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The Legend: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pappy Van Winkle 15 yr Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $65/bottle

Each year I drink the latest release of this bourbon. Each year I’m taken aback by how great it is. It’s scarce and extremely tough to locate. And it seems just when I’m frustrated enough, I get a call from my local merchant informing me, “Pappy 15 is in!” This year was no different. I intended to review this with at least one of its older brothers, the 20 or 23 year expressions, but you needed to know about this one quick enough to get your hands on a bottle.

Pappy 15′s nose is as nearly perfect as you can get; rum, dried fruits (dates, apricots, raisins), soft caramel, maple syrup, buttery toffee, vanilla, barrel, leather, and light cedar. It’s rich, sweet, well spiced, but still vibrant in spite of it’s 15 years on the barrel. Pappy 15 pours into your glass like slightly watered down syrup or honey. From that moment you sense just how rich, thick, and lush this whiskey is. Flavors of rum soaked fruits, dried red or berry fruits, salted caramel, nutmeg, clove, maple, vanilla, toasted coconut, almonds, and char plow over your taste buds. This bourbon is huge – just a monster of flavors, with a long finish of toffee, caramel, fruits, barrel, and warming spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon). Simply put, it’s one of the finest whiskeys made on the planet – an EPIC expression of Bourbon. The highest of recommendations.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)

54 Comments

  1. AaronWF says:

    Well Jason, we certainly agree on the Pappy! Love the enthusiasm you have for this bottle (though where’s the smile?)! When Pappy 15 first kissed my mouth some four years ago, bourbon officially took hold of me after a 2 year flirtation. At that time, not only was the bottle easy to find, it cost me in the neighborhood of $40-$45. I don’t know if it’s reduced stock, more demand or a combination of both, but the lack of a constant Pappy in my life has been a bummer. It has forced me to seek out new experiences in bourbon and beyond, which I have to appreciate, but as may be inferred from your review, if Pappy 15 is the only bourbon you ever know – it’s a good life!

    I’m lucky living in Chicago; the best place to buy whiskey around here for price and steady variety is Binny’s, and they have a fantastic relationship with Buffalo Trace Distillery. I was fortunate enough to snag two of these Pappy 15, as well as a Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye.

    W.L. Weller 12-year was another wheated gem readily available in my green days of bourbon, and a steal at $22. It’s back on the shelves now priced closer to $30, but I have to tell you that my first taste of the William Larue Weller released with the 2010 antique collection has blown my socks off completely. I have yet to open my recently acquired Pappy 15, so it’s been a few years, but if I remember correctly the Weller somehow expands upon the divinity you describe in the Pappy. Do yourself a favor and get a hold of a bottle!

  2. Thanks for the comment Aaron. I definitely have the entire Antique Collection on my radar to review soon, and the one I want to try more than any is W.L. Weller. I would agree that the only wheated bourbon outside the Pappy line that I’ve ever felt gave it a run for it’s money was WLW. Can’t wait to try this years. But I urge you to open that bottle when you have an opportunity. It’s magical stuff. Just about as good as bourbon gets.

    Thanks again!

    -Jason

  3. Texas says:

    I asked my wife to get me something from the BTAC or PVW collection for Christmas (her choice). So I will be getting a surprise on Christmas. PVW 15 (I have had 2 glasses of it that’s it) is amazing stuff. The BTAC William Larue Weller (I had a bottle of the 2009) is right up there.

  4. Texas says:

    Also wanted to add that I am glad you are doing the high end stuff as well. I may only be able to afford one bottle each year, but the reviews that you and WDJK do really help with the purchases.

    I would also like to add that I would love to see you review a couple of your recommended bourbons or ryes that are in the sub-$20 range.

  5. TexIN says:

    Been reading for a while – first post. After listening to you wax poetic about Pappy 15, I was inspired to go to my cabinet and reach far back and pull this one out for an unexpected mid-week glass (one that is usually reserved for special occasions). Two truths: 1) God is good. 2) This bourbon is proof.

    In Indianapolis (a displaced Texan), I must say that we have quite the selection of bourbon – much better than I did in Dallas. Pappy 15 is hard to find here, but not impossible. For anyone reading, there are four stores I would try – Vine and Table, Kahn’s, Payless Liquors, 21st Amendment. Even before the new allotments came out I picked up 3 bottles to put in my bunker. Do the same if you have the luck and the resources – muck like Jason said, this bourbon is superb.

    Jason… what other bourbons would you recommend at this level and with this high regard that you give Pappy 15?

    For my dollar, Four Roses Mariage ’09 is also a bourbon to save.

  6. Thank you for your comments, and thank you for the store suggestions in your area. Any visitors in your neck of the woods may be able to secure a bottle a little easier with that info.

    As for recommendations – there are a lot of truly top notch bourbons and American Whiskeys out there. I was really fearful that I’d get this kind of question because Pappy 15 is just such an exceptional pour. Even when compared against the older whiskeys in the line – 20 and 23 – it fares so well. It’s a bigger, fuller, more vibrant whiskey than both of those so frankly I feel it’s superior. That said, my time spent with 23 has consisted of a couple drams in nice restaurant.

    But to answer your question I feel that W.L. Weller, George T. Stagg, Rock Hill Farm, Parker’s Heritage Collection (Limited annual releases), Certain releases (including 2000) of Evan Williams Single Barrel, Four Roses Single Barrel 100th anniversary. All of these are exceptional whiskeys. I cannot however say they are better than PVW 15.

    Thanks again for commenting!

    -Jason

  7. Dave says:

    This is a funny one.

    I wonder if we’re on the cusp (2 or 3 years away?) of seeing a lot more availability of the 15. I’ve been lucky to find a bunch of Lot B out there — maybe 5-10 times as much as the PVW15. Here’s hoping that the 15 becomes more available in the coming years. I know the good, rare stuff really is hard to find, but the PVW 15′s lack of availability is heartbreaking.

  8. Tom says:

    Hi Jason,

    Enjoyed the Pappy 15 review, and I’ve got a bottle of the same on it’s way to me. I’m really looking forward to it.

    By the way, is that a Riedel Port glass you’re drinking from?
    It sure looks like one.

  9. Robert says:

    Very nice review. I have been looking for a 15 for the past few months with no success. As soon as I read your review I called the local ABC Spirits to see if they can order me two bottles. Regardign the BTAC WLW. I have been fortunate and picked up a couple of bottles of the 2010 reelase. Simply put. It is superb and my favorite in the BTAC. I very much look forward to getting my hands on some PVW 15. If anyone knows where to pick it up in Tampa please share.

  10. I hope you enjoy it Tom. Let me know.

    As for the glasses, I’ve tried them all: classic lowball/rocks glasses, Riedel single malt, Glencairn, etc. These are $5 Crate&Barrel Port classes. They are outstanding. The closest thing I’ve found to a classic copita-style sherry nosing glass, which I think is a great class to use. I like a stem – keeps me from warming the whiskey too much. The Glencairn has a base but I think these are easier to hold. And the price is great.

    I have a post coming soon in a Bourbonology 101 Series I’m working on.

    Thanks for visiting!

  11. Thanks for the comment. Good luck locating it. If I come across any extra I’ll let you know – perhaps they can ship to you.

    -Jason

  12. Vince Carida says:

    Jason:
    I totally agree with your review of the PVW 15 year Old. I am lucky enough to have 4 bottles in my bunker. I also feel it is every bit as good (if not better than the 20 and 23 yr old). Truly exceptional bourbon and one I will be opening for Thanksgiving.
    Have you tried to Jefferson 17 year old Presidential reserve? I would be interested to have your opinion since it comes from Stitzel-Weller. I think it is a very good bourbon but for my money the PVW 15 is better

  13. Thanks for the tip Jason! I got it just in time to snag the last (maybe only) bottle of 15 at my liquor store.

    -Ryan

  14. Well done. That’s exactly why wanted to get the word out. Glad you scored 1!

  15. sam k says:

    Thanks for the continued and consistent good work here, Jason. Happy Thanksgiving!

  16. Happy Thanksgiving to you also Sam. Thanks for the visit and the comment. Hope you have a great food and whiskey filled holiday week ahead.

