Poor Mans Pappy

Pappy Van Winkle Alternative

We have already covered the popularity of Pappy Van Winkle on this blog. However, if you’re not familiar with it Pappy Van Winkle if one of the most sought after and hard to find Bourbons around. Most stores have waiting lists a mile long for one bottle and Pappy Van winkle bottles are selling for 10X the retail price on the secondary market. What if you want to drink Pappy without camping outside a liquor store or spending $1,000 for a bottle? I have a solution. No, I don’t have some secret way of getting a bottle and I don’t have any Pappy Van Winkle for sale. I just choose to drink a Pappy Van Winkle alternative which I call “Poor Man’s Pappy”.

The Old Rip Van Winkle Brand was set out on its own in 1972 after the sale of the Stitzell-Weller distillery. Pappy Van Winkle was originally distilled by the famed Stizell-Weller. Pappy Van Winkle is a wheated bourbon. Meaning they substitute the small portion of rye that is usually added to bourbon for wheat. This give the bourbon a more mellow flavor with the absence of the spice that rye lends to bourbon. In 2002 ORVW connected with Buffalo Trace for a joint venture with the Pappy Van Winkle brand. Buffalo Trace had already purchased W.L. Weller brand in 1999 so the deal made sense.

Why does any of this matter? Because what makes Pappy so unique is that it is wheated Bourbon. When they teamed up with Buffalo Trace they began using BT’s wheated mash bill, the same wheated mash bill used for the W.L. Weller Bourbons. Only the Pappy Van Winkle 23 year is still Stitzell-Weller juice. The rest was distilled and aged by Buffalo Trace. While you can’t replicate Pappy exactly you can come close.

By mixing Old Weller Antique and WL Weller 12 you can create an excellent substitute for Van Winkle Lot B or even Pappy 15. Before you cry heresy let me explain.

The Process:

Pick up a bottle of both W.L. Weller 12 (90 proof) and Old Weller Antique 107 (107 proof). They will cost around $20-$30 each. Start off with a 50:50 mixture of the two Bourbons. The easiest way to do this is with a digital scale. If you don’t have a scale just add a tablespoon from both Bourbons to your glass. With a 50:50 ratio you have a 98.5 proof delicious Bourbon.

Next, try a different ratio. Try mixing 60:40 Antique to 12. The Bourbon blend is now 100.2 proof and much closer in taste to the 107 proof Pappy 15. Some suggest that it is best to let it sit for several weeks before you drink. It does taste better after mingling for a few weeks but it still taste great right after it has been mixed.

I keep this mixture in my decanter at home as a daily drinker

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Additional Experiment from User j-mt

When I left college, I left with a love of bourbon and a minor in pharmacy (I was originally intending to go back to pharmacy school). When I read about the 60/40 OWA and WL 12 blend, I jumped in. In fact, it was my original intention. It’s a great blend, but it still packs a little more heat than I like at 60/40. So, I decided to take my knowledge of pharmacy (specifically alligations), to blend up a 90 proof, 10 year old (in theory) bourbon from the Weller group.

Here are the ingredients:

  • WL Weller 12 year old (12 YO; 90 Proof)
  • Old Weller Antique (7 YO; 107 Proof)
  • Bottled Spring Water (from a Limestone source)
  • Glass Container (mine is a 500mL flask from The Container Store ~$5)
  • Measuring Cup
  • 10mL Oral Syringe

The mixture is:

  • 68% WL Weller 12
  • 27% Old Weller Antique
  • 5% Spring Water

When calculated out, the % mixture yields 90 proof and 10 years old (rounded to a few decimal places).

I used Trader Joe’s brand Spring Water which is bottled here in TN from a limestone spring. If you could find water closer to the distillery in KY, that would be ideal. This water is similar to that used in Jack Daniels, however.

As for flavor notes:

A little water typically brings out both the WLW 12 and OWA, but it’s easy to saturate it. The amount used in this mixture is enough to soften it, but still isn’t enough to bring it right where I want it. Ice helps, but it’s become better for a 1oz pour instead of my usual 3oz (to keep it from becoming saturated).

On the front end, it leans more towards a smooth vanilla, almond start. The floral notes of the OWA are fairly muted, but it does make it a little sweeter than WLW 12 would be on its own. It’s essentially as if the floral/fruit of the OWA swaps places with the Vanilla/Almond undertones.

The cinnamon back end of OWA is my least favorite part because coupled with the heat from the proof, it creates a kick that I don’t enjoy. I found the cinnamon more enjoyable with the 60/40 blend, and here it’s a little more downplayed in favor of a smooth finish. It’s still present, but it’s very subtle.

All in all, it’s enjoyable. Versus the 60/40, it’s more on the smooth and creamy end with a little more wheated sweetness. The heat is brought down another notch with the spring water. I don’t like high proof bourbon neat and this blend improves upon the 60/40 to make the neat experience more enjoyable.

While the science behind creating it is a little more than I anticipated (measuring out to the mL), it’s definitely unique enough to give it a shot over the 60/40. You may have to buy a 10mL syringe to get it perfect. It’s just different enough to distinguish it and as with the 60/40, I can almost guarantee your friends will have never had anything similar. It will be fun to sample with them (including my future brother-in-law that works for Beam).

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