Sunday, December 27, 2009

Exam-o-Dram – Pappy Van Winkle 20 year

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.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…..NOT!

As a person who really dislikes snow, I'm sitting in a major storm right now. Started about midnight and it's now about noon and we have about 2 feet on the ground at a balmy 24 degrees. That's a lot of freakin white stuff. I began checking the reports 2 days ago and the snowfall projections started out at 5-8" but by yesterday afternoon, that had changed to 10-20" and the by later evening updated yet again to 15-25". Of course, those projections were for total snowfall over the course of midnight last night to early tomorrow morning. I can say (and as you can see by the nice pretty pictures), we have met and will exceed those numbers. I'm thrilled. I've been out twice and plowed the driveway with my trusty '74 Farmall 140 and if not for that old tractor, I'd be buried for a number of days. So, I'm thankful for tractors and of course I'm thankful for one other thing on a day like this; Bourbon. Thank you George T. Stagg and thank you Thomas H. Handy for your warming embrace and being my warm bourbon blanket. So, if you happen to be stuck in this wide band of snow, what's the bourbon you pour to stay warm?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monthly Bourbon Recommendation - George T. Stagg

There's something almost unworldly about George T. Stagg. I have yet to try any year and have bad thoughts about what I'm drinking. To me, always a top notch pour and this year's release certainly won't disappoint. My brother was kind enough to pour off about 100ml for me so I could try it and boy am I glad he did.

First, let's talk about the vital statistics of this great bourbon. Barreled in the winter of 1992 and bottled in the fall of this year, makes this baby about 16 years old and comes in at another HAZMAT level of 141.4 proof. What's scary is you can drink Stagg neat no problem; that's how smooth this bourbon is. So for the sake of everyone's health, while you CAN drink it neat, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Drinking any bourbon at this proof can be detrimental. I would recommend adding a bit of spring water to take it down about 20 points or so, or if you prefer a small cube of ice should do the trick also.

I find George T. Stagg to be consistently balanced with typical notes of vanilla, toffee, nuts and hint of maple syrup. While the proof and flavor does change year over year, one thing that doesn't change is its consistent quality of nose, taste and finish. I'll also have to advise that this is a bottle that will not be easy to find. This, along with the other four bottles that make up the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, is a limited release item and in some markets, not available at all.

I'll tell a quick story. A good friend of mine was a Scotch drinker and continuously prattled on about the virtues of his Scotch collection. I like Scotch (Highland mainly) but bourbon is my drink of choice. So, I introduced him to George T. Stagg and told him to give it a spin and let me know what he thinks. Well, after one bottle, he converted and is now a bourbon snob prattling on about the virtues of bourbon. Coming up on the 19th I'll be attending a family Christmas party where a challenge has been leveled. I'm bringing the Stagg and another family member is bringing Irish whiskey and we're gonna have a whiskey throw down. I'm looking forward to me and George crushing the competition.

One last note. Stagg is expensive; $72 here in Virginia so don't expect to find many deals as they really aren't out there. I would still recommend getting a bottle because any true bourbon dork has at least one of these in their bunker.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Project Re-barrel VOB – Day 14

Early this afternoon I pulled about 50ml from the barrel and took a quick sip; is it my imagination or is this more vibrant than what went in? Unsure of my own analysis, I put it aside and waited until this evening to sit down and do a more logical examination of my project. I've taken two Glencairn glasses and poured about an ounce in each glass. As I hold the glasses side by side and place then up to the light, it is apparent that two weeks in my barrel has changed the color. The reference bourbon wasn't real dark to begin with and had a light straw like color. Week 2 bourbon is slightly darker and has a touch more amber/orange to it so score one for better color.

Nosing the original bourbon I pick up a fruit and banana quality along with some leather and wood notes. At two weeks the nose has changed and the banana is more ripe but not rotten. There's a softness to the nose that didn't exist before that has a cream quality to it.

As I stated, the color has changed. This is one quality I look for in a bourbon. To me, it's a good indicator of proof and age and the fact that the color has deepened slightly is a good sign.

As I taste the original, which is a great bourbon to begin with, I pick up the fruity banana quality to it and something that reminds me of leather chairs. It has bold flavor mid palate with a medium finish. Again, a great value bourbon. Tasting the next bourbon the flavors are more robust and the bold flavor found in the original is even more pronounced. The leather and wood is definitely up front but not unpleasant with a finish that resembles the original.

I'm digging the results so far and am pleased that the bourbon decided to cooperate and get slightly better instead of slightly worse. I'll be pouring off a sample for an upcoming party on December 12th so we'll see what other folks say about the bourbon. It's been unseasonably warm here in Virginia so the bourbon has gone through some exercise I would suspect but the weather is turning colder now so the changes may be more subtle in the coming months. We'll see.

Keep your collective fingers crossed for better results in the future.

Day 55