Best Bourbons | Buffalo Trace Distillery | Guide | Van Winkle Whiskey

The Ultimate Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey Guide

Last updated Feb 4, 2021 | Published on Jan 24, 2021

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by Matty Sims

Let’s start with the basics. First, I know not all the whiskeys below are Pappy Van Winkle Whiskeys. However, that’s how people search to find out more about these rare whiskeys. To drill down, only three of the whiskeys made by the Van Winkle family are Pappy Van Winkle. Those include the Family Reserve 15 Year, 20 Year, and 23 Year. The other three whiskeys are just Van Winkle whiskeys, not Pappy. Even saying just Van Winkle sounds ridiculous because of how highly they are coveted.

Second, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery is the distillery on the label. However, Buffalo Trace Distillery is contracted to distill the Van Winkle whiskeys (at least since 2002). Third, the retail for these whiskeys is reasonable. See below:

  • $70, Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year Old 107 proof
  • $80, Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old
  • $120, Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old
  • $120, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old
  • $200, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old
  • $300, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old

If you see any of these on the shelf at the prices above, you should buy it on sight. If you leave and come back, chances are it will be gone. Despite Buffalo Trace and Julian Van Winkle III trying to keep the price low, many stores will mark these bottles up significantly. I fear I said significantly and you heard mark these up some. Sig-nif-icant-ly. 10x or more sometimes. Senior Marketing Director Kris Comstock says, “If you are a customer trying to buy a bottle [of Van Winkle whiskey] at a licensed retailer who has marked it up above MSRP, we encourage you to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.”

Fourth, each Van Winkle whiskey release is different. Let’s jump in below. Start shopping for bourbon clothing and accessories for your journey. The Bard’s Shop has custom tees and hoodies, books, barrels, and more.

Related:

Every Van Winkle Whiskey Explained

The Van Winkle 10, 12, 15, 20, and 23 years old are all wheated bourbons and use the same mashbill (the rye is the outlier). What’s the difference then? Well, the age for one but other flavor differences might include:

  • Warehouse location
  • Warehouse floor
  • Barrel Wood
  • Weather During Aging
  • Proof/ABV

Below you’ll find an overview of each Van Winkle whiskey release as well as a graphic with flavor notes as provided by the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. The awards shared we provided by Buffalo Trace Distillery as of the 2020 Van Winkle release. The other wrinkle which will discuss below will be where your Pappy Van Winkle was distilled at. Older vintages were made at Stitzel-Weller, some at the old Bernheim Distillery, and more recently Buffalo Trace Distillery.

For more information about Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, check out this conversation with Fred Minnick and Julian Van Winkle III.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, ND Wheat, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown — but we do know it's low barrel entry proof
In the Bottle107 Proof
ABV53.5% ABV
Age10 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$69.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See a rich, copper color. Smell enticingly sweet, spicy, caramel-nut-fudge aromas. Enjoy a fruity, medium-to-full-bodied palate with intense dried fruit and toasted nuts notes. Each sip finishes with a very long, bold wave of peppery brown spices, floral honey, and charred barrel flavors that balance the weight of the alcohol. It’s a big, bold, aged bourbon that has great balance for its high proof and flavor.

Van Winkle Old Rip Awards

  • 2013 Gold Medal – International Review of Spirits Award (BTI)

Van Winkle Special Reserve “Lot B” 12 Year

Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B 12 Year

Van Winkle Special Reserve "Lot B" 12 Year
Van Winkle Special Reserve "Lot B" 12 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, ND Wheat, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown — but we do know it's low barrel entry proof
In the Bottle90.4 Proof
ABV45.2% ABV
Age12 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$79.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See a brilliant, amber-orange color. Smell luscious, complex toffee. Taste a round, supple entry, leading to a dry, expansive, medium body. Enjoy notes of caramel, nuts, and brown spices with a lengthy, enveloping finish. It’s an outrageously smooth and decadent bourbon.

