By now, most Bourbonr’s have heard about Wright Thompson’s book “Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last”. If you haven’t already, you need to pick it up. For me, it highlights the story of Julian Van Winkle. While most bourbon enthusiasts see an incredibly successful brand. Most don’t know about the dilapidated bottling plant in Lawrenceburg, KY. While outsiders only see the success, the entrepreneur remembers the hardships. It’s crazy to hear that hundreds of barrels of aged Stitzel-Weller stock getting blended into Crown Royal. This happened after Diageo acquired the Stitzel-Weller distillery. Still, the perseverance of Julian to carry on his family’s legacy is what stuck out the most.
Edit: This list was originally compiled by Scott Hanson for the Willett Facebook community.
Willett Distillery is well known for its sourced products. However, back in 2012, Willett began distilling for the first time since the 70’s. Willett uses a total of six different mash bills. They also vary the entry proof by mash bill. This all sounds confusing so I created a cheat sheet!
J.W. Dant is the large plastic bottle you’ve ignored for years. It sits on the bottom shelf of liquor stores across the country. At $29 for a 1.75L it has to be trash, right? This is one of my favorite bottles to include in a blind tasting. Everyone is shocked when they taste and find out its a bottom shelf(er).
Back in late 2018, I was visiting the Jim Beam Distillery for the Booker’s 30th release. We toured the distillery and the distilling team mentioned that they were running Booker’s that day. After asking a few questions I found out that there are actually different production processes for most of the Beam bourbons. How did I not know this?!
Welcome to the 2019 Bourbonr Year in review. I’ll dive into my favorite three bourbons a little later. For now, let’s recap what all went on this year.
Probably the biggest story of 2019 is the crackdown on the bourbon secondary market. Pappy has long dominated bourbon headlines. It’s the most notable bourbon brand in the world. When the Van Winkles stated that they spent millions to have the Facebook bourbon groups taken down it sent a shockwave through the bourbon world. No matter how you feel about the issue, this was huge.
Happy Thanksgiving, Bourbonrs! Every Thanksgiving I like to offer a challenge to fellow Bourbonrs. Take the day to crack open the bottle that has been sitting on the shelf for a “special occasion”! What fun is the bourbon hunt if you never take a break to enjoy the bottle.
If you need some pairing suggestions for your Thanksgiving meal you can find them here.
First, everyone is looking for Pappy these days. In 2013, when I started the map, Pappy was hard to find. But, with enough legwork, you could find a bottle. That has changed over the years. Everyone wants Pappy now. If there were dozens of people showing up to store releases in 2013, there are now thousands. That’s a good thing for bourbon. Secondly, stores have changed how they handle the release of Pappy Van Winkle. Most stores either hold raffles or sell bottles through their loyalty programs. This is a good solution for a problem with no great answers. However, spending thousands of dollars at a store isn’t bourbon hunting. The third issue I see is the retail price of Pappy Van Winkle. According to Wine-Searcher, the average price is up from $928 in November 2014 for a Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year to $1,651 in October of 2019. The statistic that’s missing, and more glaring, is the number of retailers that sell at (or close) to retail. My rough estimate is around 3%-4%. Finding a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle is rare. Finding a bottle at a reasonable markup doesn’t happen anymore.
Finally, the Van Winkles and parent company Sazerac have taken a hard stand against the bourbon secondary. This felt like an attack on bourbon communities that may also have buy/sell/trade. I.e. your local bourbon Facebook group. Don’t get me wrong. The secondary market is at best a grey area and at worst illegal. But, it served a specific purpose. Didn’t get a bottle of Van Winkle Rye but you did get a 20-year? You could trade. Sazerac’s main (stated) concern has been consumer protection from fakes or counterfeits. There’s no mention of adding anti-counterfeiting measures to the bottle. An open market has done a much better job at policing fakes. It was the secondary that caught multiple fake bottles and shut down counterfeiters. Not Buffalo Trace. There was also no mention of retailers that sell for prices 2x-3x the current market. Some distributors force retailers to buy thousands of dollars in products they don’t want. Or, empty bottle sales. My point, there are a lot of issues. Going after some of your most loyal and vocal fans doesn’t seem like the right path to take.
That was a little more long-winded than I like to be but I hope you understand the decision. There is one postscript point I’d like to make. Current Pappy and LE bourbon prices make people think they need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to taste great bourbon. I know that the Van Winkles and Buffalo Trace would agree with me saying: “That couldn’t be farther from the truth!” Buffalo Trace makes some of the best bourbon on the market today. Most Buffalo Trace brands remain hard to find. But, a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace still beats out most $100 bottles on the market. Here is my list of what I think people should be drinking. I’m not calling these Pappy replacements. These are just great, affordable bourbons.
George T Stagg Review:
Age: 15-Years 3-Months
Review: Initially, there are notes of honey, maple, and other sweet notes. The fruit notes are more like a melon or honeydew. I get a little bit of cinnamon and peach tea on the finish.
Conclusion: I enjoyed the fact that this release is a little lower proof. I believe it allowed some other flavors to shine. Overall, it’s not cracking my top 4 of GTS release. It’s a good release but nothing to go crazy over.
William Larue Weller Review:
Proof: 128 proof
Age: 12-Years 6-Months
Review: The nose is drier than most WLW releases. There are notes of spearmint and cocoa powder. I pick up some faint notes of black pepper and bruleed cherries. The taste is more of the same. It stays consistently dry throughout. The palate expands to golden raisins and cedar. The finish is a little short. It’s heavy with espresso bitterness, pepper, and oak. After a few drops of water, the fruit notes begin to shine
Conclusion: This was not my favorite this year. It was a little too dry for my preference. There were some of the traditional WLW notes but none of the balanced sweetness and dark fruits I love.
Overall BTAC Ranking:
1 – Eagle Rare 17
2 – George T Stagg
3 – Thomas H Handy
4 – William Larue Weller
5 – Sazerac 18
Bourbon season is upon us! This is the 7th annual Bourbonr Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Release Map! If you’re unfamiliar with the map, here’s how it works. I highlight each state when the antique collection is released in that state. Remember, distribution can be tricky. Because it was released in part of the state doesn’t mean you’ve missed out. The release map is another tool to help in your BTAC hunt.
For more info and to find other bourbon hunters join the Bourbonr Facebook group. I try to add the city which was reported if you hover over each state. If you’re new to bourbon hunting read this: “How to Hunt Bourbon” This is a community-driven map. If you find a bottle please shoot me an email at Blake @ Bourbonr.com. Make sure to include your state as well as a picture of the bottle. I welcome any tips about state releases as well (bonus points for information about Florida 🙂 )!
Considerations of the BTAC release map:
I have a lot of other thoughts on this. But, I’m saving them for a later post. For now, I will agree to disagree with Buffalo Trace’s tactics to combat fakes and counterfeits. Which is the goal of every Bourbon enthusiast out there.
Van Winkle Bourbon Annual Release Coming Soon
This is the favorite time of the year for bourbon fans, the annual release of the Van Winkle Bourbons. Like previous years, yields from the barrels are low due to evaporation during the long aging cycle.
Known for their smoother and sweeter flavor due to the wheat recipe versus the traditional rye recipe found in most bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are aged years longer than most others and have garnered an impeccable reputation among connoisseurs. Although bourbon has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent years, very little Van Winkle is sold overseas, so that these coveted bottles are available in the United States.