Drinking the 2016 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

FOMO-OSAD was in full effect this past weekend at the AFWF. That would be “fear of missing out¬†-on some amazing drinks” at the “Atlanta Food and Wine Festival.” For those not familiar with the event, the highlights usually come in the numerous learning seminars on Friday and Saturday, where industry savants share wisdom on all manner of topics related to food and drink. The cool thing is, they don’t limit the topics purely to the American South – so things like sotol and raicilla and West Indies rhum agricole easily find their way in to the sessions.

I did my best to hop around in order to squeeze in as much goodness as possible, but I also know I missed quite a bit. That said, here are the 10 most excellent spirits I tasted during the event Рspanning Mexico, Kentucky, and South Carolina, with a touch of Alabama thrown in for good measure:

Clayton Szczech mezcal sotol

I first met¬†Clayton Szczech (that’s Spanish for “educated gringo,” I think) of Experience Tequila¬†during judging for the IWSC Spirits of the Americas competition. To say he knows his stuff is putting it very mildly, and I’m always eager to see what rarities he might have in his bag. This time, it was a trio of artisanal¬†spirits from Mexico – a bacanora, a sotol, and a raicilla, all of which are variations on mezcal, and all of which will play havoc with your spellcheck.¬†Sotol¬†Clande, Marques de Sonora Bacanora, and Don Chalio Raicilla¬†are not likely to be found in the states at all, but they are a good reminder that exploring lesser known¬†Mexican¬†agave spirits is a worthy endeavor. Clayton was nice enough to provide details on each on his tasting mats (below), and I just love all the detail on the Sotol Clande bottle seen above (Grinding………. Axe; Oven………Underground Conical). Without fail, these were nuanced, far-too-drinkable spirits¬†– the Clande sotol being earthy and green, reminiscent of desert brush; the bacanora being incredibly complex, with hints of caramel and white pepper; the raicilla full of intricate spice notes. Love it.


The awesome folks at¬†High Wire Distilling hosted a party in conjunction with BevCon Charleston, at which Atlanta bartender extraordinaire Jerry Slater was pouring a drink including High Wire’s wonderful Southern Amaro. The cocktail was great (of course), but I must admit to enjoying sipping the amaro all by itself even more. Made with¬†regional ingredients like Charleston black tea, foraged yaupon holly, Dancy tangerine, and mint, this amaro is spicy¬†and¬†deep, yet still¬†bright.

High Wire Amaro

I ponied up $100 to attend the “master class” led by chef Sean Brock and featuring Drew Kulsveen of Willett Whiskey¬†fame and Preston Van Winkle of, well, Van Winkle fame. The topic was rare bourbon and rare country ham, so you know it was going to be good – and the $100 entry fee ended up being a bargain. The bourbon lineup included Willett’s new four year old bourbon – bottle 223 of 235 bottles from 4 year old¬†Willett Family Estate Barrel 651, 111 proof – ¬†and one of the rare 23 year old bourbons they’ve been safeguarding for the past eight years. This was bottle 80 of a mere 81 bottles filled from Willett Family Estate “Barrel B60”¬†– that means this 23 year old bourbon had yielded about 70% of its nectar to the angels over the years, since a new bourbon barrel holds about 266 bottles worth. Yes, it was heavenly stuff, especially at the 132 proof barrel strength. And Willett seekers beware, Drew said there are only TEN¬†barrels left of this ultra-aged stock they purchased eight years ago. As for the four year old, this is Willett-distilled, and our bottle came from just the eighth barrel released thus far (all only sold at Willett’s gift shop in Kentucky). It’s impressive for a younger spirit, with a cherry cola profile and a cinnamon-amaro finish.

Willet Single Barrel Bourbon

If you know anything about Sean Brock, you know he loves Pappy Van Winkle and the Stitzel-Weller lineage. Preston Van Winkle poured us the 10 year old Old Rip Van Winkle, the 12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B, and the 15 year old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. These are all wonderful bourbons, and having them all side by side was a¬†good reminder that the seldom seen Lot B remains a knockout bourbon that doesn’t command quite the same stratospheric fanaticism of its older brethren. It’s exactly what a bourbon should be, without the fireworks of its older brothers. The 15 year old? Still one of my favorite bourbons of all time.

