Why W.L. Weller 12 Year Bourbon Is Almost Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon

Apparently, W. L. Weller distilled Kentucky Straight Bourbon with wheat before anyone else — including Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. Van Winkle actually worked as a liquor salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons before he and a friend, Alex Farnsley, bought the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller.

WL Weller 12 - Pappy Van Winkle Alternative

On Derby Day in 1935, Stitzel-Weller opened its doors and began making its wheated bourbon recipe famous. Eventually, the union produced Pappy Van Winkle, one of the most celebrated and hard-to-find bourbons in the world.

Why Weller and Pappy Are Almost the Same
Stitzel-Weller closed in 1992 and today, W. L. Weller 12 and Pappy Van Winkle are both produced at Buffalo Trace’s distillery. Basically, Weller 12 Year Old is made of Pappy that didn’t quite make the cut for Pappy Van Winkle Lot B 12 year. That’s why many say it as close to Pappy as you can get — for a whole lot less.

Why Weller Isn’t Pappy
At first, this may seem like a big deal or that it didn’t taste good enough to be considered Pappy. However, when you realize Pappy Van Winkle chooses the best of the best, you’ll see it can come up a tad short, still be a very good bourbon and become Weller.  The difference between the maturation of one barrel to another can be very slight — if not almost indiscernible — except by a highly trained whiskey palate.

In other words, 12-year-old Weller is almost 12-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, except it is findable and cost muchless than Pappy at around $26 for a 750ml bottle.  On the other hand, Pappy Wan Winkle 12 year old runs about $75 a 750ml bottle off the shelf and more in the secondary market.

Weller and Van Winkle of the Same Bourbon Family
Check out this cool chart to see how certain bourbons are “related.” Notice on the first tree, the Buffalo Trace tree, that WL Weller 12, in a sense, branches off and through further aging becomes Pappy 15 year, 20 year and 23 year.  Not an exact science, but I think it is a great visual for understanding how certain bourbons “grow” into other bourbons through the art and science of aging.

More Kudos for Weller 12
Recently WL Weller 12 also earned Double Gold at one of the most prestigious  spirits competitions in the world, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Only one other $25 bourbon, Larceny, distilled by Heaven Hill, also received the Double Gold.

Other Double-Gold bourbons below $50 included Knob Creek Small Batch ($31), Jim Beam Single Barrel ($35), Soldier Valley Small Batch  ($40), Yellow Rose Double Barrel ($40) and Breaker Small Batch ($49). I’ll talk more about these in future posts.

Black Saddle Small Batch  ($50),  Four Roses Single Barrel ($50), Stagg, Jr. Small Batch ($50) and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50) also earned Double Gold.

Hill Rock Estate Distillery ($80) and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel ($85) took Double Gold in the over $50 under $100 price range, while Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year ($120) was the lone Double Gold recipient that cost over $100.

To view all results, check out this link.

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Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon

When You Can Find (Maybe) a Taste of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon in 2014

Summer’s here — at least in Savannah, GA — and the living is easy. But, it’s already hot and humid as hell.  And speaking of what’s hot, many bourbon lovers and Pappy Van Winkle chasers are starting to ask when they can at least try to get their hands (and lips) on the best bourbon in the world.

Fall, Football and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
Once upon a time, Old Rip Van Winkle used to split the Pappy release between Spring and Fall. However, that ended last year as the distillery combined the Spring and Fall release into a larger Fall distribution. Now the only time you have a shot to get it is during the college football year.  (Can’t wait for that either). No matter, Pappy doesn’t last long anyway. Maybe 24 hours. So you know pretty fast whether you’re one of the lucky ones.

How Pappy Is Distributed
Some stores make the Pappy Van Winkle release a huge event with lines down the street, offering it on a “first come, first served” basis or via a true lottery – not just a waiting list. Others reserve it for their best customers or a have a waiting list. A few may offer presales, but this is hard to do, as most stores don’t know their allotment until the day the Pappy Van Winkle shows up.

Times and Dates May Vary
Most reliable sources anticipate that Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon will start arriving in October at the earliest and depending on your state by November or even December. These projections are typically based on last year’s arrival so your local liquor store can give you a decent, but not exact estimate. Here’s an example of how the release played out last year as a guide. Thanks to Bourbonr.com for tracking it. They should do so again this year so bookmark the link.

How to Get Some
You should also ask the stores how they allot Pappy Van Winkle. Most will have a long-standing waiting list, save it for their best customers, or will tell you they can’t get it (even if they can) so you’ll leave them alone. In other words, it’s a crapshoot and it keeps getting harder as the Pappy Mania seems to be in full hysteria phase at the moment.

Your best bet is to find a store that offers it on a first come, first served basis  or a real lottery. Caveat: You’ll need to fortify yourself (with another bourbon) for the wait. It may take hours or days so I hope you enjoy camping in liquor store parking lots. Otherwise, try and find a “mom and pop” store off the beaten path. One that has been around for a while, preferably in Kentucky if you have a summer road trip planned. Or, if you’re really desperate and have lots of money to blow, you can check out the secondary market and pay about 10 times retail.

If you’re not sure you want to plop down that much cash before you taste it check out the Pappy List for locations (bars) that offer it by the pour. It won’t be cheap, but it’s damn good and every bourbon lover — even if you’re new to the party — should try it at least once.

Good Luck and Cheers
The unfortunate truth is there’s a lot of fluff in the market place right now. Pappy lovers have to contend with aggressive entrepreneurial types, status seekers, and bourbon dabblers. However, some liquor stores still try and get the gold standard of bourbon into the hands and mouths of true bourbon appreciators. God bless the good guys.

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Why Pappy Van Winkle Hysteria is Good for Bourbon — Or How Pappy Introduced Me to the Best Damn Spirit

I discovered Pappy Van Winkle shortly after I found Bourbon.

Walker Percy

Walker Percy

Walker Percy’s essay on the grand elixir got me going and Wright Thompson’s piece on the best bourbon in the world sent me on a quest for the Holy Grail of the brown stuff.

Wright Thompson Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon

I love to read and Percy’s literature is all about the search for (God?) something and drinking bourbon.

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
― Walker PercyThe Moviegoer

But most of his characters also like a little (or a lot) of bourbon now and again. My sources tell me Walker did too.

Finding It
I guess it was less than a year after I started my search that I found some. I just put my name on the list at the best liquor store in Savannah and got a call around November. They had some 12-year and I bought it. Hell, I didn’t even really know the difference between 12- and 15- and 20- and 23-year yet. I was still a bourbon newbie.

However, I did notice it was smooth and better than anything else I’d had so far.  That was not saying a lot as it was probably the first time I spent over $50 on a fifth of bourbon. Maybe it was the hype, the expectation, or probably the fact that despite all the hoopla — Pappy really is a damn good bourbon.

Setting Out for More
Whatever the driver of my obsession, I wanted more.  And again, a year later I found it. This time 20-year and I knew enough about bourbon at this point to know it was different and better than most of the stuff out there. It was also a first as I laid down $136.88 to buy the bottle — again the most I’d ever spent.

I will say that of all the spirits I’ve tried, bourbon is my favorite. Scotch is next and then the white stuff if it’s all there is. But none of the white stuff has the character or depth of the brown stuff.

WL Weller, Elmer T., Buffalo Trace and Four Roses
My local watering hole can barely keep WL Weller, which is reportedly the closet thing to  Pappy at about 1/10 the cost. This tells me Pappy hysteria is trickling down and the Pappyheads are discovering it. Oh well, there’s still Buffalo Trace, Four Roses — I like Small Batch better than Singel Barrel and hell if you’re on a budget Yellow Label does just fine. My preference is 90 proof and above though. 

Haven’t seen it in a while, but Elmer T. Lee is a bargain at $30 a bottle. If you have less than $15 you can still get a nice taste with Evan Williams Black — better than both Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s IMHO.

If You Can’t Find Pappy Still A Lot of Damn Good Bourbon
So here is the moral of the story: Instead of spending thousands on the secondary (black) market enjoy the other stuff  until Pappy Mania ends. There’s a helluva a lot of tasty stuff out there — and it’s fun to try something new — and you can do a lot of taste tests for the cost of a black market bottle of Pappy.

There will be a day for true Pappy lovers. The mania will end, crashing like dot.com’s did in 1999-2000. And there’ll be more than enough of the famous Pappy on the shelves to sip with friends and chuckle about the crazy ole days when Pappy ruled the bourbon universe.

Until then, sample, discover what you like best, and enjoy it. In the end, it’s not about Pappy, which is a damn good bourbon, but bourbon, which is the best damn spirit.

Some Excerpts on Finding Pappy Van Winkle and Some Good Alternatives If You Can’t

“‘My advice is to go to a little pa-and-ma store that’s out of the way,’ Brown said. ‘You might find it on the shelf.’”

The Silver Dollar’s Larry Rice recommends Weller 12 Year Old or Weller 107 Wheated as a replacement for Pappy. “That’s your closest flavor profile,” he said.

WL Weller 12 - Pappy Van Winkle Alternative

Louisville-based bourbon author Fred Minnick said some of the most sought-after bourbons on the market include not just Pappy and Antique Collection, but Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2012 and 2013), Michter’s 20 Year Old, and Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye. Heck, Minnick noted that bourbon is so popular now that even the widely distributed Maker’s Mark has been known to run out, which prompted the distillery to dilute the product, creating a consumer backlash on social media earlier this year.

Four-RosesSMSo, what does one do for good bourbon if your local store can’t get it for you? If you can’t have your Pappy, should you just drink water? Not at all. Salsbury said there are plenty of good bourbons with the same flavor profile as the hard-to-find brands. For instance, he prefers a brand called Wathen’s, a single-barrel bourbon made in Owensboro. It’s plentiful and affordable — which is probably why there isn’t a frenzy over it.

Wathans Bourbon - Pappy Van Winkle AlternativeSalsbury said he also sells a lot of Elmer T. Lee and Johnny Drum bourbon, along with Four Roses brand bourbons. In fact, Four Roses is getting creative with how it promotes its bourbon. Highland Liquors has a Four Roses in stock that is exclusive to the store. Essentially, the liquor store’s owner went to Four Roses, picked a barrel, and Four Roses bottled that bourbon exclusively for him as “Bryan’s Pick.

Elmer T. Lee Bourbon - Pappy Van Winkle Alternative


Read the whole article:

Looking for a Bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon this Christmas? Good Luck



This year I came up short. After two very good years — beginner’s luck, I guess — I didn’t score any Pappy in 2013. Maybe my bottle was in one of the 65 cases stolen in October. October’s always been a weird month. I used to work for a company that analyzed the stock market and the market always seemed to go into crazy fits and starts during the month of October – maybe it had something to do with the dark side of the moon. And speaking of the Dark Side of the Moon, the greatest album ever — by Pink Floyd — celebrated its 40th anniversary in March of 2013.

But let’s get back to the brown stuff. I did try a few bourbons that were new to me and in a much more affordable price range than Pappy. Elmer T. Lee’s Single Barrel was one of the best. I think I paid $29.95 for a 750ml bottle. I bought it on July 16, the day Lee died after 93 years. I thought it was a good way to pay tribute to the first master distiller. Out of all the new bourbons I tried in 2103, I enjoyed Elmer T. the most. I was on a tight budget so most of the bourbons I purchased were in the $25 to $35 range. Elmer T. Lee SB, Four Roses Small Batch, and Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 and 2000 provided the greatest taste for the dollar. All the bourbons tasted respectable for a bargain price. Each is hearty enough to sip neat and inexpensive enough to enjoy regularly. If you want to save $5 or $10 more a bottle, there’s always Buffalo Trace – the best value in the bourbon universe. For a few dollars less, try W.L. Weller Special Reserve and Evan Williams Black – though EVB works best in cocktails or mixed with coke or lemonade in the summer.

I live on the coast – Tybee Island – and prefer a cold drink with bourbon to a beer on the beach most of the time. Plus, you don’t have to lug such a big, heavy cooler around.  Mix you a jug of Manhattans, Bourbon and Cokes, or bourbon and lemonade (Simply Lemonade works best) and hit the beach. Or liven up your Eggnog for an affordable price during the holidays.

