23 years is epic for any spirit to sit idle in a barrel, but for bourbon it’s almost insane. Old Rip Van Winkle’s 23-year-old bottling (this sample is from the 2009 limited edition) is positively intense with wood character — and alcohol. It’s 114 proof, which is hefty, but I’ve had far higher-proof whiskeys that don’t taste nearly as powerful as this monster does.
Add water (and don’t be shy) if you want any hope of trying to crack this nut, but with a more agreeable alcohol level, Van Winkle 23 becomes absolutely charming. Intense with caramel and vanilla, once it’s been cut down in strength it’s got a long and graceful finish that goes on and on. Perfectly balanced with a light sweetness that isn’t overpowering, this is an old bourbon that anyone would do well tracking down for a very special Christmas gift.