Well, this is it: the bottle at the top of every whiskey enthusiast's Christmas list. I'm fortunate to have had two solid glasses of this whiskey prior to today thanks to the good times spent visiting my good friend Eric's bar. As if those two pours weren't enough of a spoiled treat - he also sent me home with a 2oz sample jar of this coveted brown wheated water. I'm grateful for the opportunity to give it a fair shake down on a fresh palate today to see for myself if this stuff is really worth going crazy for. I've previously both enjoyed this pour and also thought it was overrated compared to other whiskeys. I'll be giving myself a reset and really trying to see how this compares to some of the annals stored in my whiskey brain. Time to jump in!
Company on Label: Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery (Buffalo Trace)
Whiskey Type: Wheated Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed Buffalo Trace Wheated Mash Bill
Age: 23 years
Further identification: This is a 2017 release; bottle # I 1864; I received this 2oz sample from @ra1nmannn about a year ago from an approximately half empty bottle
Nose: I can find some sweet candy wafting off the glass from quite some distance. As I raise the glass to my nose pungent caramel, brown bark and caramelized sugar ooze decadence and age into my nostrils. I get a 'dusty' characteristic matched only by a bright lily and ubiquitous floral tone. It certainly smells hyper-aged. I find a lot of the same aromas as I found in a bottle of pre-fire Elijah Craig 23 year. The oak really evolves into something more at this level of aging. The nose quickly falls off in intensity. At this point it smells as though has broken down all of its dark, brooding spice and turned into an airy, dry piece of driftwood. There's a hint of vinegar lingering behind the oak. Nosing deeper I find a tingling touch of brine atop a tone-deaf bed of cherry skins. Hoping to be rid of the vinegar aromas at this point, I am going in for a sip.
Coming back dark molasses has built well alongside a mellow vanilla syrup. The nose has improved greatly with time in the glass; about halfway through my pour I begin to find leather, nutmeg and blueberry pie all in snippets of dessert treats. A light smoke permeates everything. The nose is quite simple and I have to really inhale hard to find even traditional notes like caramel and vanilla. The empty glass smells of soft wildflowers, burnt pine forest and dry dirt.
Palate: Soft cherry and a hint of mint tingle delicately in the middle of my tongue before rushing for the exit at the back of my throat. A tannic spice punches the esophagus. Bright grape is tart and dark alongside small dashes of bitters. The linger is long but light and quite thin with just trace cherry and raspberry. A larger sip and swish produces nothing new, unique or intense. The linger begins to build its onslaught of oak that dries the tongue significantly. The tannin level reaches critical mass at about 1oz and I begin to wonder if I have just ingested the wood itself by some freak accident. Light cherry skins and harsh oaky molasses continue to be the predominant flavors. My last sip is the sweetest and most tannic. Raspberry, plum, grape skins, and cherry culminate in a lackluster finish of raspberry mint tea.
Well... I needed (as I often do) some frame of reference to be able to properly score this one as it's unlike really anything else I've really reviewed in depth. I chose to compare this to an open bottle of 2020 Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year as my benchmark for this pour. Revisiting that Old Rip I find it to be significantly richer, sweeter and more approachable on the nose; the 10 year has a gorgeous perfumed floral tone that comes across syrupy. The palate is a delectable old fashioned profile that instantly outclasses the Pappy 23 year by leaps and bounds. I'll take the 10 year all day over the 23 year and I believe the scores for each accurately reflect that per my review scale. That bottle of Pappy 23 is long gone now, and despite its lackluster performance, it still was used to share many good times & great memories and for that I am thankful. Cheers folks!