Review: Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 15 Years Old

Review: Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 15 Years Old


After enjoying — thoroughly — Pappy Van Winkle’s 20 and 23-year-old bourbons at WhiskyFest, I got ahold of some 15-year-old bourbon from the company. This is an older bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle — bottle number A5909 (not the exact one seen below, but the same style/branding) — and the brand has been repackaged and renamed as Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Years Old. What’s inside is functionally the same, not counting for the normal differences that arrive in any spirit over the course of its production from year to year.

This bourbon — 107 proof — is incredibly hefty and is tough to taste properly without a good splash or two of water. With H2O, this bourbon opens up remarkably, offering a candy-like caramel core infused with hazelnuts, vanilla, and exotic woods.

This is a big whiskey that’s full of flavor and a big body, great for sipping long into the evening. Presuming the rebranded version of the Van Winkle 15 is functionally identical, it’s an amazing whiskey for the price.

107 proof.

A / $58 /

Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 15 Years Old




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. garfinkel on January 5, 2009 at 10:19 am

    My love of bourbon started with Old Rip Van Winkle 15, many years ago, when I was living in Philadelphia. I even made my liquor-adverse beer drinking friends try it, and they were so blown away, they picked up a few bottles.

    Then for a while, it disappeared off the shelves. But, to reappear some time later in a beautiful new bottle. It was a gleeful moment, but one that led to disappointment. Which I did not have an older bottle to compare it to, I swore it just did not taste the same. Did this have something to do with the new partnership of Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace? I don’t know.

    I don’t rule out one possibility — that since my initial love at first sip, many other aged bourbons have hit the market, or become more widely available.

    I would love to hear from anyone who has tried both.

  2. merd on December 27, 2010 at 8:55 am

    this is one of my favorites of all time. i have a whisper left in the bottle that resides in my liquor cabinet for historical reference. the 107 10 year still exists, but have not seen the 15 year in this format for at least two years now. I think you had stumbled upon a dusty gem when you found this. for some reason, the pappy lines (ORVW and PVW) release in such small batches that it’s really difficult to find and stores are gouging on price. at the time, your 58 dollar price point seems a bit high but considering the whole supply and demand (mythical as it may be – the jury is out on that one still) it may have been proper. the 10 year 107 was found this year in limited quantity just under 30 US/bottle and some 90 proof versions at the same year (not hand numbered and documented) were loitering about shelves in higher quantity at five dollars less average. this 15 year however, i truly miss.

    the PVW 15 year comes in the tall burgundy shaped bottle and as strange as it may sound, it is different in character than the ORVW. i’m not sure if it is recipe, select’ness’ of the barrels used in the bottlings, or what, but the bottle you’ve reviewed here was chewier, thicker, and slightly more complex (by the way my bottle is numbered N241). there are very perfumy and sharp rye pitched notes on the15. the 10 more softly whispers maple sugars and cotton canty. though there are hints of this across the entire line, the age on the 15 appears to have actually mellowed some of the spiciness that is more rampant in the 10 year or the new bottlings of the PVW in the burgundy bottles. strange how the nose and tongue slightly contradict for these samplings.

    i wish i could lay to rest the mystery behind the ORVW to PVW and truly understand the differences in ORVW 10 year 107 (bell bottom), ORVW 15 year 107 (bell bottomed – and understand where it went), the PVW 12 year special reserve (burgundy tall bottle), the PVW 15 year family reserve, as well as the more pricey 20 and 23 year releases… are the older ones that much different? are they worth that extra money? besides the 20 and 23, i’ve had all of them and they are all exceptional. the 12 year to me is the most balanced and has subtle finish notes that make it more unique than the others, like fresh cigar leaf or sprouted grain chutes – its amazing and very VERY drinkable. the 13 year rye is my favorite beyond that.

    as far as the BT is concerned, they make good stuff. to me it is less intense and complex but a very accessible and easy to find standby. i am anxious to try their experimental releases (besides the white dog mash #1 which is good too) where they use experimental woods and release in 375’s. i trust that BT is upholding the tradition well and treating the recipe/history with respect and careful management… i didn’t think that their bottlings were finished yet to even be ready for a 10 year. if anyone has more detail, i’d love to pick your brain.

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