Pappy Van Winkle: “The Most Glorious Bourbon on the Planet”
If you’ve tuned into Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners,” it doesn’t take long to realize a couple of things: 1) making whiskey is a tradition that runs as deep and intense as being an American, with techniques and recipes handed off to generation after generation; 2) people take their whiskey seriously – both making it drinking it.
Pappy Van Winkle is one brand that adheres to the above-made points. Originally started in the late 1800s by the gentleman for which it is named, it is now distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
The Pappy Van Winkle brand is very special for a couple of reasons. Traditionally, bourbon is made of corn, rye, and barley. Pappy trades out the rye for wheat, which gives the bourbon a much softer, smoother taste and also allows for the whiskey to age more gracefully: the wheat doesn’t pick up as much of the flavor from the cask, so there’s less burn or charred flavor.
Another reason is the amount of aging. Pappy is aged in heavily charred casks for 15, 20, or 23 years, which is significantly longer than other bourbons in the market. Imagine creating something, and then having to wait for nearly a quarter of a century for the result! That amount of aging also decreases the quantity by quite a bit: a barrel usually makes 30 cases of whiskey, but after 23 years of “aging,” evaporation can devour the amount to just 7 cases/barrel.
This is one reason why aged bourbon is so expensive. As with any aged product, the aging breeds scarcity, adding to its value, with no expense spared to staying true to the original formula. Pappy Van Winkle’s mantra was, “We make a fine bourbon, at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always a fine bourbon.”
That philosophy has paid off, since the entire Pappy Van Winkle line is one of the highest rated whiskeys available. The 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve received a rating of 99 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine. The 13-year old rye whiskey was the first premium aged whiskey. Family Reserve 23 Year Old Bourbon was named “Spirit of the Year” for 2010 by Wine and Spirits magazine.
* Anthony Bourdain is credited with calling Pappy Van Winkle “the most glorious bourbon on the face of the planet.”