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Review: 2011 Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon (Comparison w/ 2009)

As mentioned in earlier posts this week, the 2011 Pappy 15 Bourbon is 100% Buffalo Trace whiskey rather than Stitzel-Weller.  This was stated by Preston Van Winkle in a podcast with David Driscoll of K&L Wine and Spirits. For more information on the Stitzel-Weller portion of this story and what all of this means, please check my post from Tuesday December 13, 2011.  It gives more background about a great old American Distillery. For this post I will spare you the redundancies because lord knows I talked enough in the video. It’s all in the interest of getting to the bottom of the hoopla. Is Pappy 15 better? Is it worse?

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 Proof) $75.00

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose:  Deeper oak and a flintier opening than the 2009 Pappy 15, but still so familiar. Maple syrup, toffee, sweet vanilla, root beer, dried figs, caramelized pecans, and toasted wood. Less rummy and a notch spicier than previous releases, and gorgeous all the way around – masterclass stuff. Time and air serve to open this up even more – it gets better.

Palate: Syrupy textured and luscious. The front entry is sharper and spicier than the 2009. Otherwise we’re again in familiar Pappy 15 territory. Sticky dried dark fruits, chewy toffee, butterscotch, vanilla, roasted nuts, big wood spices (nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon), sassafras, and a healthy dose of barrel char.

Finish: The finish is long with caramel, barrel, coffee, and warming spices (nutmeg).

Overall: Amazing bourbon! For me, few whiskeys achieve the depth, power, and richness that Pappy 15 does at that proof point. Sweet and soft in ways, but also well spiced. You can spend an evening discovering new aromas and flavors. The differences between this and the 2009 release are very slight. It’s a bit bolder and drier on the nose and sip, the oak is a shade more pronounced, but again it’s Pappy 15 through and through. I believe they’ve been working towards this release for a long time. It’s just my opinion only but I have to believe previous years have had increasing percentages of Buffalo Trace whiskey integrated with them. And that’s fine with me, because what we have here is still one of the finest whiskeys in the world, and certainly a candidate for America’s best bourbon this year.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.7 (Epic/Classic)

88 Comments

  1. Alan says:

    So let me get this straight…The BTAC Weller is the same as PVW 15, just aged 12-13yrs vs 15 yrs…and PVW 15 is cut to 107 instead of barrel strength? Someone please correct me if I’m wrong here. I will be opening my bottle of BTAC Weller within the next couple of days. Really looking forward to toasting to my first grandchild…IT’S A GIRL! Already got me wrapped around her little finger too!
    Cheers!

  2. MaltMuggle77 says:

    Congrats on the grand child Alan! What a great Christmas gift!

    I’m with you on the Weller… I just don’t see any reason to buy Pappy 15 anymore when you can get it cask strength and uncut for the same or less money :) Call me a naysayer, but the new 15 (or the old one if it tastes like the new release) is just not good enough. The 20 year old is the exception IMHO.

    In retrospect, I’d rather have spent my Pappy 15 $$ on a bottle of 2011 Weller. Live and Learn :)

  3. Townsend says:

    1. To answer the bag question on the 20 year, I believe half the bottles in a case have a bag and half don’t. In both the full cases I bought this was the case. The four bottles on the corners and the two in the middle had the bags. The others did not.

    2. In the tasting video with PVW15 ’09 and ’11 it was mentioned there was a tasting of a ’10. I’ve never seen a PVW15 with a bottle code indicating ’10. Does anyone actually have one? I thought the ’09 was sold for two and a half years.

  4. Townsend, great question. I wish I still had the bottle to double check. The bottle was purchased in December 2010 for the review I did last year on Pappy 15. It was a bottle from that season’s allocation. It’s quite possible it was an ’09 bottling, and that wouldn’t surprise me, but unfortunately I do not know.

  5. Alan, you are correct. The BTAC Weller is essentially the same recipe as the PVW 15. Congrats on your first grandchild. That is awesome!!!

