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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6 thoughts on “Why Pappy Van Winkle Hysteria is Good for Bourbon”

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