This is one of those uber-aged bourbons and it comes from Julian Van Winkle at Buffalo Trace. This is still (or at least should be) Stiztel Weller bourbon because at 20 years old, this particular bourbon would have been distilled in 1986, 6 years prior to the distillery closure. My first love of bourbon really gravitated toward the wheated variety early on in my bourbon experience; I had access to Stitzel Weller Old Fitz and loved the creamy, candied quality to this particular wheated bourbon. As I expanded my bourbon horizon I naturally gravitated towards wheated bourbons and most of those from Buffalo Trace. The Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons are very good whiskey's and my personal order of preference starts with the 15 year, 20 year and then 23 year. The 20 year old Pappy is a bold bourbon even at 90.4 proof and provides a pleasant drinking experience.
The bottle is really a non-descript standard shape; nothing eye catching. The Label on the other hand has a nice picture of Pappy Van Winkle smoking his trademark stogie along with red lettering and gold accents. The bourbon comes in the standard 750ml size with a red foil top and can be found in a cheesy velvet bag on most occasions.
As I nose this bourbon, there's a fruity quality to it that at first I wouldn't expect as most wheated bourbons have a caramel, vanilla and brown sugar trait to it. The nose is soft and velvety with the alcohol sitting in the background not intruding on the experience. Moving my nose deeper into the glass and taking in a deeper whiff brings some of the alcohol to the foreground along with a hint of citrus.
The color is a soft golden hue and really is not very eye catching. Although it is extra aged which typically gives the bourbon a deeper color, cutting the proof to 90.4 lightens up the bourbon to an average depth and tone.
Now to the most appealing part of this bourbon and that's the taste. I heard some folks say that they feel this bourbon is too soft and they prefer something more "lively". While I would agree in part, I don't think that one dimensional. If I want something with moderate complexity, extra age and delicious, then I reach for Pappy 20. On entry there's an oily mouthfeel; a quality that I really like in bourbon. I pick up the fruit initially but then the transition to mid palate quickly exhibits flavors of vanilla, caramel, leather and some bold oak but not overstated for bourbon this aged. I pick up traces of smoke also but I have to dig for it. The finish is lengthy and appropriate for the proof.
This bourbon isn't cheap. The bottle I have bunkered I paid $85 for in 2007 but it now goes for around $120 and then some. The bourbon used for this review was a sample given to me by a friend and as I stated, was bottled in 2006. The whole Pappy Van Winkle line is good bourbon and always a good drinking experience. If you can handle the high price tag, pick up a bottle and enjoy on some special occasion.