Old Rip Van Winkle Pappy

Number 10 on my list? Another one you’re not going to find in a store – which is really the great thing about a festival like the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. This was a “Ham Fat Whisky” from chef David Bancroft of restaurant Acre in Auburn, Alabama. I’m pretty sure it was plain old Maker’s Mark with some 2 year old ham fat thrown in, from that 2 year old Alabama prosciutto in the background, but really it was the combination of 2 year old ham, ham fat whisky, and the remarkable Poirier’s pure cane syrup that proved to be one of the best bites/sips of the festival. Awesome stuff – sweet, salty, fatty, powerful stuff.

Pork Fat Whiskey

There was plenty more – especially all the wonderful cocktails from Nick Detrich of Cane & Table, Paul Calvert of Ticonderoga Club, Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, Kellie Thorn of Empire State South, Miles Macquarrie of Kimball House, and the gentlemen from Cure in New Orleans. Plus too much to even remember in the festival’s tasting tents. And I just know that I missed out on just as much amazing stuff – like David Wondrich making Chatham Artillery Punch. Dang. Anyway,¬†in case you’re hungry, here are two¬†more of my favorite¬†pork porn photos from Sean Brock’s session, with a lagniappe of pork cracklin from New Orleans chef Isaac Toups thrown in for good measure:


Sean Brock Ham



One bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15


UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving Kitchen.¬†CLICK HERE TO GIVE.

Would you like a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is YES. Well, it just so happens I have one to share. Here’s the story‚Ķ.

Four¬†years ago, I got lucky. I came across a decent¬†amount of Van Winkle bourbon and rye on the shelves of a Total Wine and More¬†(what!?), and I had the foresight to buy as much of it as I could. Back then, Pappy had already hit the big time with bourbon enthusiasts, but there was little¬†indication that Pappy mania would¬†become so‚Ķ maniacal.¬†I’ve been enjoying the stuff ever since, sipping with friends, sharing a bottle with my neighbor who helped shovel ice and snow off my driveway during the Atlanta Snowpocalypse, breaking it out on special occasions. I’m thrilled to have Pappy in my house, especially when sharing with friends who appreciate both the elixir and the gesture of a glass. But I also have¬†plenty of other great bourbon that I’m just as happy to enjoy.

Recently, I was organizing my bottles and, seeing that I had a few extra, gave a fleeting thought to selling one off or trading it. A few websites have popped up in the past year to enable the (basically illegal and frankly somewhat disgusting at current rates) sale of rare bourbon and other spirits online from person to person. I checked around, and found that I could probably get in the vicinity of $1000 for one bottle of Pappy from the heralded 2011 release. And then I came to my senses and remembered my anger with the whole rare bourbon aftermarket and the “flippers” who fuel it. In my opinion, anyone who’s out there buying up bourbon to flip and profit from is harming the industry. They’re making it harder for those who simply want to drink the stuff, and they’re profiting off the fine work of the distillers and bottlers out there who have invested so much in bringing bourbon to market that has aged in a barrel for 15, 20, 23 years.

Sure, you can chalk it up to the free market – if someone’s willing to pay $1000 for Pappy, and a flipper¬†can offer a bottle to that person, that’s where supply meets demand. It’s true. It just happens to leave a bad taste in my mouth, and that’s the last thing I want when it comes to bourbon.

So with this one¬†bottle of Pappy, I’m going to do something different. I’m not going to flip it. I’m not even going to sip it – I have enough other bourbon to sip for years. Rather, I’m going to give it, to a charitable organization who happens to be trying to raise money, whose supporters would¬†surely appreciate the gentle nudge of the opportunity to win a bottle of Pappy in recognition of their donation to the charity. If everyone out there who was considering flipping a bottle did the same, maybe we could make a dent in the whole flipper ridiculousness going on right now – and do some good in the process. I know it’s an uphill battle, but at least we can try.


the giving kitchenFor those of you interested in where this bottle of Pappy is going, I’ve chosen to offer it to the Giving Kitchen – an Atlanta-based non-profit that provides emergency assistance grants to those in need in the Atlanta restaurant community.¬†They’re doing good work. And I know they enjoy bourbon, too. So what could be better? Especially since this week they are working overtime to help address the unexpected shutdown of a major restaurant group in Atlanta that has left a whole lot of people out of a job. Watch the Giving Kitchen’s¬†Twitter account¬†in the coming week for details on their latest fundraising campaign and how this bottle of Pappy will be deployed to assist in supporting their mission.

UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving Kitchen CLICK HERE TO GIVE.

IMG_5461Now for you bourbon geeks out there, this particular bottle comes from the heralded 2011 release. The bottle code is N2991109:43, which means it was bottled on Buffalo Trace’s N line, on the 299th day of 2011 (October 26), at 9:43 AM. The 2011 release of Pappy 15 was¬†Whisky Advocate’s¬†“#1 Whiskey” from their summer 2012 issue. Of that same release, Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell commented on the full Van Winkle range, saying: “I tasted my way through the 10, 15, 20, and 23 year olds recently at WhiskyFest San Francisco. My favorite was the 15 year old. That‚Äôs the sweet spot in the range.” I pretty much felt the same.

It’s a matter of debate on whether the 2011 Pappy 15 was bottled from the famed¬†Stitzel Weller juice, Bernheim juice, or Buffalo Trace juice (or a mixture of two or all three of those), but critical¬†response was overwhelmingly positive. The following year, Julian Van Winkle went on record saying that the 2012 release was a combination of all three sources that Van Winkle had on hand (Stitzel Weller, Bernheim, and Buffalo Trace). Current releases are assumed to rely more heavily on Buffalo Trace produced juice – not a bad thing, but worth noting for the bourbon-obsessed among you.


Best Value Bourbons


Over the past year, I’ve had several friends ask for my favorite bourbon recommendations at different price points. America is blessed to have a bounty of great bourbon under $30 a bottle (by the way, there are some great ryes and Tennessee whiskeys, too – notice the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond in the photo above? – ¬†but for today’s post, we’re sticking with bourbon). You could stay under $30 and have an almost endless variety of fabulous bourbons in your bar, but who can resist the opportunity to buy a bourbon that delivers a drinking experience far greater than its price would suggest?

That said, finding the bourbons that deliver value really comes down to personal taste, to determining what’s a good value for YOU. Do you like something easy drinking, or do you yearn for complexity? Is sweet your thing, or do you like the spice that a rye-heavy mashbill will bring? Do you tend to mix your bourbon into cocktails, or do you enjoy sipping it slowly and neat? All these things provide direction on which bottle you should pick up at the liquor store. But since you’re here, reading this, I’d like to share a few bourbons that simply deliver exceptional bang for the buck and are worth a try for any whiskey lover. Not everyone will find these to be the BEST value for them individually, but they are all worth the investment for anyone eager to tackle the depths of American whiskey. Here they are:

(Caveat: prices quoted are in Atlanta, Georgia, and will vary state to state. Also, please chime in with your favorite bourbons that you think deliver a great value – at any price.)

Under $20
There are a LOT of inexpensive bourbons out there – just go to your local liquor store and you’ll see probably half the shelf space dedicated to the low end of the price spectrum. Evan Williams does a fine job for entry level bourbon around $13, as does Very Old Barton 100 proof. But a step up from that, at around $16 (or, even better, $24 for 1.75l!), there’s one bourbon that really stands out from the rest in the under $20 price range, both in its character and in the value it delivers, and this is the Four Roses “Yellow Label.”¬†Four Roses Yellow is just plain elegant, with floral notes that befit its name (and label color) weaving in and out of light baking spices and a bit of vanilla. This is a bourbon that is light and lively, but it’s this lightness and elegance that really separates Four Roses Yellow from other bourbons at the low end of the price spectrum that can be a bit rough around the edges.

By the way… here’s a great drink idea I picked up at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival – try topping off a flute of¬†¬†Champagne (or sparkling wine) with a splash or two of Four Roses for a surprisingly great drink (called “The Longnecker”).

Under $30
Once you step up above $20, there are two very different bourbons that stand out in my mind for tremendous value. The first is¬†Elijah Craig 12 year old¬†at $22. Let me repeat that – 12 years old, 22 dollars. I’m not saying that age and quality rise in direct proportion to each other (in fact, I prefer the 12 year old Elijah Craig to its pricier, older, oakier 18 year old brother – which, incidentally, was recently discontinued in favor of limited releases of 20 and 21 year old Elijah Craig), but to get an aged beauty like this under $30 is a steal. Now, Elijah Craig 12 is basically at the opposite end of the bourbon spectrum from Four Roses Yellow – deep and strong rather than light and elegant. The age in the barrel brings loads of brown sugar, dark fruit, vanilla and oak, all those things you look for as time works its magic on the whiskey in the wood. Crazy value – Elijah Craig 12 tastes like many bourbons that go for three times the price.

The other bourbon value in this ballpark is simply one of the most enjoyable bourbons out there, again very different. ¬†Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel,¬†at about¬†$28,¬†is like liquid caramel popcorn, in a very good way. There are plenty of other interesting layers of flavor here, but it’s the caramel popcorn that can’t be ignored, and the fact that this bourbon is just so dang delicious and melodious.

There are plenty of runners up in this category that will make you happy, but I don’t think they quite match the value of the Elijah 12 or Elmer T. Lee: Buffalo Trace ($20), Evan Williams Single Barrel ($22),¬†Eagle Rare 10 year old ($28), and Four Roses Small Batch ($28) all come to mind.

Under $100
Once you get past $30, you first enter a fertile area of single barreled, small batched, and/or well-aged bourbons that tend to fall between $35 and $55. There are plenty of very good bourbons here in this range, but the trouble is that¬†I don’t think any of them deliver the kind of bang for the buck that Elijah Craig 12 or Elmer T. Lee do. Don’t get me wrong, there are several here I really like (including¬†Wathen’s Single Barrel at $32,¬†Four Roses Single Barrel at $38, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old 107 proof at $40, Baker’s Small Batch at $41, or Blanton’s and the red label Black Maple Hill at around $50), but I have a hard time saying that any of them knock it out of the park vs. other bourbons at their price range.

Thus, the jump in this category from $30 up to $100. Once you get to the $60-$80 range, you enter the land of special releases and severely limited allocations, bottles that are typically hard to find and even harder on the wallet. ¬†I hate to keep riding the Pappy bandwagon, but once you’re above $50,¬†I find it really hard to argue against Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. Sure, it’s overhyped. Yes, the switch form the old Stitzel-Weller juice to the newer Buffalo Trace production stock is a bit controversial. Even still, Pappy 15 is simply one of the greatest bourbons you will ever drink. And that’s a great value. (see prior tasting notes)

Other recent bottles that I haven’t regretted at similar price points to Pappy 15 include the¬†Four Roses 2012 Single Barrel Ltd. Edition (barrel strength), which is a darn good bottle at $70, and the annual release of George T. Stagg or¬†William Larue Weller¬†from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, also barrel strength beauty/beasts at around the same price.

That’s my take on the best value bourbons out there. What’s yours?

For a fun little follow-up to this post, see my (tongue in cheek) formula for computing bourbon value over on Creative Loafing Atlanta. Which led to reviews of Old Charter 8 and W.L. Weller Special Reserve, both under 10 at my local store!

Rye Battle: Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye vs. High West Rendezvous

Following up on a battle of two exemplary wheated bourbons, we now bring you… BATTLE RYE! My “catch” of the year in 2011 was securing a prized bottle of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. One bottle. It’s not easy to come by. I’ve been able to try this rye on a few occasions in the past, each time walking away swearing it was the best I ever had. The Van Winkle Family Reserve is labeled “13 years old,” but rumors abound (actually, confirmed by Julian Van Winkle III) that the actual time in the barrel was quite a bit longer. Word is that the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye was actually put into tank (to stop the aging process) at 18 or 19 years of age back in 2005 or so, and was sourced from a combination of long gone Medley rye and Cream of Kentucky rye. The art is in the blending, the selecting, the determination on when to stop aging. Whatever it is, my various tastings of it have confirmed that it is a tremendous spirit and among the best ryes available anywhere.

As for a worthy competitor… Sazerac 18 is the obvious choice (and may be of common provenance), but I also think that a few of the ryes out of High West are up to the task. High West’s 21 year old rye is monumental, akin to Pappy 23 in what those last few years of aging do to transform the whiskey into something altogether magical, but, alas, I don’t have any more of that around (and it is quite a bit more expensive). ¬†I do have a bottle of High West Rendezvous Rye, though, which is a blend of 6 year old and 16 year old ryes – putting the average somewhere near Van Winkle’s labeled (though not true) age of 13 years old – and priced not too far off the Van Winkle price. Fortuitously for comparison sake, the High West Rendezvous and the Van Winkle Family Reserve also have similar proofs – 92 and 95.6 proof, respectively.

High West sourced their 16 year old rye component from Barton stock, with an¬†80% rye mashbill, and their 6 year old rye from LDI, with a 95% rye mashbill. I’m just about sick of seeing LDI rye pop up under various guises lately, but they do turn out a pretty good product, and have somehow managed to maintain inventory levels at a healthy enough rate to supply all these various bottlings.

Here are my notes on an epic battle rye:

High West Whiskey Rendezvous, A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Batch No. 41, Bottle No. 446
92 Proof
Approx. $42 Retail

Golden honey color. Powerful but elegant nose, honeysuckle and mint/menthol and Bit-O-Honey, with mellow green wood underneath and just a hint of smokiness – not peaty, but reminiscent of an elegant single malt Scotch. A bit of butter rum, touches of honeyed Sauternes. Intoxicating stuff, manages to be highly feminine and seductive yet still with some muscle, like a dancer leaping into the air.

Tasted neat, the Rendezvous kicks in with a nice burn, tingling on the tongue, layers of that menthol and lightly burnt caramel and anise. The texture is pleasantly lightly syrupy, permeating the taste buds. The green wood appears on the midpalate, and the rye spice and that hint of smoke come on more strongly in the finish. A few drops of water does lighten it up a bit,  but to my tastes does not do it any favors РI prefer this one on its own, dancing at full strength.

Excellent stuff – worth the tariff, not to be encumbered in cocktails.

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 13 Years Old
No. B0198
95.6 Proof
Approx. $50 Retail

The additional age on this is apparent – much deeper copper color than the Rendezvous. Thicker texture, too, clings to the glass like a thin maple syrup. ¬†The nose is deeper as well, more wood, more spice, more brown sugar, all in check. Cinnamon emerges in subtle bursts on top of toasted pecans, is that a dark chocolate covered cherry passing by? Maybe a juicy purple grape? It’s hard to pin down what makes this exceptional, other than the fact that it is just so harmonious and builds and builds and builds, then segues into something slightly different but just as wonderful.

On the tongue, the Van Winkle definitely has more presence, more chewiness. Again, neat is the way to go. The spice comes in quickly here, not quite cinnamon, not quite allspice or nutmeg, not quite mint, not quite pepper, but somewhere in between all that. Dark brown sugar, vanilla and figs and toasty wood follow, and a sweet rye spice burn carries on through to a long deep finish. The long time in the barrel does seem to impart a more bourbon-y profile than the High West, but this is still definitively rye. I¬†do get toasted pecans again at the tail end of this (not sure why I’m picking up that note on both of these – maybe because I was cooking with toasted pecans a few nights ago). Where the Rendezvous is a lovely dance partner, the Van Winkle is a warm leather coach that embraces you.

Maybe I’m a sucker for the Van Winkle mystique, but this shouts¬†WOW¬†to me as much as the Pappy 15. Amazing stuff. If you see it, grab it before it’s gone.


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow¬†‚Äď among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent¬†‚Äď exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff¬†‚Äď solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair¬†‚Äď fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid¬†‚Äď move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Wheated Bourbon Battle: Pappy Van Winkle 15 vs. 2011 William Larue Weller

