephen is a regular writer at FlightClubICT.com