Why Pappy Van Winkle Hysteria is Good for Bourbon

 

Walker Percy on Bourbon
Walker Percy

Walker Percy introduced me to Bourbon and Wright Thompson pointed me  to Pappy.

Percy's literature is all about the search for something (God?).

“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 (mostly Early Times) now and again. My sources tell me Walker did too.

And so does Wright Thompson, who can tell a damn good story about bourbon. It was this one, that turned me onto the search for Pappy Van Winkle.

"If you know what Pappy Van Winkle is, you’re already mad at me. If you don’t, I’m about to change your life. Pappy, officially called Family Reserve, is the top-of-the-line bourbon made by The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. It comes in 15, 20, and 23 years old. There’s a cult."

- Wright Thompson

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.

W.L. Weller, Elmer T. Lee, Buffalo Trace, 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 Single 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.

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How to Find Pappy Van Winkle and Good Alternatives If You Can’t

Looking for some wisdom on how to find Pappy Van Winkle, the world's best bourbon?

Here's a smattering of advice from a good article written a few years ago by Kevin Gibson in Insider Louisville:

Looking for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon? Good Luck.

Here are a few highlights and some alternative bourbons for Pappy lovers.

  • My advice (on finding Pappy Van Winkle) 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.

W.L. 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 Roses Bourbon

  • So, 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

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Thirsty (No Pappy Van Winkle in 2013)

Elmer-T.-LeeThis year I came up short.

After two very good years -- beginner's luck, I guess -- I didn't score any Pappy Van Winkle 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 sampled 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.

So 2013 is in the books.

Truthfully, 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.

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  enjoy the good warm feeling that rises up inside as I sip a glass of fine bourbon.

Have a Pappy New Year, or (if you can't find Pappy -- who can?) -- celebrate with whatever bourbon makes you laugh, leave 2013 behind, and move on to the adventures of 2014.

May you all find a bottle of the best bourbon in the world this year!

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The Best Bourbon You May Never Taste – Pappy Van Winkle

A Bourbon as "Scarce as Mermaids"

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

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