    -Jason

  17. Joe Serapilio says:

    Jason,I also took your”public service anouncement”seriously and picked up a bottle of Pappy15.Bigger stores near me are out or people have them on hold.A smaller store near me had two.I got it for $69.00 here in upstate New York.Your review was right on the money.I wonder if Julian had caught it!

  18. Glad you got one. Honestly I really intended to make a big production out of 2-3 Pappy Bourbons and review them off closer to Christmas, but the shear rarity of 15 prompted me to get it out sooner in hopes others might get a hold of a bottle or two. It’s great that you did. I really love the stuff. To me it just goes so far beyond even other fantastic bourbons. I need to have a pour of it tonight.

    -Jason

  19. MAL says:

    Great review. I have some 20yr Pappy that is awesome, but have yet to try the 15. Note to TexIn, I was passing through Indianapolis last week and stopped at Vine and Table. Great store and staff. It was pure luck that on the day of my visit they just got in a few cases of Rittenhouse Rye 6 yr old, a steal at $19.99 a bottle. I can’t get it in Michigan where I live so I was pretty happy to find some.

  20. Bran Man says:

    Sadly, it seems I started far too late as a Bourbon drinker. I live in Dallas TX and it’s increasingly difficult to acquire anything from the Van Winkle family.

    As it was explained to me, the reserve where these recent bottles are plucked from, are drying up. Van Winkle has switched to the Buffalo Trace distillery to produce their product line. With that said, we have to wait until the product matures before we can begin to see this in abundance. In the meantime, whatever they have left is what gets distributed.

    In Dallas TX, the primary liquor store who received 85%+ of the Van Winkle stock was Goody Goody. I have contacted every single store and they are either out of stock or the product is on hold. In fact, one store claims that they get invoiced and never receive the product. Either way, it appears I shall never know such joy for years and years, and years. -___-

    To Jason, I love all your reviews and have been following them on Youtube. Keep it up sir ^_^

  21. Thanks a bunch for the comment! And also for bringing up a fantastic point. The Old Rip Van Winkle distillery was essentially pulling reserve product from the old, defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, which made the product prior to their parternship with Buffalo Trace. They have enough product for the 20 and 23 year olds, but the 15 is essentially about dried up. The recent bottlings of Lot B and Old Rip Van WInkle 10 year (both 90 and 107) have come from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Folks say they have 12-13 year old product right now that more than likely will be the Pappy 15 in a couple years. It’s the same recipe of course and the BT folks do a great job. Plus with Julian Van Winkle overseeing it you can bet that it should be the real deal. So you don’t have too much longer to wait! ; )

    Also I encourage you to scour the internet and see what you can find. My wife located a second bottle for me (she’s a good one!) from a store based out of CA. They couldn’t ship it out however. But still there’s some to be had. I also found a bottle in Knoxville, TN. So don’t give up. You may find it somewhere!

    Thanks again!

    -Jason

  22. Great video review on the Pappy. I’m going to pick up a bottle tomorrow. I don’t know much about bourbon but I think this is a good place to start. Cheers!

  23. Absolutely Frank. PVW15 is a remarkable bourbon. One of the best (I think) made. I’d only advise, much like getting into wine, to be patient with it, let it open up a little and even use a little water to cool down some of that alcohol bite. But if you can find a bottle – pick it up. You won’t be sorry.

    I really appreciate the comment. I just clicked on your website – very well done! I’m a big wine lover also so your site looks like it’s right up my alley. Can’t wait to dig in further.

  24. Love the Pappy, was lucky enough to find a bottle of the 15 here in Atlanta just yesterday (though still working on my last bottle as well). It flies off the shelves of just about every liquor store, I’ve found it helps to go to some out of the way, less “popular” stores when it’s scarce.

  25. Bruce Lieberman says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for the review. Tried the 12 year a couple of weeks ago and thought it was the best bourbon that I had ever tried. Picked up the last 2 15 year bottles at a New Orleans store this week. Really looking forward to trying it after watching your review.

  26. Lucky you man! Two bottles – outstanding. I love the 12 also – just a fantastic whiskey. What you’ll find with the 15 is more well developed spice, it’s bigger, fuller, and richer, but with the same great profile as 12. Enjoy and have a great holiday sipping.

