Pappy Van Winkle Virgin Tries 20 Year

Pappy Van Winkle BourbonI 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 a taste to my wife, a wine drinker. She drank it neat and loved it.

After a relaxing day (the first Christmas Eve that has ever been relaxing) I made some oyster stew from a recipe from Esquire Magazine. It's my new 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 nuance of flavor 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, full-bodied and thick. It goes down smooth, like liquid silk, finishing nicely with 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 a few 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 sip on February 21st in celebration of the writer, David Foster Wallace’s birth. I found out later he was a Wild Turkey drinker.

Unfortunately, he PVW didn’t make it to the birthday of one of my favorite writers and bourbon drinkers, Walker Percy.

Possibly that's part of the charm in Pappy Van Winkle. It is scarce. You can run out of it and then you have to wait for it.

In a way, the expectation and the anticipation make it even more glorious.

When you find it, you want to savor it because when it's gone, it's gone.

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 back 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?

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.

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 the store the cashier said I was one of the “lottery winners” -- and someone went to the back and got me my first bottle of 20-year Pappy Van Winkle.

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 remove it from its red velvet bag 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!

How I Met Pappy Van Winkle

Pappy Van Winkle 12 YearI can hardly remember how or why I first discovered Pappy via Wright Thompson, but I do remember the first time I read Walker Percy's essay on bourbon.

Reading that essay, I decided I was a bourbon drinker, not rum, not vodka, not even gin or scotch, but bourbon.

If it was good enough for Walker, it was good enough for me.

Walker was a writer from the South and he had something deep and philosophical to say in his books. I liked him as a writer and I liked him and his characters, as drinkers of bourbon.

Then, I read about him sitting on the porch of Thomas Merton's porch drinking bourbon with the monk and I loved it even more.

I might not be much of a Christian, but I do appreciate a good mystic. I believe there's a God, but I'm not always sure how to define him.

Drinking bourbon is much easier to understand.

Once I asked my dad why he drank Manhattans and he told me that two Manhattans open the eye of the soul.

Unlike him, I use bourbon -- not Jack Daniel's -- in my Manhattans, but yes I have had my soul opened by drinking bourbon.

And yes, it was Wright who introduced me to the best bourbon in the world -- Pappy Van Winkle. He said if you ever find it on the shelf buy it all. If you find it in a bar, order it even if it is pricey.

Somehow, I found it last year, at a local liquor shop, which shall remain nameless. It was only the 12 year, but I bought it as fast as I could.

After teaching all day at a local high school, I drove there with anticipation and picked it up.

On a whim, I had put my name on a waiting list after reading Wright's article months before. I didn't really know what to expect and was pretty shocked  to get an email from the owner.

I paid $60 for a bottle of 12 year.

Now I am in pursuit of the 15 year or the 20 year. If you know where some is, please let me know