Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Bourbon – Review

Ah yes, the mythical ‘Van Winkle” line, I’m sure you’ve heard the name.  It’s become the unicorn of the bourbon world, but just 8 years ago, you could’ve walked into ANY liquor store  and snagged a bottle off the shelf at retail price.  Not the case any more! What is the suggested retail price for Pappy today?

Blake from Bourbonr.com has outlined the prices below:

  • $39.99 – Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
  • $54.99 – Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
  • $69.99 – Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey 13 Year Old
  • $79.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
  • $129.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
  • $249.99 – Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old

So why did a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year cost $200 on the secondary market?  The answer is simple: supply and demand; scarcity creates necessity.  Blake explains it best in his Bourbonr.com article, the Economics of Pappy Van Winkle.  It’s an interesting read if you’re curious why people are paying exorbitant prices for 750ml of barrel-aged corn alcohol.  I could write about Pappy Van Winkle all day, but here are some quick facts instead:

  • In 1893, Julian Van Winkle Sr. was a salesman for the W.L. Weller & Sons distribution company at the ripe age of 18 years old.  W.L. Weller makes a delicious, moderately priced bourbon that I use in most of my Old Fashioned Cocktails.
  • Since 2002, all Van Winkle products have been distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery using the original mashbill (recipe).
  • No one knows how much Pappy will be released each year… what did I say about scarcity?
  • Before he passed away in 1965 at age 89, Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. was the oldest active distiller in America.

Ok, on to the review! My buddy Grant (college friend / fraternity brother / co-bourbon enthusiast) recently sent me four samples of Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof.  Old Rip Van Winkle line is not considered “Pappy” — it was created as a joint venture when Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Distillery joined forces in June of 2002 — but, it still has the Van Winkle touch.

Old Rip Van Winkle sample in glencairn

Tasting Notes:

Price – $$$$$ (Retail) / $$$$$ (Secondary)

Proof – 107.0 / 53.5% ABV

Nose – Sweet, fruity, oak and vanilla.  Not too smoky, which is nice.

Taste – Old Van Winkle Handmade 10 Year is not as smooth as I was expecting but it opened up a bit more with a few drops of water. There is a moderate sweetness when it initially hits the palate, which I assume is because it’s a wheated bourbon.  The finish was complex with notes of vanilla and caramel.  Overall a great bourbon for sipping, but the price on the secondary market is steep and you can find a comparable bourbon for much less.  Look for an upcoming post where I provide recommendations for low, medium, and high price points.

Score – 89/100

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