Distilled: One shot to get Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon

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From the November 21, 2013 edition
  • Photo by Tim Johnson

There’s bourbon and good bourbon, and then there’s great bourbon. There’s also hype, and overhyped. This all pertains to the Van Winkle bourbons.

Old Rip Van Winkle is a distillery born in the late 1880s near Louisville by the elder Van Winkle, a true statesman named Julian, aka “Pappy.” The distillery recently joined forces with Buffalo Trace Distillery and moved operations to Frankfort.

Most of this minimalist history lesson means little to those who enjoy good bourbon. But it is important — besides that bourbon only comes from The Bluegrass State. Everything else is whiskey.

When Van Winkle joined with Buffalo Trace, not much changed. (Discounting the rumors that Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-year will never be the same; I have no clue because I’ve never even seen that white whale.)

There are a couple other, recent minor changes. The 10-year comes in a new, less stumpy bottle with a different label, and is now only made at 107 proof and not 90, which is appropriate for its quality.

The Van Winkle products are regarded as some of, if not the, finest bourbons in the world. And this is where great/good bourbon and hype/overhype come in. Some bourbon aficionados consider Van Winkle’s praise and cult-like following merely a result of the limited availability/production. I will put this as simply as possible — these idiots are wrong.

The Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year is utterly fantastic. The vanilla and caramel notes are exceptionally balanced by a healthy bit of oak. Its butteriness isn’t the finest, but it’s damn good. It hits with an initial and big bite — it’s 107 proof — that softens by the second sip.

Let me reiterate this, the Old Rip Van Winkle is a near-perfect bourbon (a top five for me; No. 1 is the Pappy Van Winkle 15-year). Maybe not worth the effort it takes to get a bottle, but you’ll be happy when you do.

And you can!

Weiland’s Market (3600 Indianola Ave.) has one left and will be raffling it off (it still costs a mere $39) Friday at noon. Drop by and drop your name and info in beforehand. Good luck to all. Cheers to the winner.