This year’s edition of the Buffalo Trace “Antique Collection” and the latest release of Pappy Van Winkle both recently hit store shelves (and both slightly more recently disappeared from store shelves). The Antique Collection includes the Eagle Rare 17, the Sazerac 18 Rye, the George T. Stagg, the Thomas H. Handy Rye, and the William Larue Weller Bourbon; and this year’s release was met with some tremendous reviews from bourbon enthusiasts. I was lucky enough to get my hands on exactly one bottle of this year’s William Larue Weller, a wheated bourbon just like Pappy Van Winkle 15 (also made at the Buffalo Trace distillery). The Weller fact sheet reads that it’s made from Kentucky corn, North Dakota wheat, and North Dakota malted barley. I’d love to know the exact mash bill distinction (if there is one) between the Weller and the Pappy just for comparison sake, because these two great wheated bourbons make for an interesting contrast. The Weller was put in the barrel in 1998, and while it bears no age statement on the bottle, Buffalo Trace confirms that it was 12 years and 11 months old at bottling. If you’re the kind of bourbon fan who geeks out on the details, you’re in luck:¬†new white oak, #4 char, charred for 55 seconds, barrels from Independent Stave in Lebanon, KY, 114 proof at barrel entry, 130 proof off still, kept on the 4th and 5th floors of Warehouses N/O/P, 57.2% of the original whiskey lost to evaporation(!), only 45 barrels made, etc. Three cheers for (very close to) full disclosure from the folks at Buffalo Trace.

You won’t find that kind of detail on the elusive Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year old, which is one of my all time favorite bourbons. I actually give it a slight edge over its older brother, the 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle. It’s supremely balanced and layered, a true joy to sip over the course of a long evening. The Weller? Despite the similar mash bill and similar (well, not too far off) age, it’s quite different if you ask me. There’s the fact that the Weller is bottled at barrel strength, a whopping 133.5 proof, so an apples to apples comparison is not quite so direct with the Pappy (which clocks in at 107 proof). Suffice it to say, I am very happy I got my hands on the Weller, but also very happily confirm that there is something very special about Pappy. (And an important note to many of the bourbon geeks out there – I’m still on last year’s release of the Pappy 15, so this is not the current release which many assume to be a full switchover to the stock distilled at Buffalo Trace rather than the final Stitzel-Weller stock)

Here are my notes:

William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 2011 Release
133.5 Proof
Approx. $70 Retail

Lovely rich, deep amber color. The nose is BIG. Like a brown sugar praline pecan pie with some dark cherries thrown in. Are you hungry for dessert? There’s some ginger spice in there too, a touch of cinnamon. Truly impressive, not for the faint of heart, or the dessert-averse.

Tasted neat at barrel proof, this has some sharp heat from the alcohol, a good burst of that rich sweetness, and a surprisingly delicate presence of corn. While I love the nose at full strength, and recommend just breathing this baby in for a while, I prefer adding a nice bit of filtered water to open things up and get it down to a more manageable proof for sipping. I found that the water tones down the sweet intensity on the nose and brings out a bit more nuance, an almost herbal green woodiness beneath the dark caramel sugar. The entry smooths out as well, bringing in some bread-y notes, both corn and wheat bread are there, intermingling. There’s a bit of ginger and baking spice, too. The caramel and brown sugar remain through into a long finish that picks up some steam (and heat). A very satisfying sip, but I think the full strength nose is what really sets this one apart.

Overall, this earns highest honors – a full fledged WOW – for the nose, but a slight tick down (merely Excellent) for the full experience.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old
107 Proof
Approx. $70 Retail

Like I said, this is one of my all time favorites, and it’s intriguing that the Pappy and Weller are so different. ¬†Compared to the Weller, the Pappy 15 is a touch lighter in the glass, still a nice rich copper / amber. The nose is more subtle, more nuanced, less overtly sweet. Sure, there’s caramel and brown sugar in there, but the baking spices are much more prominent. New notes pop in and out, dark fruits, touches of vanilla and toasty wood, but the overwhelming impression is one of tremendous balance and depth.

On the tongue, Pappy is richer, fuller, a bit more like an embracing coat of honey (though far from cloying or syrupy). That sense of balance continues, sweet molasses gingerbread into more spices, a warm leather boot kicking time. I don’t get the corn here at all, which is so evident on the Weller. The warmth is deep and lingering, and it just leaves you shaking your head with a smile for minutes after each sip.

Pappy 15 is truly a WOW if there ever was one.

Also… be sure to check out our Rye Battle, featuring Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye and High West Rendezvous Rye


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow ‚Äď among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent ‚Äď exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff ‚Äď solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair ‚Äď fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid ‚Äď move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck