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Bourbon Review Comparison: W.L. Weller and Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 Year

W.L. Weller 12 Year Bourbon, $25, 45%abv (90 Proof)

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Caramel and Butterscotch, ripe banana, candied almonds, flint, and toasted oak.

Flavor: Buttery, rich, and sweet. Butterscotch, vanilla custard, baking spices, and oak resin breaks up the sweetness

Finish: Toffee and warm, soft cinnamon spice.

Overall: An excellent wheated bourbon at an even better price. Soft, sweet, and rich with enough oak and spice to keep things from becoming too syrupy. This is a big big step up from W.L. Weller 7 year 107 Proof. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Outstanding/Superb)

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Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 Year Old Bourbon (Lot B), $50, 45.2%abv (90.4 Proof)

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Butterscotch, banana pudding, toasted pecans, and buttered cinnamon toast with a rising wave of oak.

Flavor: Absolutely stunning mouth feel – silky and velvety. Tastes of puddle of butterscotch sauce over vanilla ice cream. It’s sweet and concentrated and then quickly cut with pretty strong dry cinnamon spice and some oaky astringency that interplays wonderfully with the sweetness.

Finish: Butterscotch, cinnamon candy, and some bitter char remain on the finish.

Overall: A seriously great bourbon whiskey. Like the Weller 12 it’s sweet, buttery, and rich, but this one ramps up interest significantly with more spice and barrel. Is it worth the price increase? Well that’s for you to decide, but it’s an outstanding pour. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Outstanding/Superb)

Where does Pappy Van Winkle come from?

There’s no hiding that I’m a big Pappy Van Winkle fan. I realize as someone that does whiskey reviews that’s not exactly the right thing to say. However, I’m a fan of whiskey first and foremost. That’s why I do what I do – I love whiskey. And for me the Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old is a bourbon masterclass – intensely rich, complex, and walking the line between the elegance of age while still possessing the power and vigor of youth.

Julian Van Winkle is the president of the Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW) distillery. He is a busy guy and a part of a two man operation. I’ve been trying to hook up an interview with him but have been unsuccessful thus far. For those that don’t know, Old Rip Van Winkle entered into a partnership with Buffalo Trace years and years ago to begin producing their whiskey. This was in preparation for all of the older Pappy Van Winkle stock from Stitzel-Weller running out. The Stitzel-Weller distillery produced the Old Rip Van Winkle line up as well as a number of other great bourbons. It closed its doors long ago, and only the reserves remained in order to fortify the Van Winkle line up.

That later part is important because it’s shrouded in mystery. Many enthusiasts, even ones that are “in the know” have trouble figuring out which ORVW products are produced by Buffalo Trace, and which are still from Stitzel-Weller stock.

Well, some of that mystery might have been solved with the latest podcast from David Driscoll at K&L Wines Spirit Journal. David’s guest this week is Buffalo Trace Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatley. Harlen is very young reletive to his Master Distiller peers, but he’s worked at Buffalo Trace for 15-16 years before taking over in 2005 as MD. In this podcast below, Harlen is extremely transparent, which I certainly appreciate. He quickly points out that he doesn’t have the numbers in front of him and is speaking off the cuff a little bit, but it’s still coming from a very informed position. Please check out the entire podcast because it’s a great listen. The discussion around Pappy and ORVW begins around the 20 minute mark.

Here are few of the nuggets Harlen discusses about Pappy:

-The ORVW 10 year old and Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year old (Lot b) is Buffalo Trace product, not Stitzel-Weller I think this has been commonly known and reported by many, but I’m not aware of either Julian Van Winkle, Harlen, or anyone else that close to the situation confirming this before. So from that stand point, we can check that off the list.

-The 20 year old and 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons are still all Stitzel-Weller stock. The rumors of 20 year old being close to dry was not addressed but Harlen mentions “being close” in terms of having product around that age. So hopefully we’ll see things continue to churn without much, if any, interuption.

-The 15 year old wasn’t talked about in absolutes but Harlen says he believes it to be a mix of stock between Buffalo Trace and Stitzel-Weller. This was the interesting one to me because I was thinking it was still all S-W reserves. Very cool to hear.

And that about sums it up. It’s just nice to get some understanding of exactly what is what with the ORVW/Pappy whiskey. Please check out the podcast in its entirety here. David does an excellent job.

Don’t fret, more Pappy is on the way.

If 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 to my tastes. The sad part is the allocation is so sparse that it takes a lot of effort to locate bottles. Believe me, it’s worth the trouble, but a pain in the rear nonetheless.

Well, a little relief isn’t too far off if you can wait a few months. I’ve just been informed by Julian Van Winkle that the next allocation of products will go out in March/April time frame. No specifics yet on a firm date, but this will hopefully give you a shot at securing some bottles if you missed this most recent batch of product.

I’d recommend not waiting until then. If your reading this and want to ensure you get a bottle or 4, I’d suggest calling 2-3 local liquor shops in your area. Ask them if they typically get allocated Pappy Van Winkle products. If they do, make them aware of this allocation news so they can be informed. Also tell them to put your name on a bottle.

I’d recommend the 15 above all given it’s price to quality ratio is extremely high. Beyond that, I’d also recommend securing some Old Rip Van Winkle 90 or 107 proof and/or the Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 Year “Lot B”. I did a review of the 90 proof version of ORVW here. You cannot go wrong with any of them, but you know my feelings on the 15.

Yep, it’s silly when we have to plan 3+ months for a Bourbon purchase, but folks, there’s just not a lot of the stuff to put out there. And when the product is this high quality, a little planning is worth it. Good luck to you!

Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason