As fans of Pappy Van Winkle know, the 2011 fall release marked the first year that the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old was distilled entirely by the Buffalo Trace distillery. Earlier Pappys were made from old stocks of what is left of the bourbon from the Stitzel-Weller distillery (though it's not clear if some of those old stocks included Buffalo Trace bourbon blended in as well). The 20 and 23 year Pappy are still from Stitzel-Weller stocks though eventually, those will run dry as well.
I've written about the Pappy flap before, but I have yet to taste old and new Pappys side by side. Today I'll compare the 2008 release and the new, fall 2011 Buffalo Trace Pappy. Jason Pyle did a similar comparison on his excellent Sour Mash Manifesto, and hey, I know a good idea when I see it, so I'm going to shamelessly copy him.
Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo 2008, 53.5% abv
The nose on this begins with pure maple candy, then some citrus notes with just a touch of oak. The palate is really delicate with layers of candy, oak and a touch of orange. The finish is candy sweetness with just a bit of tartness. This is the standard Pappy profile I've come to know, sweet with a dose of oak and some citrus. It's well balanced and delicious.
Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo Fall 2011, 53.5% abv
The nose on this is much oakier than the '08. It's pleasant but pretty much a one-noter. The palate starts with a rich vanilla then fades to a more oaky, just slightly bitter vanilla, like the crust on a creme brulee. It's got a nice chewy mouthfeel that trails off into an oaky/vanilla finish.
Pappy vs. Pappy
These are two quite different whiskeys, but both are very good. You can definitely taste the transition from Stitzel-Weller to Buffalo Trace. The 2008 Pappy has that candy/oak balance that I associate with Stitzel-Weller. It's more delicate and has a more complex flavor profile.
The 2011 is much more similar to the bourbons in the current Weller line, almost like a lower strength William Larue Weller. It's much bolder than the 2008 Pappy, coming at you with big oak and a chewy mouthfeel, but it lacks the layers of flavor that you get in the earlier version.
Comparing these two I'd have to say I think they are of equal quality though very different in flavor profile. I can understand those who mourn the last of the Stitzel-Weller Pappy because those Stitzel-Weller whiskeys have a fairly unique flavor profile. Their delicacy and complexity is not something that you see in the market today. The boldness of the Buffalo Trace version is great, but it may not be worth the extra cash for Pappy when you can get similar Wellers for a comparable or lower price.
All good things must come to an end, and that includes Stitzel-Weller bourbon, but I think the Van Winkles have done well by their brand with the new version, even if it's not the same as the old.