Speaking of the holidays, this year — 2013 — is in the books. It hasn’t always been an easy one, but the joy of sipping a strong and tasty glass of bourbon after a hard day is one of my simple pleasures. It’s a ritual of slowing down, lubricating the mind and emotions, and tasting life again. My dad once told me – when I asked him why he drank Manhattans – that the second Manhattan opens the eye of the soul. And even though, he makes his with Jack Daniels, I think he’s on to something. Bourbon was made to sip — not chug.  One of my favorite things to do if the day has sucked me dry is pour a glass of the good stuff, turn on some music – Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue works best or maybe some Wilco or PFs Dark Side – and sip and enjoy the good warm feeling that rises up inside of me. Have a Pappy New Year, or (if you can’t find Pappy — who can?) — celebrate with whatever bourbon makes you laugh, celebrate 2013, and move on to 2014.

THE LIST (so far) or Where to Find Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon (by the pour)

When I started this site months ago. I had a dream, albeit a humble one. It wasn’t to change the world, but rather to find a tasty corn elixir distilled in Kentucky. I had read an article about it, by a guy, a sportswriter dude, that was also a damned good bourbon storyteller.

I already loved bourbon but had never met Pappy, but I did and liked him. At 12, he was exceptionally good, but at 20, taste-bud blowing. Now, of course, Pappy is not a person, but a distilled bottle of sour mash that is harder to find then mermaids or gold at the end of the rainbow. But somehow, I did find it two years in a row. First the 12 year which was smooth and next the 20 year…which was…well  let’s just say I wish I had another bottle and leave it at that.

photo (23)

But alas, there were no more bottles of Pappy in the land until the next go round. Fall? November? So I’ve given up. Not on Pappy. But on finding Pappy in a bottle, at least at a liquor store in this great U.S. of A. So here is my new dream and it is a bit more humble still. I will pursue Pappy in the bars across the land or overseas. Wherever it may be found. So if your favorite watering hole has it let me know. Or, if you like Wright Thompson, the before-mentioned sportswriter dude/bourbon storyteller run across it in an airport, dive bar or gastropub, please let me know and I will add it to THE LIST.

So far I have sent a few tweets out and received a few locations. Guess where? Of course, the land of Bourbon and Basketball. And my favorite monk. Yes, I have a favorite monk. Thomas Merton who lived in a hermitage near Louisville and drank bourbon and beer and wrote some profound things until he got electrocuted by a fan in Bangkok. But anyway, back to THE LIST. If you can’t have a bottle, you should at least, have a shot, a pour, or even a double if you have a Benjamin on you.

So far THE LIST is very short:

1. The Husk - Charleston, SC

2. Bluegrass Tavern - Lexington, KY

3. Parlay Social - Lexington, KY

4. The Village Idiot - Lexington, KY

5. Henry Clay’s Pub - Lexington, KY

6. Haymarket Whiskey Bar -Louisville, KY

7. Azur Restaurant and Patio - Lexington, Ky

8. The Aviary – Chicago, IL

9. Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Dallas, TX

10. Pour Cafe and Wine Bar – Mt. Kisco, NY

11. Whiskey – Durham, NC

12. Otto’s – Covington, KY

13. Percy Street BBQ – Philadelphia, PA

14. The Crunkleton – Chapel Hill, NC

15. Palate – Millford, MI

16. Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar -Covington, KY

17. WiseGuy Lounge – Covington KY

18. Congress Street Social Club – Savannah, GA

19. Passion 8 Bistro – Fort Mill, SC

20. Seven Grand in Downtown LA –  Los Angeles, CA

Stay updated on the Pappy List.

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*Thanks to all those who sent locations. Keep them coming.


The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste

Thanks to @BourbonBanter for bringing this article to my attention. And as @CLTBourbonClub told me via Twitter. “Pappy’s #bourbon is about as scarce in these parts as mermaids.” Oh well, I guess I will have to be happy with my one bottle a year. Give them both a follow if you haven’t already. Read the Article in Louisville Magazine.

