You’ve probably heard of Pappy Van Winkle. Pappy has been popping up on major news outlets from CNN to Slate due to the recent, massive theft from the Pappy distillery. This unfortunate event has made Pappy more infamous than it already was. For years, the famed Frankfurt, Kentucky producer has been one of the most sought after Bourbons in the world.
The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a long and interesting history. In the 1800s, Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. got started in the Bourbon industry. Pappy worked his way through the industry until he purchased a distillery that eventually merged into Stitzel-Weller, which made many well-known Bourbons including Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell and, of course, W.L. Weller. In the 1970s Pappy’s son, Julien Jr., at the behest of stockholders, sold the distillery and all of its brand rights except one, Old Rip Van Winkle. Today, Pappy’s family continues to follow in his footsteps, producing superior quality Bourbon. Van Winkle sets itself apart by using a slightly different recipe that is typical among other Kentucky Bourbon producers. Using corn, wheat and barley as opposed to corn, rye and barley, Van Winkle produces a smoother product mores suitable for aging.
Pappy has very small production and the supply is carefully allocated to a select number of bars and retailers around the country. Indeed, fans of this quality product go to great lengths to get their hands on a bottle of coveted product. As discussed here, finding Pappy at retailers these days is akin to getting the first new iPhone on release day, except harder. As a result, buyers also look to the secondary auction market for Pappy.
Our October auction saw a six bottle consignment of Pappy with 2 bottles each of the 15, 20 and 23yr. Bidders showed their enthusiasm by raising their paddles high. The 15yr went for $896/bottle, the 20yr for $1,015/bottle and the coveted 23yr for $2,091/bottle. To put into perspective the drastic rise in demand and price for Pappy one can review the prices listed from a Sam’s offer in 2002.
With all the press and enthusiasm in the market, I was eager to try Pappy myself. Eater made that easy for me to do by posting a handy Pappy Locator. When I saw that my beloved Forequarter in Madison, WI had a flight of the 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 years for just $30 (in full disclosure it was actually $35, not $30 as reported by Eater), I jumped at the opportunity to educate myself on these great Bourbons. I dragged my friends to Forequarter during a recent visit to Madison and, while they chatted over wine and snacks, I stuck myself in a corner, intently tasting through the flight and scribbling notes.
The 23yr was the clear winner for me. The finesse and depth were obvious from the first aromas through the long finish. I was also really impressed by the 15yr. I got a lot of vanilla and tobacco smoke on the nose, transiting to rich, cereals, sweet butterscotch, vanilla and lots of char/oak toast. The rugged rusticity harmonizing with pretty sweetness made the 15yr very appealing to me.
I think some things are popular for a reason. Pappy is just one of those things.