Bourbon Breakdown: Van Winkle Collection

September 11, 2021

For many whiskey enthusiasts today, seeing a bottle of Pappy on a retail shelf is like seeing a unicorn. Named for Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. (1874-1965) the Van Winkle Collection are the most in-demand American whiskeys on the planet. Each of the bourbon bottlings are wheated bourbons and as of 2002, they have been made at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Today, Julian III and his son Preston run operations for the Van Winkle Collection. The whiskeys are released annually and begin to appear at retailers and bars in late October and early November. Your best bet for a bottle is to do one or all of the following: first, be a good, returning customer and hope your patronage will win you good favor; second, enter your name in a lottery and get lucky; and third, be ready to drop some serious cash.

Happy hunting and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

The bottle features a fictitious Rip Van Winkle, a farmer who wandered into the mountains and drank liquor offered to him by a group of dwarves. He then slept for 20 years and awoke with a long grey beard.

What to Know:

The bourbon is bottled near barrel proof at 107 proof.

What Our Experts Think It Tastes Like:

Maple sugar, butterscotch, and Red Hots along with dried fruits and sweet caramel.

Avg US Price: $1,067
ABV: 53.5%
Community Rating: 4.26 out of 5 stars (1,397 Ratings)

Van Winkle Collection: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year BourbonOld Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year

Like the Old Rip Van Winkle bottling, this is “technically” not considered a “Pappy” bourbon, but it’s still made with the same wheated bourbon recipe as the rest of the Van Winkle Collection.

What to Know:

It’s aged 12 years and is bottled at 90 proof.

What Our Experts Think It Tastes Like:

Pitted fruits, citrus rind, vanilla beans and maple candy. Stops just short of a crème brûlée.

Avg US Price: $1,266
ABV: 45.2%
Community Rating: 4.41 out of 5 stars (1,273 Ratings)

Van Winkle Collection: Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B 12 YearVan Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. is featured on the label of this bourbon as well as the 20 and 23-year bottlings.

What to Know:

This 15-year bottling was first released in 2004. It’s bottled at 107 proof, the highest of all three “Pappy” bourbons.

What Our Experts Think It Tastes Like:

A melted Heath bar, vanilla saltwater taffy, and a bowl of cinnamon-toasted cereal.

Avg US Price: $2,956
ABV: 53.5%
Community Rating: 4.54 out of 5 stars (1,188 Ratings)

Van Winkle Collection: Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 YearPappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year

This was the world’s first 20-year-old bourbon when it was released back in 1994. When it received an unheard of 99 out of 100 score by the Chicago’s Beverage Testing Institute in 1997, the buzz for Pappy bourbon began. It has yet to stop.

What to Know:

After 20 years of aging, it’s bottled at 90.4 proof.

What Our Experts Think It Tastes Like:

Baked apple pie drizzled with vanilla-laced honey.

Avg US Price: $4,645
ABV: 45.2%
Community Rating: 4.67 out of 5 stars (958 Ratings)

Van Winkle Collection: Pappy Van Winkle 23 YearPappy Van Winkle 20 Year

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year

At 23 years of age, this is the oldest Pappy bourbon in the Van Winkle collection. (Note: there was a limited-edition Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year that was released in 2017.)

What to Know:

It was first introduced in 1998. After 23 years of aging, it’s bottled at 96 proof.

What Our Experts Think It Tastes Like:

Full of oak, spice, leather and tobacco.

Avg US Price: $6,439
ABV: 48%
Community Rating: 4.55 out of 5 stars (557 Ratings)

Van Winkle Collection: Pappy Van Winkle 20 YearPappy Van Winkle 23 Year

More from the Van Winkle Collection

Van Winkle 13 Year Rye

While this is a bourbon breakdown series, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the other whiskey in the Van Winkle Collection. This 13-year-old rye is the only rye for the brand. While we don’t know the exact mash bill recipe for this rye, it isn’t a high-rye rye. In fact, it drinks more like a high-rye bourbon. At any rate, it is still one of the older rye whiskeys on the market and naturally, as it is a Van Winkle, it too is near-impossible to buy. Average US Price: $2,223


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