Van Winkle Lot B Awards

  • 2016 95 points – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2007 Gold Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2005 Gold Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2004 Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2004 Silver Medal – International Spirits Challenge
  • 2003 Silver Medal – International Spirits Challenge
  • 2000 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, MN Rye, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown
In the Bottle95.6 proof
ABV47.8% ABV
Age13 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$119.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail — the Van Winkle Rye is the dark horse in this lineup

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See the deep, tawny, copper color. Smell the powerful caramel, spice, sweet-tobacco aromas. Enjoy a smooth, broad entry, leading to a medium-to-full-bodied palate with sweet toffee, roasted nut, and leather notes. Finish with a wave of white pepper, spice, and long-lingering dried fruit flavors.

Van Winkle Rye Awards

  • 2005 Bronze Medal – Whisky Magazine
  • 2003 Bronze Medal – International Spirits Challenge
  • 2000 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 1999 Gold Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 1999 Award of Excellence – American Tasting Institute

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 Year
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, ND Wheat, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown — but we do know it's low barrel entry proof
In the Bottle107 proof
ABV53.5% ABV
Age15 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$119.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail — Pappy 15 is my fav out of the entire lineup

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See a hazy, copper color. Taste a rich, supple entry, leading to a decadent, huge, full-bodied palate with intense caramel, toffee, and peppery brown spice flavors. Then, enjoy a finish with an extreme, long, complex, evolving fade of spice and wood notes. Experts deem it a seductive, exotic, and virtually flawless bourbon.

Pappy 15 Awards:

  • 2020 Best Bourbon by Fred Minnick
  • 2019 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2019 Best Bourbon, 11-15 Years – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible
  • 2016 Overall Winner, Best Age Statement Bourbon – World Whiskies Awards
  • 2014 Bronze Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2014 Gold Medal; Bourbon American Whiskey 8 Years and Over – World Whiskies Awards
  • 2013 Double Gold Medal; Best Small Batch Bourbon; Best Bourbon – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2013 Liquid Gold Award – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible
  • 2011 Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2011 Excellent-Strong Recommendation – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2011 Gold Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2011 Gold Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2010 Gold Medal – Best of Show – Best Whiskey – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2006 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2006 Silver Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2005 Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2005 Silver Medal – International Spirits Challenge
  • 2004 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2004 Silver Medal – International Spirits Challenge
  • 2003 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2002 Award of Excellence – American Tasting Institute
  • 2001 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2000 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Year
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, ND Wheat, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown — but we do know it's low barrel entry proof
In the Bottle90.4 proof
ABV45.2% ABV
Age20 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$199.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail — Pappy 20 is the whiskey that started the craze as the prestigious Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago scored it 99 out of 100

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See a dark amber and dark orange cast. This full-bodied bourbon is reminiscent of oiled leather, smoke, minerals, coffee, and cigar boxes. Take in the endless ranges of aromatics and flavors. Enjoy the infinite finish.

Pappy 20 Awards:

  • Scored 99 (“superlative”) from the Beverage Testing Institute in 1997
  • 2018 Double Gold Medal, Best Bourbon, Best Small Batch Bourbon – New York International Spirits Competition
  • 2018 Bronze Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2016 Gold Medal, Best Age Statement Bourbon – World Whiskies Awards
  • 2015 Chairman’s Trophy; “Tried & True” – 98 points – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2015 Winner, Best Bourbon – Age Statement – World Whiskies Awards
  • 2014 Silver Outstanding Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2014 Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2013 Silver Outstanding Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2013 Bronze Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2013 Extraordinary-Ultimate Recommendation – Chairman’s Trophy Finalist – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2012 Gold Medal – Best in Category – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2012 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2011 Extraordinary-Ultimate Recommendation – Chairman’s Trophy Finalist – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2011 Gold Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2011 Silver Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2011 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2010 Excellent-Strong Recommendation – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2010 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2010 Silver Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2010 Bronze Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2009 Silver Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2009 Silver Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Double Gold Medal – Best Bourbon – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Gold Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Gold Medal – Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Silver Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Bronze Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2007 Bronze Medal – International Wine & Spirits Competition

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 Year

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 Year
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 YearDetails
MashbillUnknown %s — KY Corn, ND Wheat, & ND Malted Barley
In the BarrelUnknown — but we do know it's low barrel entry proof
In the Bottle95.6 proof
ABV47.8% ABV
Age23 Years Old
Distilled byBuffalo Trace Distillery
DistilleryOld Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BarrelNew, White Oak
#4 Alligator Char (55 Seconds)
Barrel MakerIndependent Stave Co.
Suggested MSRP$299.99
InventoryBuy On Sight at Retail

Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery’s Tasting Notes:

See a deep amber red. Taste the various hints of caramel, ripe apples, cherries, oak wood and tobacco with a hint of chocolate. This bourbon finishes with a long-lasting and pleasant taste. Starts with a lot of wood flavors but leads to a nice sweet caramel finish.

