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Review: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year Bourbon (107 Proof)

This past weekend, while traveling, I was able to locate a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year 107 Proof bourbon. I reviewed the 90 proof version of this whiskey about a year ago. Let’s take a look and see how the higher proof version fares.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 Proof), $45/bottle
As you might imagine, Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW) 10 Year 107 brings a very similar flavor profile as the 90 proof version. It does so with a bit more punch and vigor however. The nose opens with toffee, maple syrup, rum soaked bananas, and rich, dark fruits (dates, figs). Things really shine on the palate, which is more concentrated and syrupy than its little brother. Toffee sweetness, caramelized nuts, coffee and cinnamon toast are most prevalent. The vanilla and toasted oak are prevalent throughout. With a splash of water more fruitiness emerges. ORVW 10 year 107 finishes with toasted oak, nutty toffee, and a warm hum of spices (cinnamon and clove).

Your chances of finding this one over a Pappy 15 is likely 3-4 times better. That’s only a guess, but I’d say that’s accurate based on my experience. The 107 proof point serves this whiskey well, concentrating the flavor and bringing more depth and force to the party. The price I found is certainly higher than it was last year, but in comparison to some other whiskeys in this range I still recommend it highly.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.1 (Superb/Outstanding)

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)

Review: 2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon

It’s perhaps the most highly anticipated release of the year in American Whiskey. Each Fall the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) releases a line up of five whiskeys; George T. Stagg Bourbon, Eagle Rare 17 Bourbon, Sazerac 18 Rye Whiskey, Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, and the subject of this review, William Larue Weller. Supply and demand are clearly good for business because these whiskeys can be tough to come by. Some might suggest you have to have compromising pictures of your local spirit merchant to even get a bottle or two. I say just make friends and/or be a great customer and that usually helps.

William Larue Weller is made from a wheated bourbon mashbill (grain recipe) that contains no rye grain. It’s a similar (likely exactly the same) recipe as used in Pappy Van Winkle.

2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon, 66.75% abv (133.5 Proof), $80/bottle

Color: Mahogany, deep amber

Nose: Dark dried fruits (dates, raisins), Fruitcake, toasted almonds, cocoa, and creamy cafe au lait. This is one where a splash of water releases beautiful roasted notes of coffee beans and saddle leather.

Palate: Dark and sultry. Toffee, roasted and caramelized nuts (slightly burned?), candied fruits, black coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and clove. The balance of sweet, rich, spicy, and bitter is just outstanding.

Finish: Chocolate caramels, concentrated berry syrup, toasted oak and vanilla.

Overall: Clearly one of the three best whiskeys I’ve sipped this year thus far, but I do hate the fact that this stuff is so damn tough to get. I can’t believe they don’t have more of this to get to the public. Keep searching though because this is without question an Epic whiskey. It’s the best William Larue Weller of the last 2-3 years for sure, and based on the three I’ve tasted from the collection this year (Stagg and Handy), it’s the best so far in my opinion.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic/Classic)

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)

Buffalo Trace Bourbon Review


Buffalo Trace Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $20

Buffalo Trace doesn’t need much introduction. It is a very popular, top selling bourbon whiskey at a great price. The folks at BT are responsible for producing some of the finest American Whiskey on the market today, including a wide array of bourbon brands as well as rye whiskey. Buffalo Trace has 2 primary bourbon mash bills (grain recipes) not including their wheated bourbon and rye recipes. Mash Bill #1 is the recipe of choice for George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare, Old Charter and others. Mash Bill #2 has a higher percentage of rye and is used for Elmer T. Lee, Blanton’s, and Rock Hill Farm to name a few. While it’s not certain what the exact percentages of corn and rye are, having a number of different mash bills affords Buffalo Trace a great deal of flexibility. Let’s not forget about their namesake product (mash #1), Buffalo Trace……….

Color: Light Amber/Deep Golden

Nose: A complex arrangement in spite of the price. Bright corn graininess, vanilla, golden dried fruits, and tobacco are lifted with a hint of rye, oak, and mint.

Palate: Sharp and lively. The front entry is sweet corn, vanilla, a prickle of rye spice, and a crackle of burnt sugar. The sip moves swiftly toward drying from mid palate on to the finish, with a fantastic toasted oak flavor. There’s a gentle bitterness as well that adds interest. This is not a cloyingly sweet, thick, syrupy whiskey, but rather quite elegant in it’s delivery.

Finish: The finish is more of what started mid-sip; moderate length with bitter char, toasty oak, licorice, and mint.

Overall: I have to remind myself I am drinking $20.00 whiskey when I drink this stuff. It just tastes much pricier. I consider it one of the finest values in whiskey because of that. It’s not ridiculously sweet and flabby like other less expensive bourbons typically are. What I enjoyed most about it was the sharp, bright, graininess without tasting rough and raw. It’s pretty refined stuff and very well made. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.5 (Very Good/Excellent)

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection: George T. Stagg Bourbon Review

2010 George T. Stagg Bourbon, 71.5% abv (143 Proof), $70-$80/bottle

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Rich and flooding with almond toffee, ripe banana, vanilla, sweet spices, popcorn, and a tangy sweetness of sorghum and molasses. A scant teaspoon of water to a 2 oz. pour ramps up the spices, dried fruits, and deep oak notes.

Palate: On the palate this bourbon just hits you with flavors in waves and it keeps on coming. Few whiskies can match it in that department. Deep dark sticky caramel, Rum Bananas, vanilla, Dried Dark Fruits, root beer, fudge, and intense sweet spices of cinnamon, clove, and mint are dominant when sipped neat. A teaspoon of water brings out the barrel flavors and rounds out the alcohol edge and heat.

Finish: Candied sweetness, smokey oak, and woody spices. Very long.

Overall: The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection produces five of the most highly anticipated releases each year. Finding them can be a real pain in the rear. Allocation of this stuff, particularly the bellwethers of the group, George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller, is frustrating. Both are huge whiskies at barrel proof, but certainly different. George T. Stagg is the leader of this pack. Some may argue Weller or one of the ryes (Sazerac 18 or Thomas H. Handy) are better, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Stagg is probably the single biggest bruiser of a whiskey on the planet. At 140+ proof, it packs a hell of a punch. Some may find it lacks a little grace and tact akin to taking a bazooka to a knife fight, but there is no arguing that it’s special. It’s also fun to sip a whiskey that is over 1.5 times the strength of todays more standard 90 proof offerings. But if that sounds like a novelty only, it’s not. George T. Stagg is is seriously fantastic whiskey. I’d recommend taking all the time you need and enjoy this one neat first. But for me, a splash of water helps to cool the alcohol flames enough to where those flavors shine even further. Don’t dilute it too much – after all you bought it for the beast that it is.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic classification)