For bourbon enthusiasts, Pappy Van Winkle is the bourbon to beat all bourbons; a "unicorn" of sorts. It is only released in small quantities in the fall and available in six varieties (barrel aged 10 to 23 years), which range in price from $80 (10 year) to $330 (23 year). The bottles sell out fast and many end up on a secondary market, where they can sell for up to $5,000.
And there are many bourbon experts out there with their own opinions on the legendary bourbon.
Jeremy Johnson, the owner of the Louisville bar Meta
"...prefers Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year... Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, isn't nearly as good..." And ultimately claims, "Get something else."
Meanwhile, Fred Minnick (author of "Bourbon Curious") states:
"Pappy means something to people. It's special to people for the sake of it being what it is. It's like the hunt and the effort is as important for people as the whiskey is."
That's when James Brains decided to find out for himself. The bourbon-lover tried Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year and Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year; here are his thoughts:
Here are Brains' thoughts on the 10 year Van Winkle:
"The nose had a strong sweet caramel odor with baking spices and a hint of cocoa. The creamy texture coated my tongue and revealed a fruity, almost cherry-like palate. The oak came through and lingered for a pleasant, warm finish. Overall, I appreciated the complex, smooth taste. If it were easily accessible, this would be a great daily sipper. I'd pay up to $200 for a bottle (2.5 times retail) but not more. On the secondary market, where it sells for $800 and more, I think it's overpriced."
And on the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year:
"The nose balanced smokiness and sweetness. I enjoyed the complex combination of subtle flavors: campfire, fruit, and oak. The taste was smooth, with no notes dominating. The medium finish didn't linger but wasn't too short. I love a good peaty scotch, so I preferred the smoky Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year over the 10 Year. Still, it's wildly overpriced on the secondary market, starting at $2,500. However, I'd drop $300 on a bottle (slightly more than MSRP) but not more."
Brains' final thoughts on Van Winkle:
"Taste is subjective, but bourbon aficionados love hunting for the hard-to-find bottles, the unicorns. While I think Pappy is overpriced on the secondary market, the experience of acquiring it at retail is priceless: You're likely to make friends along the way and have a fantastic story to share."