Pappy 23 Awards

  • “Spirit of the Year” for 2010 by Wine & Spirits magazine
  • 2012 Extraordinary-Ultimate Recommendation – Chairman’s Trophy Finalist – Ultimate Spirits Challenge
  • 2008 Double Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Gold Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Gold Medal – San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2008 Silver Medal – Best in Class – International Wine & Spirits Competition

Pappy Van Winkle Single Barrel Bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle Single BarrelBelieve it or not, before Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon was the hot whiskey Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery offered single barrels. These are the unicorns of the unicorns. Can you imagine being able to buy a barrel of Pappy Van Winkle? It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Above you will see some of the more popular expressions in circulation. You can also go to WhiskeyId.com and search “Pappy Van Winkle Single Barrel” to see additional releases.

Van Winkle Release Timeline: A History

Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey

The best way to tell the history of Van Winkle Whiskeys to provide a Van Winkle Release Timeline:

The Bourbon Bard's Van Winkle Release Timeline

Pappy, Laser Codes, and Stitzel-Weller Bourbon

Pappy, Laser Codes, and Stitzel-Weller Bourbon

Everyone wants to know: Is the Pappy Van Winkle I’m drinking from Stitzel-Weller? Well, it’s not as simple as knowing the year your Pappy was released. For instance, Bernheim Distillery did some distilling for the Van Winkles. Also, during a year when the Stitzel-Weller still was down Buffalo Trace did some contract distilling.

Here’s what we know for sure. These are the last years for 100% Stitzel-Weller bourbon:

  • Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year – 2002
  • Van Winkle Special Reserve “Lot B” 12 Year – 2005
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year – 2009
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year – 2012
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year – 2014

Before 2007, dating a bottle could be tricky. But as the Van Winkle Timeline above shows, Buffalo Trace started using laser codes on bottles in 2007. That makes dating Pappy after 2007 much easier. Dating still isn’t fool proof because laser code anomalies happen. The Buffalo Trace assembly line pumps out 10 to 20 bottles per minute. Laser codes are not, let me repeat, are not unique per bottle, and missing or badly etched code are not always a sign of a fake. You may have 10 to 20 bottles with the same exact date and time on their laser code.

Before 2012, the codes you will find will look like K2250910:22. Here’s the breakdown:

  • The K is the bottling line
  • 225 is the day of the year
  • 09 is the year
  • 10:22 is the military time

After 2002, the code you will find will look like B1312011:11K. Here’s the breakdown:

  • B is Buffalo Trace
  • 13 is the year 2013
  • 120 is the day of the year
  • 11:11 is the military time
  • K is the bottling line

A word about Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 year and the rarer 12 year rye release. The original run was distilled by Medley Distillery. Those runs were rumored to last from 1997 to 2003. From 2003 to 2011, VWFRR was a blend of Medley and Bernheim Distillery. After 2011, VWFRR was a blend of Medley, Bernheim, and Buffalo Trace Distillery. I’m still researching but sometime shortly after that (probably 2 to 3 years), VWFRR was fully Buffalo Trace distillate.

How can you tell fake Pappy Van Winkle?

Fake Van Winkle Whiskey

The presence of fake premium bourbons isn’t a sign in and of itself of inborn maleficence within the bourbon community. All premium, collectible niches have fakes. I can’t think of one that doesn’t. However, the bourbon community does a great job of policing and holding people accountable. And it’s a surprisingly small community. One bad trade can make or break your reputation.

  • First, if it seems to good to be true it probably is
  • Second, many of these fakers buy empty bottles from eBay — compare recent purchases from eBay against bottles you are looking at trading for.
  • Third, only buy bottles of Van Winkle Whiskeys from credible stores — and even then be cautious.
  • Fourth, follow Herz’s Serious Whiskey Info for updates on what’s happening with fakers and premium whiskeys (also, see his article about spotting fake Pappy’s).
  • Fifth, invest in a hydrometer to test any whiskey you trade for’s ABV

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Best Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon?