  6. SteveBM, I have never been able to try the 23yr uncut/unfiltered. Would love too, but haven’t gotten the chance.

  7. Townsend says:

    Jason, would you share the bottle code on the PVW15 ’11? I didn’t buy any from the fall release because I bought so much of the ’09. I’d been working to decode the bottle codes for a while as I noticed differences in the PVW20. Dare I say one bottle code from the PVW20 was well below the norm and it got me looking seriously at what bottlings I had in my bunker.

  8. Townsend, sure thing. Bottle code is N2991117:48.

    Santa brought me another this morning as well. As a big Pappy drinker I would love your thoughts on the 2011. The thumbprint is a shade different, but it still so Damn brilliant.

    Cheers.

  9. Townsend says:

    Jason:

    If I understand VW bottle codes correctly, your PVW15 was bottled from line N on October 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM. I was at BT on 10/21 and saw the VW12 being bottled. They had a palate and a half of it boxed at that moment. I think there were two barrels of VW rye behind it. I didn’t want to cross the line being nosey but I sure had a lot of questions and an interest in a much closer inspection of the barrels. I’m not clear on which lines get which letter codes. I’d love a faculty chart if I could get one.

    I’ll take the ’09 and ’11 heads up when I get a chance. I’ve taken a heads up of the PVW20 ’10 and ’11 twice. Once with Glencarins and once with rocks glasses. In the Glencarins me and my friend gave a slight edge to the ’11. The round with rocks glasses weren’t identical and I poured my girlfriend the ’11 and myself the ’10. I gave the edge to the ’10 on that occasion and mainly for a superior nose. I’m planning on using Glencarins and having a run of the ’08, ’09, ’10 and ’11 with a friend soon. I believe I have some PVW20 bottles from the same year but widely different dates so I might have to double up on one of the years as I’d guess they are different batches. I also have on unopened bottle left of a PVW20 bottling I thought was notably sub par. I’d like to re-examine it in the future some time. This topic alone has sparked quite a debate with one friend regarding my criticism. To be fair I should have a blind taste of it when I finally crack it.

  10. Townsend says:

    Since this is a PVW15 thread, I’d like to know if anyone else acquired any bottles that were billed as a “19-year” version of the PVW15. I bought two bottles last year from the Cask Store in San Francisco that came with a special label at the top and billed as such verbally. Since this label isn’t a single barrel I find the claim a little confusing as I’d expect any bottling to be made of multiple barrels that are a minimum of 15-years each. They don’t bill it as a small batch either. I don’t really even know how many barrels would be blended to make an edition of PVW15. I didn’t have any reason to disbelieve their claim and I wanted the bottles even if it was no different that the regular version. I noticed the bottles are darker than the rest of my PVW15 stock so that does support the claim. However, I haven’t gotten around to cracking one yet to see if I taste a difference. Regardless, I’m interested in if anyone else ran into this same 19-year edition as represented to me.

  11. Townsend – that is correct with regard to the label and the date/time. Let me know how that Pappy head to head shapes up.

  12. Townsend says:

    I double checked my bottle codes and realized my PVW20 ’10 was a K03811 and the ’11 was M27911. So I wasn’t actually comparing different years per se as both were bottled in 2011. I also discovered across 40 bottles I didn’t actually have a ’10 which makes me wonder if there even was a bottling of PVW20 from ’10.

    Does anyone have one?

  13. Max says:

    If the 15 is now BT, why does it seem to be so rare this year compared to the 20? Maybe it’s just around here, but lots of stores didn’t get 15 in their allocation at all. Everyone seemed to at least get some 20.

    Side note. I really want to sign up for Bourbon Enthusiast, but they don’t take gmail addresses. Personally I don’t know anyone under 40 who uses an email from their ISP and not one of the major providers like gmail unless they are in college using their .edu. B.E. needs to get with the cloud! Anyone know a way around that? I believe the registration page said no exceptions. :(

  14. Will says:

    I haven’t done a direct head to head across years, but I found the new PVW15 to be surprisingly similar to the old as best as I remember it. So much so, that I looked into bottle codes and it is new.

