To some “Pappy” is the holy-grail of bourbon hunting. The Van Winkle limited releases from Buffalo Trace Distillery come out once each year in the fall and are highly rationed and allocated. The bustle is real, the competition is high, and the rewards are big. Continue reading to learn more about the Pappy Van Winkle lineup and how to snag a bottle if you live in North Carolina.
What is Pappy bourbon?
Believe it or not, there is some misunderstanding about what constitutes a Pappy. The Van Winkle line of special bourbons includes high end “Pappy Van Winkle” bottles, and the slightly more affordable Old Rip Van Winkle and Lot B. These latter two are technically not considered “Pappys,” but many still call them that. We’re going to treat this Pappy post as a full Van Winkle lineup post and include everything, but NC Whiskey does not endorse calling ORVW or Lot B “Pappy”.
The Van Winkle collection is mostly made up of specially aged and treated bourbon from the Original Wheated Bourbon mash bill, more commonly seen among the Weller line of products. The exception to this is, of course, the Van Winkle Rye. These whiskeys are priced based on age, proof, and availability. Let’s take a look.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year Old Bourbon
2015 Old Rip Van Winkle Aged 10 Years
The Van Winkle Collection
Old Rip Van Winkle
The first bourbon worth discussing the Van Winkle collection is Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW). It’s the Wheated Mash Bill of Buffalo Trace Distillery, aged 10 years and bottled at 107 Proof (53.5% ABV).
Old Rip Van Winkle vs. Weller 107
If you’re at all familiar with Old Weller Antique 107, you’ve almost had ORVW. These two bourbons come from the same mash bill and are bottled at the same proof. The main difference is that Old Rip sat it barrels for several more years than OWA 107. These extra years mellow the heat a bit, and you’d find Old Rip Van Winkle to be a little more oaky/vanilla than its Weller younger brother.
This, in conjunction with a nicer label, a smaller allocation, and only an annual release, make it a much more coveted bourbon. But if you can’t get your hands on it at a reasonable price? Weller 107 will probably do.
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year (aka Lot B)
Next up is Lot B, or Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year. Van Winkle’s 12 year aged bourbon is the same Wheated Mash Bill as ORVW, but aged two extra years and bottled at a lower 90.4 Proof (45.2% ABV).
Lot B vs. Weller 12
This one’s Weller counterpart is clearly Weller 12. They are the same age statement and basically the same proof, and the same mash bill. So… what’s the difference? The difference between Lot B and Weller 12 boils down to the barrels the juice comes out of. From what I’ve learned, Lot B gets the cream-of-the-crop barrels. Supposedly the barrels that go into the 12 Year Van Winkle Special Reserve are hand-picked for the smaller batch. The Weller 12 is a larger batch of less specific barrels.
It’s definitely worth hunting down a Lot B if you have the time and resources, but the quality-to-price ratio is likely better on the Weller 12 if you can find it at cost.
Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year Rye
This is a standout amongst the Van Winkle whiskeys. Clearly formed from its own exclusive Rye mash bill (presumable the same that gives us EH Taylor Rye), this 13 year aged “Family Reserve” is one of the rarer and more coveted in the collection. Bottled at 95.6 Proof (47.8% ABV), Van Winkle Family reserve is an easy rye with lots of good spice. You don’t have the full Van Winkle vertical without it, but you also won’t find much to compare it to.
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon
The first true Pappy, we know it’s the case because it actually has “Pappy” in the name. Don’t make the mistake of calling the previous items in the Van Winkle collection by this exclusive name.
Pappy Van Winkle 15 is a highly sought after release each year from Buffalo Trace Distillery. This bourbon uses the Van Winkle wheated mash bill and is aged for 15 years “in the heart of the aging warehouses.” Like Weller 107 and Old Rip Van Winkle, Pappy 15 is bottled at 107 Proof (53.5% ABV). But don’t let that fool you, these hand-picked, extra charred barrels and extra aging make this a smooth, oaky bourbon. This highlights the favorites of bourbons: caramel corn and vanilla with a complex palate of leather, wood, and oaked spiciness.
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Bourbon
The 20 year bourbon is quite similar in specs to the 15 year brother, but clearly has an extra five years of aging to its name. It has a lower proof, bottled near the Weller 12 and Lot B levels at 90.4 Proof (45.2% ABV). The lower proof plus the longer aging combine for one of the most buttery, easy-drinking bourbons on the marker (so I’m told, I’ve never had the pleasure). Tasting notes put a little citrus on the nose, with dried fruits on the tongue.
This is, of course, the other Pappy by name.
Pappy Van Winkle 23
Last, but certainly not least, is Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year. Similar to the 20 year version but with a few more years on it, these barrels are hand picked from the dead center of aging warehouses. It’s a little hotter in proof at 95.6 Proof (47.8% ABV). The 23 years lends toward a creamy, easy drinking bourbon that’s great for collecting and (hopefully) sipping.
Pappy Van Winkle 23 is exceedingly rare and special. I hope that if you can get your hands on it, you take the time to open and share it with someone special.
How to Buy Pappy Online
All of the bourbons in the Van Winkle collection are extremely rare bottlings. If you’re lucky enough to live in an ABC control state, you may be able to stumble upon a bottle in a lottery or list from your local liquor store — and you might find it at retail.
If you’ve had no luck finding this at reasonable prices in stores, you can probably find a bottle or two online for extremely high secondary prices. I’ve made it easy to shop some options below… if you want to pay for it. Check the price on these bottles with the links below:
Buy Pappy In North Carolina
My local NC shoppers will have a real tough time finding this in stores. Your absolute best bet to get a Pappy from your local ABC store is to make friends with the employees (ideally a manager) and be a loyal customer. Keep an eye on the NC ABC warehouse stock (join our email list for updates) and let the manager of your store or ABC board know when they should try to order this stuff. Small boards will be lucky to get a bottle.
They can clue you in on their distribution policies. Most ABC boards in North Carolina will hold something like Pappy back for a lottery. Others still operate on a “who you know” policy, so being a loyal customer and friend can help you score a bottle at retail. These relationships might take years to build, though.
Pappy Cigars and Other Merchandise
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey
2015 Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 years old – Lot “B”