The Van Winkle name is more than steeped in American tradition.
Its four generations of bourbon-making date back to 1935, when Julian P. Van Winkle, Sr. opened the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville, Ky. “Pappy,” as he was fondly called, played an active role in his distillery until his death in 1965 at the age of 91. As a tribute to him and the family, grandson Julian Van Winkle III created a special “Family Reserve” line, a small-batch bourbon that includes a 15-, 20- and 23-year-old malt.
What’s special about this bourbon — and most other Van Winkle bourbons — is that it incorporates wheat, not rye, into its corn mash. Wheated bourbon generally gives the spirit a sweeter, smoother taste than rye bourbons and allows it to age for longer periods of time. But don’t let the word smooth fool you. Although full of sweet flavors like vanilla and toasty oak, Pappy’s bourbon packs heat, which expresses itself in the long, spicy finish. The 23 Year is the smoothest of the three and is characterized by a deep amber color and complex flavors of honey and toffee, although its lengthy aging time also makes it the rarest. If it is unavailable, look for the two younger versions of Pappy’s elixir, a must-try for American whiskey enthusiasts.