Old Rip Van Winkle. I’m one of few my age (off the top of my head) that can still remember buying this on the shelf at MSRP. The world of bourbon certainly has changed which is why I honestly wasn’t planning on reviewing any Van Winkle bourbons, not because I dislike them, but simply because we don’t need another review of an overhyped bourbon that nobody can acquire. Shrewd product placement, celebrity chef douchebaggery and rabid hysteria to the point of inept insanity has done enough damage (or one could argue the opposite) to the Van Winkle line of whiskeys. A lot of bloggers I talk to won’t even touch them in terms of reviewing and will scoff instantly if the name “Van Winkle” or “Pappy” is even mentioned; whiskey bloggers and veteran bourbon drinkers have become so fatigued when a novice brings up the desire to try a Van Winkle, its honestly hilarious to witness the facial expressions that typically ensue. Even worse is the “whiskey demographic” online, be it social media and even some bloggers, which has become so saturated with pic after pic and repost after repost of some dudes “collection”, consisting of these scarce wheaters that most people never will drink – and the few that have either got absurdly lucky at a controlled states ABC lottery or are dropping 800% markup in a state like California – and this doesn’t even include the price that some are paying for by the ounce in a bar. I could ramble on and on about the hoarders – the flip side of whats made bourbon so insane today……but lets just talk about the whiskey!
Now that that rant is out of the way (my is sincerest apologies), a bourbon “Asleep Many Years In The Wood”, the youngest of the Van Winkle brothers…the Old Rip Van Winkle. Bottled at 107 proof, “10 Summers Old” and made from a wheated mash bill, this bourbon has probably one of the coolest labels on the market next to equally eloquent Willett and the minimally modest BTAC. But ultimately it’s the juice inside that counts…
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
ABV: 53.5% // 107 proof
Age: 10 years
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace’s Wheated Mash Bill (undisclosed)
Color: Rich Copper Amber
Nose: Rounded, sumptuous and decadently nostalgic. Few wheaters can touch this nose – the sweet, confectionary notes just melt and simmer throughout the glass before overflowing into your nose. Warm, moist brown sugars, bubble gum, ginger, cinnamon, and very buttery. You can literally smell the butter melting on top of the pancakes. Freshly buttered toast, melted milk chocolate, some orange spices, potpourri and a little cherry cough lozenge sitting on top of piles of big baking spices – all balanced by gorgeous notes of sweet American oak and a squeeze of lemon.
The grape soda note I get from some of BT’s bourbon comes through here, even more so than some bottles of Eagle Rare. I attribute this to BT’s corn strain specifically which may sound odd but it’s definitely here and works very well with the rest of the nose. You can’t not love this nose – even if you aren’t a fan of wheated bourbons. Nosing this is the quintessential confectionary shop – it literally hits every note you’d imagine while standing in one. I’d be giving this a 100 if it were for the nose alone…..
Palate: Sluggish & disappointing – their is no other way of saying it. Nothing offensive and with nice qualities, but a huge letdown from the nose. Demerara sugars, bubblegum, raisin and some of the really nice baking spices from the nose, but not as intense. The wheat is stated beneath all the sweetness but isn’t as rich as your average Weller 107. The mouthfeel is rounded, but never takes off and lacks any depth or substantial texture other than “sweet”. The palate overall is quite buttery, which one should expect from a wheater and the support of the oak accompanies the sweeter notes mentioned above, with just a hint of barrel char and a non-astringent wood polish note, but overall everything is a half hearted yelp compared to the harmonious melody that was sung on the nose.
Finish: Medium in length. Honey & spices pop right from the start of the finish. A picture of every classic holiday spice you can muster from childhood memory unfolds: rich baking spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla spices, moist brown sugars, more demerara sugars, muscovado sugars and some black pepper as well. Oak and sweet vanilla stride hand in hand next to the baking spices followed by a mere hint of smoke.
The BT corn note from the nose is back here on the tail end of the finish along with nicely accentuated notes of golden wheat, reminding you of exactly what kind of bourbon this is, and the continual, unrelenting baking spices remind you exactly who’s last name is on the front of the bottle. This is a Van Winkle every inch of the finish, although I would of liked to of seen this finish march a little further on past the ‘Medium’ threshold. The spice domination turns slightly bitter right on the end but remains lip smackingly sweet, and delivers on just about everything you should expect from the finish of a Van Winkle.
Bourbon and House Rating: 83.5
It was a personal battle deciding on what to rate this. The sole factor that kept this ‘Rip from being a solid A grade bourbon was the palate. It was just flat out boring. I even let this open up over a few months, but little changed. The palate was so underwhelming and the finish shorter than expected, which i’m naturally comparing to all the Weller 107 barrel picks out there at the same proof and mash bill (of course younger) but which typically have beautiful palates and much longer finishes. Even not comparing to any Weller 107 barrel picks, this Van Winkle (VW) left me wanting more in between the nose and finish.
I judged this whiskey, like all whiskies, as objectively as possible – having as little regard to the VW name on the label, and solely focusing all judgment towards the juice inside. The nose is to die for – you could get a cavity just from smelling this and this finish is good, very good in fact, but if you had poured this for me blind I would of guessed the juice to of been around 90 proof instead of 107. All this said, with the VW name ornamented on the front, there comes a standard that one expects from a VW, one that the VW Family along with Buffalo Trace know needs be met. I’ve had other vintages of Old Rip that displayed a much richer mouthfeel which would merit a solid A rating. Perhaps this was just an odd batching with some off casks, maybe the cork had issues…who’s to say.
This was a solid bourbon by all standards and by all means is right in my category of ‘Solid. Good every day pour’. However I feel bad for the people I see paying, or even considering paying, hundreds (almost thousands) of dollars for this $60 bourbon, cracking it open to drink and no doubt thinking that they possess the nectar of the gods in their glass when their is some killer Weller 107 store picks out there for $30-$40 and that offer a more rounded package, at least in the case of this 2015 Old Rip. If you can find a bottle of this for around $100, i would say pull the trigger, although that’s an unlikely scenario in today’s bourbon climate. For those of you that do however manage to pick up a bottle of this for around the $60 mark, you clearly are in the bourbon gods favor.