It has been many years since Drinkhacker reviewed anything with Winkle in its name. With Pappy hysteria season fast approaching, I thought I’d take a look at last year’s release of the entry level Pappy, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old. Purists may not think of this as Pappy, per se, because of the name, but it is every bit the same wheated mash bill that goes into the older Van Winkle stock. (That’s also true of the entire Weller line of bourbons from Buffalo Trace.) I reviewed this baby Pappy against the more readily available (in some states) Weller 12 Years Old, which is a close cousin of the Van Winkle’s older brother, 12 Year Lot B. Confused? That’s potentially the point. Anyway. On to the tasting!
The nose on this one is classic: butterscotch and oak. It intensifies as it opens up with richer caramel and spice notes, but still remains rather straightforward. Compared against the Weller 12, at only 90 proof, there’s the expected diminished intensity of a similar aroma. On the palate, Van Winkle 10 Year shows a light, silky body with big baking spice notes, nutmeg and cinnamon stick, and plenty of burnt sugar. The wood is well-integrated, showing some spice on the mid-palate with a warming, easy heat. The finish is sizable and lingers with caramel sauce, butterscotch pudding, and a little orange peel.
After some reflection, I decided the Van Winkle was brighter than the older Weller with less creaminess on the palate but with bigger and more distinct flavors, in no small part probably thanks to the higher proof. Many Pappy fans out there famously blend Weller 12 with the higher proof Weller Antique to achieve a similar result (“Poor Man’s Pappy”), but I’m not convinced that it does. If you want to really experience Buffalo Trace’s most elusive bourbon at a decade old, you can do that with some luck or a lot of money in obtaining this bottle. For the rest of us, still with some amount of luck, the Weller will have to do. I actually prefer it against this particular Van Winkle release, but your mileage may vary.