My personal favorite is Pappy 15. Based on awards (which you can see above) — Pappy 20 eeks out the win. I’d be OK drinking either. No complaints here.

When did Buffalo Trace start distilling Pappy?

In 2002, Buffalo Trace took over the distilling, aging, and bottling of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons according to the specifications of Julian Van Winkle III.

Is Pappy Van Winkle good?

In short, yes. Yes, it is. It’s very good. Van Winkle bourbon is one of the best-rated, well regarded, and highly sought after whiskey on the market.

How do I know the year of my Old Rip Van Winkle?

Hopefully, any Old Rip Van Winkle you’ve acquired has impeccable provenance if you’re trading for a bottle, or you’ve purchased it from a credible and legal liquor store. However, there are some scenarios like purchasing bottles from an estate sale where you might need to do independent research. In those cases, check out my Van Winkle timeline, Van Winkle laser code info, and how to spot a fake Van Winkle whiskey.

Why is Pappy so rare?

Pappy Van Winkle Sr.’s well-known mantra was “We make fine bourbon at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon.” Julian Van Winkle III and Preston Van Winkle have continued that legacy. They are slowly increasing production with the help of Buffalo Trace but the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons were never a mass-market product. They are a passion project and meant to be rare.

I don’t expect we will ever return to the days where Pappy could be found sitting on the shelf. Maybe if we’re lucky, they will be slightly less hard to find, but here’s the real rub. These are premium aged bourbons. Any increase has to be planned out two decades in advance. That’s a lot of time where the market can change and for the consumer to wait.

Is Rip Van Winkle the same as Pappy?

No, Rip Van Winkle is not the same as Pappy. Only three releases from the Rip Van Winkle Distillery are considered Pappy — that’s the Family Estate 15 Year, 20 Year, and 25 Year. Rip Van Winkle is the 10 year release in the Van Winkle lineup.

Which year Pappy is the best?

Most whiskey aficionados would argue that the Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkles are the best releases. For each Van Winkle whiskey release, the year will be different. Here are the last years for all Stitzel-Weller bourbon for each release:

  • Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year – 2002
  • Van Winkle Special Reserve “Lot B” 12 Year – 2005
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year – 2009
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year – 2012
  • Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year – 2014

Can you buy Pappy Van Winkle at the distillery?

No, Buffalo Trace does currently sell Pappy Van Winkle at the distillery

How much is a shot of Pappy Van Winkle 10 year?

Trick question. There is no Pappy Van Winkle 10 year. However, the best price locally for a shot of Rip Van Winkle 10 year goes for around $50 for 2 oz. Your mileage may vary.

How many bottles of Pappy are released each year?

Only 7,000 cases of Pappy are produced per year as of 2019 which works out to 84,000 bottles. Buffalo Trace is increasing production by 2 to 3% every year, so those numbers aren’t growing by leaps and bounds.

Does Costco Get Pappy Van Winkle?

Yes, Costco does get Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

What bourbon is closest to Pappy Van Winkle?

Buffalo Trace’s Weller Wheated Bourbon is the closest bourbon to Pappy. William Larue Weller is probably the closest out of the bunch because of its premium aging. Many people in bourbon groups will make “Poor Man’s Pappy” by mixing Weller 12 and Old Weller Antique. At the end of the day, Julian and Preston are looking for a specific flavor profile, so you might be able to get close, but even Weller just won’t be the same.

Is Buffalo Trace the same as Pappy Van Winkle?

No, Buffalo Trace is not the same as Pappy Van Winkle. Buffalo Trace is a low rye bourbon, whereas Pappy as a premium aged, wheated bourbon.

Start shopping for bourbon clothing and accessories for your journey. The Bard’s Shop has custom tees and hoodies, books, barrels, and more.

Written by Matty Sims

Matty Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at a digital media company. LeAnn (his wife) and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele along with a brand new pup Booker live in Taylors, SC, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He enjoys cracking a well-aged bottle of bourbon with friends and sharing stories, or cracking one of his favorite daily sippers on the back porch while the pup and his kids play in the backyard. He is a storyteller at heart, and Bourbon has deep roots in storytelling.
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