    -Jason

  27. Norm says:

    Pappy 15 year I special ordered some and my wife did with the Vermont DLC in the spring and they never received any, I walked in my local outlet that special ordered to pickup some JD for a friend and much to my surprise six bottles on the shelf came in for us and she lost my Phone number now i’m the proud ownwer of six well 5-1/2 bottles it every bit as good as people if not better.

  28. Norm says:

    Pappy 15 year I special ordered some and my wife also with the Vermont DLC in the spring and they never received any that we ordered, yesterday I walked in my local outlet that we special ordered them from to pickup some JD for a friend and much to my surprise six bottles on the shelf. They came in for us and she lost my Phone number now Im the proud ownwer of six well five and 1/2 bottles it every bit as good as everyone claims if not better. It appears that they become available in early December?

  29. Awesome Norm. Way to score in a big way. It’s interesting to me that I hear this frequently. The best stores in town have none and one fine day someone walks into the small little store up the street and finds 2 bottles. Congrats and enjoy!

  30. Jim Sanders says:

    Jason,

    I hope you do (soon) review the William Larue Weller from the BT Antique Collection. I’m wanting to try one of the higher end bourbons and that one (along with the George T Stagg) are on my list (which now must include at least one of the Pappy’s).

    Keep up the great work. (Do you have a ‘release’ schedule for the video reviews? i.e., when is the next one due?)

    Jim

  31. Hey Jim, thanks for the suggestion. You know I frankly didn’t get a hold of the 2010 Weller. I’ve sipped it at local establishments and have a good friend that got a bottle, but the dang stuff is tough to come by. So unfortunately a review will be tough (but I’m looking for it). However, I can tell you that the stuff is stellar. If pressed for a rating I’d say 9.3-9.5 range easy.

    As for reviews, I’ve had a little issue. I recorded that Michters review and my camera went bonkers. I thought I got it fixed but it’s goofing up on me. I had a Knob Creek Single Barrel and Knob Creek Small Batch review in the queue. Hoping to straighten this out and get it out by tomorrow or Friday. Stay tuned. I’m working towards 1-2 a week plus some other posts.

  32. Rajesh says:

    Jason,
    I see that the last comment in this thread dates back several months but I thought that this would be the best thread to post my comments in.
    I “finally” (using “” instead of capital letters) tried ‘PVW 15 yr’ and the experience did not disappoint – it’s truly a phenomenal/epic expression of bourbon and I now understand why it’s reputation precedes it.
    I will say that I started researching this particular whisky and following it w/ interest after reading your post on it – and I’m glad I did.
    You’re doing a great job w/ reviews — thanks a ton !

    –Rajesh

  33. Rajesh, glad you enjoyed it man. It’s great stuff. Thanks for the comment as well.

  34. Jimmy D says:

    tried the pappy van winkle 20 yr old was disappointed did not have wow factor i thought it would have in my opinion not worth $109.00 much better bourbons out there less money

  35. Jimmy, I think the class of the Pappy Lineup is the 15 by a very large margin. I would say that’s the one that is truly truly special. The 20 is good, as is the 23, but in my opinion not nearly as good as the 15. The 12 Lot B, which I reviewed is a masterclass in texture and mouth feel. It’s velvety and beautiful and superb. The 10 year old old rip van winkle is excellent as well. For the price I give the not to the Weller 12 against it though, but still great stuff. In short I find Pappy’s less expensive offerings better than the two older whiskeys.

  36. Anorak1977 says:

    Have you compared this to the fall 2011 release which apparently no longer contained S/W whiskey? I opened this on Thanksgiving and was very underwhelmed with it, especially in comparison to the BTAC offerings.

    I also have a Fall ’11 bottle of the 20 y.o. I found the 15 lacking in complexity… how does the 20 compare to this? I’m told the 20 and 23 still contain S/W whiskeys.

  37. Anorak1977, I hope to compare it soon. I have a bottle of 15 ready as soon as the local shops get it from the distributor. Can’t wait to compare them side by side to see what we’re looking at. The 20 I had last night and it does still consist of all Stitzel-Weller juice.

  38. Anorak1977 says:

    Jason:

    After re-tasting today, it seems that a little oxygen helps to open this spirit up. It now shows a lip smackingly good, silky and rich texture and flavor. Perhaps the contents of the bottle have shifted around, bringing out some remnants, if any, of S/W blend that may still be in this new fall ’11 release :)

    It’s only flaws seem to be that it’s a bit too alcoholic on the nose, and it could use just a wee bit more flavour.

  39. Brad Sarno says:

    Hey Jason. Just curious to see if you’ve tasted this new fall 2011 batch of Pappy Van Winkle 15. Would this years 2011 release be from the same source as last years that you reviewed here? Both BT?

    Thanks,
    Brad

  40. Brad Sarno says:

    Oops, missed the posts right before that. We eagerly await your review on the 2011 batch. Interesting to hear from others too and not only this comment by Anorak1977 that a bit of air and time seems to help this stuff manifest properly.

  41. Folks I got a bottle of the 2011 15 and 20 year. I’ll be doing a post very shortly on both with a video review. Cheers!

  42. Anorak1977 says:

    After comparing the new 15 to the new 20, It’s quite obvious that there is a very different makeup to the distillate in the 15. It lacks sweetness on the palate compared to the 20. Given that the 20 is still S/W juice, this makes sense.

    I found the 20 to be much more elegant, sweeter, and not overly wooded at all. It’s my favorite of the two (ever so slightly), and to me worth the extra $25 I paid for the 20.

  43. Anorak1977 – good info. I’m looking forward to comparing a bottle of Stitzel-Weller 15 with the all Buffalo Trace 15 of 2011. Also with the S-W 20 as well.

  44. James Mays says:

    Jason, will you be putting out reviews on the Pappy 20 year or 23 year? And is there any chance that we will ever get a review on the Old Rip Van Winkle 23 year (114 Proof)? Also, will you be able to provide definitive clarification on the source of the distillate for the current releases of 15, 20, and 23 Pappy?

  45. James, indeed I will be. THe 20 and 15 Pappy 2011 reviews will hit early next week. The 15 is now Buffalo Trace distilled and aged bourbon. The 20 and 23 are still Stitzel Weller. Cheers!

  46. Ford says:

    For those interested in finding these coveted bottles, I scored the 15 at BevMo and the 20 the following day at a another BevMo of a different location. I am in the San Francisco Bay area. The time to make calls is NOW. They are getting small shipments NOW. I’ve had good luck with BevMo. Also got Thomas Handy and a George Stagg. They go on a first come, first serve basis – or so they say. Just check with them often, find out the delivery day, call that first thing that morning and let them know you are ready. In both cases, they held them for a few hours behind the desk. The flexibility of semi-retirement doesn’t hurt either. Cheers!

  47. James Mays says:

    Thanks Jason, I’m very much looking forward to the review on the “different” Pappy 15 2011. Looking forward also to the 20 year, of course! What about the 23 year of which there are two variations??

  48. James, the 20 and the 23 are still Stitzel-Weller bourbon as far was we know today. Just FYI.

  49. Thanks Ford – this too qualifies as a Public Service Announcement. Well done!

  50. Nat Hayes says:

    I am trying to locate some Pappy 15 in North Carolina. I have read in many places that it is an excellent bourbon. In truth, I am trying to find what is closest to a particular bourbon that is apparently not produced anymore. My Grandfather had some Weller’s Antique Reserve Ten Year 110 Barrel Proof that was probably acquired in the 1950′s. That bourbon was wonderful. Is there something comparable to that?

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jerry Albright, Jason Pyle, Jason Pyle, Jason Pyle, Jason Pyle and others. Jason Pyle said: Wow, 3! RT @ken_lunde: I am glad to have 3 bottles of this ☺ RT @jmpyle: Near #bourbon perfection – Pappy Van Winkle 15. http://ow.ly/3b1LS [...]

  2. [...] you haven’t seen my review of Pappy Van Winkle 15 please take a look. It’s a fantastic bourbon and I dare say about as complete as whiskey gets [...]