Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Battle of the Pappys

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.


Jason Beatty said...

I do side by side tastings as well, and it's great to begin with the SW and then move to the BT, as the flavors transition. I do dread the day the stock is all up as it is a WAY different profile. Julian told me the other day that he doubts it will ever be running again, and all the talk about asbestos could easily be fixed in order to bring back this phenomenal whiskey.

Anonymous said...

Sku, I have an opportunity to purchase some PVW23 dated 12/08 at a very reasonable price. Normally this would be out of my price range at today's pricing, but I will be paying the '08 price. Still, am concerned it may be overaged and overpriced. Any comments on how your PVW15 from '08 might compare with PVW23 from the same year? Curious if you have tasting notes from back then or on this product. Thinking I should just hold my money and look for some PVW20 in the upcoming Spring release.

Am disappointed that the Spring product release will not contain any rye product. Love my PVWFRR.

sku said...

Anon, I reviewed PVW 23 here. I was not impressed; I'd pass on it and get some 20 if you can find it.

Greg said...

Steve - I conducted the same side by side at a friends house and to the tasters, the contrast was striking. The older PVW15 has a depth and elegance to it that the new '11 release lacks. I also found the '11 to be thinner and hotter than SW PVW's. Sad to say but I won't be buying any more PVW15 as the whiskey didn't overly impress at the current price point. Thankfully I've managed to bunker a couple for later enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sku. Missed that in my search. Plenty of good bourbon and whisky I have yet to try that can be purchased with the savings.

BMc said...

I thought the new PVW15 opened up a lot after several months. At first it tasted almost exactly like a slightly older William Larue Weller, but now my bottle at least has a lot of strawberry and meadow flavors that are more unique. If people still pine for Stitzel-Weller, just stock up on the Jefferson's Presidential Select. Plenty of those around...

Anonymous said...

Sku, Can you tell me why BT/Julian Van Winkle can't just replicate the Stitzl-Weller formula? Surely those old stills weren't the only reason for the SW flavor profile?

BTW, the Jefferons is great stuff.

Anonymous said...

I think the SW recipe is the least of the reasons behind the whiskey.

Dylan N. said...

I know that this is a very old post, but I felt inclined to reply here, so here goes. As of a month ago I had looked forward to a bottle of Pappy 15/20 from the upcoming 2014 Fall release. I was able to buy a 10 Year ORVW during the Spring 2014 release which only happened in my home state of Kentucky. It was okay, but I'd take Old Weller Antique over it for the price any day. About a month ago I was in a store and wrote my name in an order form binder asking for Weller 12/OWA, and I mentioned Pappy 15 to a guy I know who works there. He said if I told him when the Fall release was about to drop, he would tell his boss that he wanted a bottle, and buy it for me so I don't have to stand in line all night to have a chance. Long story short, 2 weeks later he called me with a bottle of 20 Year Pappy which I bought, and then 3 days after that called me with a 15 Year Pappy which I also bought. It turns out that his boss decided to sell some bourbons out of his personal collection because he had began to drink scotch exclusively. Once I got home and began to examine the 15 Year bottle (the 20 Year had no label), I saw that it was bottled in 2008. Once I realized that, I got in touch with the boss and asked about the 20 Year, which wasn't labeled, and found out the the 20 Year is from the 2006 bottling. I've yet to open the 20 Year Pappy, but I opened the 15 Year from '08 about 2 weeks ago. It is nearly gone. There is about 2 and a half inches left in it. I love this stuff, and I have a friend with a 2013 Pappy 15 release. I met up with him and we tasted each of our Pappy's side-by-side. I have to say that I am probably the saddest bourbon drinker on earth that has some older Pappy Van Winkle. The 2013 Pappy 15 tastes nothing like the 2008 Pappy 15. The '08 Pappy 15 is the best alcohol I have ever tried, and I didn't care that much for the 2013 bottling. The new Pappy 15 was definitely different than any other bourbon I've had, but in my opinion it doesn't come remotely close to the 2008 Stitzel-Weller Pappy. I see people talking about having older Pappy bunkered up, and I'm wondering how anybody has enough self-control to not drink the stuff. My bottle has been open for a little less than 2 weeks, and is almost gone. I am happy that I have a 2006 20 Year, but regardless of how it tastes, I will miss the 2008 Pappy 15 for the rest of my life, unless I can find something that tastes close to it.

When I first opened the 2008 bottle, it reminded me of Old Weller Antique, and didn't seem like it was anything spectacular. After spending more time with it, I realize that I will likely never taste anything as good as this. I hope I'm wrong about that though, but aside from Old Weller Antique (which is nowhere near as well rounded, but has a similar, yet spicier taste) does anyone know of a bourbon that tastes similar to the Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year from 2008?