My last PVW November 2012

My last PVW November 2012


Walker Percy – Writer and Bourbon Lover

Walker Percy

“What does a man live for but to have a girl, use his mind, practice his trade, drink a drink, read a book, and watch the martins wing it for the Amazon and the three-fingered sassafras turn red in October?
Art Immelmann is right. Man is not made for suffering, night sweats, and morning terrors.”
― Walker PercyLove in the Ruins

44 Year Old Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Virgin

Okay. So I had my first taste of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year in 2012, at the ripe old age of 44.

Christmas Eve to be exact. It was smooth, rich and delicious as expected. I even gave my wife, a wine drinker, a glass of it neat and she loved it as well.

After a relaxing day, the first Christmas Eve that has ever been relaxing, I made some oyster stew from a recipe from Esquire Magazine. My two year tradition. I enjoyed a few bowls of that with a Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada, one of my favorite seasonals.

Then as the evening grew to a close, and the kids bedtime grew closer. I pulled the red velvet bag down and gave myself a Christmas Eve present. Don’t know about you, but we used to open one “special” one the night before Christmas when I was growing up. And this was indeed a special one.

Now I am not one to break down every flavor nuance when I drink my bourbon. Ok if you do, but just too much detail for my taste, I prefer to savor the moment. Maybe I’ll get there one day, but for now you’ll have to settle for a more ambiguous description.The first thought that comes to mind is the color as you pour it into the glass. Much darker and fuller than most of what I drink.

When it comes to taste it is subtle, but complex and it goes down smooth, no overly ethanol kickback.

Now I had planned to stretch this bottle out until the next one became available in the fall, but that didn’t work.

I did save it for special occasions. New Year’s. My birthday. And once I ran out of my everyday and didn’t feel like getting out so I had to have a taste then as well.

Finally I took my last taste on February 21st to celebrate the writer, David Foster Wallace’s birth. I found out later he was a Wild Turkey drinker. The PVW bottle didn’t make it to the birthday of one of my favorite writers and bourbon drinkers, Walker Percy.

Possibly that is part of the charm in Pappy Van Winkle. It is scarce. You can run out of it and have to wait for it. The expectation and the anticipation make it even more glorious. When you find it and savor it, you know you can’t just rush out and get another bottle like you can with 99.9% of the things you want.

Winning the Pappy Van Winkle Lottery

I received the news about an hour after the Pappy Van Winkle’s bottles arrived at my local liquor store. It was a day or two before Thanksgiving. The email said the PVW was here and did I want 15 or 20 year? I thought for a moment and then called as fast as I could. I was going to go for the 15 since I had tried the 12 last year (good stuff but not what Pappy was famous for). The 15-year was spoken for so I was left with the 20 year. Tough break, right? Sometimes God works in mysterious ways….

Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, 20 year, 23 year

I asked for the price and was told $136.99 a bottle. Sold. I then thought about what the wife would say if she knew I spent $150 on a 750 ml bottle of bourbon. I am not a big spender when it comes to Bourbon. Normally, I go for value. My everyday is Evan Williams Black and when I splurge I usually go for Buffalo Trace – the best tasting bang for your buck in the bourbon universe at least that I have run across so far. I drink the EW in a Manhattan, or with a splash of water or an ice cube and sometimes in coke or in lemonade at the beach in the summer. The BT I almost always take neat and it more than stands up to it.

As I drove to the store, I felt giddy like I was going on my first date. I had heard so much about this bourbon and now I had scored a bottle after about 18 months of trying. I had recently visited the Old Rip Van Winkle Facebook site and realized how hard it was for most people to find. I had planned to go to Husk in Charleston, SC and put down about $47 for a pour if I did not find it by my birthday, January 31st. The wife would have loved that one too!

When I got to Habersham Beverage the cashier said I was one of the “lottery winners” and someone went to the back and got my bottle of 20-year Pappy Van Winkle. They presented it to me in a nice red velvet bag and I felt like a “winner” with a secret.

The bottle sits unopened in its hiding place waiting for Christmas Eve. On that night, I will take it down after the kids are nestled in their beds with dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads, gingerly open it with high expectation, and pour it in my whiskey snifter to savor. I will take a long draw of the aroma and then take my first sip of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, the best bourbon in the world. Can’t wait. Cheers!

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