Review: Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons – 15, 20, and 23 Years Old (2020)

Review: Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons – 15, 20, and 23 Years Old (2020)

In 2020, a review of the Van Winkle lineup is mildly comical: opinions or fanfare surrounding one of the spirit world’s largest cult of personalities will absolutely not be swayed with any velocity or traction, and will likely be met with a curiosity and a shrug before clicking onwards. But seeing as we recently reviewed a pair of boots that has greatly benefitted from being affiliated with the bourbon, a cursory review of the “Pappy” portion of the lineup seems appropriate.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Years Old (2019) – The 2020 edition was announced a few weeks back, but regrettably I could not locate a bottle with any success. Thankfully, my favorite local establishment still had a bottle behind the shelf, so we will be rolling with the 2019 allocation. This is no longer the juice that set the world on fire. That old supply has been extinguished and we are now reliant 100% on Sazerac-made materials. On the plus side, it still delivers the goods. Strong notes of vanilla and buttercream on the nose along with toffee and a bit of dried dark berries. The palate is a complex balance of oak, caramel, and butter rum and is quite lovely. It is quite possibly the best bourbon in the Van Winkle family, as well as in the entire Sazerac portfolio. You may begin arguing that amongst yourselves in the comments. 107 proof. A / $120 [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT] [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Years Old (2020) – The vanilla and buttercream still stand on the nose, though they’re slightly overtaken by oak and dark fruit. The spice on the palate (cinnamon, nutmeg) is balanced by dark cherries, toffee, and more of that wonderful toasted oak influence. A dry finish is too quick for its own good, but still pretty spectacular. 90.4 proof. A- / $200 [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Years Old (2020) – Based on the lines and raffles during release time, this appears to be the most sought after of the bunch. My theory is that it’s based on the age statement and cult of personality, not the quality of the juice. Mild oak and caramel on the nose is overpowered by an off sulfuric note, as if someone slammed a fistful of old pennies in your mouth. The oak goes full throttle on the palate along with faint notes of vanilla and dried black cherry. Oak-heavy on the long finish, it’s quite dry and full of dark berries. See also here for some now-funny thoughts from 2009, when this was bottled as an Old Rip Van Winkle release. 95.6 proof. B / $300 [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Years Old (2019)




Rob Theakston is a contributing editor to Drinkhacker.


  1. C. Langlinais on November 20, 2020 at 6:38 am

    I see a lot of empty Pappy bottles for sale online. That makes me wonder if people/businesses are refilling the bottles and passing them off as genuine Pappy. If I have never tasted it before, how would I know that I was being served genuine Pappy Van Winkle?

    • Christopher Null on November 20, 2020 at 9:24 am

      Yes, whiskey counterfeiting is rampant, and it’s a major reason empty bottles (of any expensive whiskey or wine) are bought and sold.

  2. Jason on November 25, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Ah 2009. Pappy 15 going for $55 a bottle, and feeling like my store was ripping me off at that price. Two rows of Lot B collecting dust on the shelf at a $40 a bottle, cause who spends $40 on a bottle of bourbon. More Antique 107 than you could shake a stick at for $25 a bottle. Sazerac Antique line going for $60 a bottle and felling ripped off. Bad year for Forester BB though (distinct note of baby diapers).

    Then some jackasses had to F it all up on social media. Warm place waiting in hell for them, I tell ya.

    • Pappy Van Winkly on November 26, 2020 at 7:44 am

      Happy Thanksgiving Jason!

    • Bill V on December 30, 2020 at 5:28 am

      The trickle down was just as bad. Buffalo Trace, once selling for as little as $18 USD in 2014, now selling for over $30. Elmer T. Lee once readily available, now but a ghost.

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