    However, I did do a head to head with WLW. I expected the WLW to taste similar, but be richer, thicker and hotter. I did not find this to be true. At least, not nearly to the degree I expected. The WLW was markedly sweeter though. Not in a rich caramel way. More like it was dusted with powdered sugar. In comparison the PVW was more bitter. Like drinking Guinness with donuts. I assume this is a matter of barrel selection and a target flavor profile.

    I think I need time to decide on a preference. Perhaps it would be a matter of mood – or the luck of which I can acquire each year. But I just wanted to say that the two whiskeys ( my bottles at least ) are quite different.

  15. Max says:

    Got my sites confused in my mini rant. Trying to sign up for Straight Bourbon!

  16. Max, that whole scenario with StraightBourbon.com and the email account is quite frustrating. Great site, but I agree – time for them to figure a work around there.

  17. Will, I wholeheartedly agree. PVW15 and 2011 Weller have some definite similarities, but on the whole they are very different. Completely different whiskey experiences, but both wonderful.

  18. dave says:

    just got a bottle of old grand dad 100proof that was made in 1965 is it going as good as i think ???

  19. dave says:

    oops is it going to be as good as i think??

  20. Alan says:

    Cracked the PVW15 over the holidays. Man oh man…as good as you said Jason! The best that I’ve ever had. Paid way too much, $125, but was glad to get one bottle. I have the Van Winkle 12yr Lot B and the William Larue Weller. Didn’t know what I was missing until I got hold of these. As you say…epic! Just fantastic. Thanks for your reviews Jason. Very good and enlightening.
    Cheers to my first grandchild…Emmalyn!

  21. dave says:

    hellow?

  22. Dave, I am not sure what bourbon style you favor, but I reviewed Old Grand-Dad Bottled In Bond quite well. I can’t imagine the 1965 will be bad at all. In fact that’s pretty fantastic that you have a bottle that old. No way to find out but give it a try. Let me know how it goes!

  23. dave says:

    ok i will thanks

  24. Ryan Wainwright says:

    I was unaware that the PVW 20 did not all come in bags;all four I purchased this year did.I actually have one that is maroon not red I was wondering if it’s a fluke or a mismatched bag from an earlier bottling? Any thoughts?All date codes check to be 2011;bag in question came from Madison,WI.

  25. Linda VanWinkle says:

    I am not a boubon drinker, but I do have a question. I bought a bottle of 15 year Old Pappy’s boublon whisky for my Dad on fathers day about 5 years ago. I thought it was cute with the family name and all. It sat upopened all this time. With his passing I now have the bottle. Is it OK to sit there unopened or is the kind of thing that you should drink after so long?

  26. Linda, it is absolutely okay to keep it there unopened. Unopened it will last a long long time! But I must say – feel free to give it a try because it is a wonderful whiskey. Sorry to hear of your father’s passing.

  27. Matthew says:

    Jason – A story about a kind bottle shop manager and Pappy hunting…

    My girlfriend and I were in a favorite bottle shop over the weekend debating between two bottles of exquisite bourbon (having the funds to return home with one, along with some other stuff). Our stalemate was interrupted by the shop’s manager (a person we have developed an informal relationship with, I will call him Chris). I have sought out Chris’ advice and knowledge on many occasions – especially with American whiskies. Many of my purchases have been informed by Chris and his staff.

    We chatted with Chris for a few minutes (issues and events not related to the store), this lead to him asking what are we thinking about (we were standing before the bourbons). We described our situation, how we were undecided between bourbon 1 and bourbon 2. Chris asked us to hold on as he ran off to the office. He returned moments later asking “what about this?” as he quietly placed a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 in my hand.

    We were not searching for a bottle of 15, we wanted to take home bottle 1 or 2 (or both), but we are smart enough not to pass up such an extraordinary gift (plus, we enjoy the juice). After I recovered from the shock of the moment (next paragraph) Chris said that he was sorry that I missed out on the fall allotment. I was not expecting this! Awesome person, awesome manager.

    I am not one of the shop’s big spenders by a comma(s) or a digit. I am loyal; I seek this person’s advice (and act on it); and most of all, I have a genuine appreciation for the people of the shop, not just the bottles.

    Lists and good timing are often the key to locating a hard to find bottle. Or spending 3X MSRP via Ebay. Pestering a store or acknowledging the existence of the employees in an effort to procure a special release will [I assume] reduce your chances and/or generate humorous posts (kudos Dave Driscoll): http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2012/3/26/the-pappy-games.html.

    Lucky for me, bottle 1 and bottle 2 will continue to collect dust due to the overall lack of hype surrounding their existence.

    Too much effort is made finding Pappy, sometimes Pappy finds you.

  28. Laura says:

    Jason,

    I live in CT. and can not find a bottle of Pappy 10, 15 or 20 ANYWHERE.. any suggestions?

  29. Laura it’s a tough find at all times. Right now you’ll have trouble finding it anywhere. The next shipment will go out this fall so get with your local stores and get your name on the list so they can contact you when they get it in. Good luck!!!

  30. Edward Willey III says:

    I opened a 2011 Pappy 15 last week with a friend who had never tried any Pappy (or ultra-premium) bourbon before. (When did Woodford become an “ultra” anything????) It tasted as good as I remember the last bottle being, the date of which which I don’t recall off the top of my head.

    Honestly, my only complaint about Pappy 15 is the price. It’s better than 10 or 12 and have more character remaining than 20. I don’t have and cannot find a 23 decanter bottle (2009), which my friend says is the best bourbon he’s ever tasted. So what do I do?

    As much as I like Parker’s Heritage (the Cognac finish was so tasty) and the BTAC releases, even the BT Pappy has a pretty magical combination of spices, flavors, etc.

  31. Edward, it’s great stuff. Truly classic whiskey.

  32. James says:

    Hi Jason

    Love the site, I had wondered if you had ever thought about having a top ten highly rated american whiskeys on your site so readers could see at a glance the particularly impressive ones you have rated over the years. Anyway my question was this, I have a 2008 bottle of Pappy 15 and it’s getting down to the halfway mark so I was thinking of transferring it to a smaller bottle to protect it from oxidisation, but I was wondering do you think it would lose some flavour, as I wondered if the original bottle retains flavour from it sitting in there for four years?

  33. Bob says:

    Talk about lightning striking – I went into my local liquor store tonight to get a bottle of Elijah Craig and what do see on the bourbon shelf (at eye level, no less) than ONE beautiful bottle of Pappy 15!! (I triple-checked, there was only the one)…I live in a rural “control” state that gets NO good bourbon, or much of anything else for that matter, and this store is literally the only one within an hour’s drive. They also normally have a very limited bourbon selection. Needless to say, I almost s*** my pants!!

    Mine was bottled on August 28, 2012 at 8:04 p.m. (according to the bottling code), therefore it’s Buffalo Trace, but hey, given where I live it’s about a once-in-every-five+-years find and definitely has made my Saturday night!

  34. Bill says:

    I hate reading reviews of this stuff. Never ever found. I love bourbon, and have been drinking it long before it was fashionable. If I have to read one more review of this or the BTAC, I may go postal. Why review them? Everyone knows they are great every year, so please stop with the carrot-on-the-stick routine.

  35. Don’t go postal Bill. Have a bourbon.

  36. Vince says:

    Jason,

    I have several bottles of 20 year Pappy Van Winkle. Some more than 7 years old. None less than 5 years old. Seal seems to be holding. Is it worth it to continue to hold on to them or should I drink them on special occassion real or otherwise? Is there a way to tell the exact age of the bottle?

  37. Vince there is a bottling code on the back of each bottle. It’s faint and in printed on the glass. The first three digits are the day of the year (001-365), then year (10, 11, 12, etc). Let me know what the code looks like and I can assist.

  38. Vince says:

    OK… Thanks. one of the bottle says 75o1 3 83mm 18. Not sure what that means. should I start to drive them for it’s not worth it to continue to hold them. right?

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