The great-granddaddy of the Van Winkle line, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year is a Bourbon that’s carefully aged the old-fashioned way, gently absorbing flavors and aromas from the wood like an old mill wheel slowly turning in a lazy Southern river.
Appearance: As I decant it into a crystal snifter, I see visions of age rings from the old wood that so kindly imparted its essence appear in the maple syrup-hued liquid. The whiskey clings to the glass as sap does on a forest pine. Like an old dovetail joint on a bureau, this whiskey bears the visage of true old-time craftsmanship.
Nose: The first wave of aroma evokes the image of a well-oiled butcher’s block, worn smooth over decades of use. Next come wafts of ottoman, sawmill air, ship mast, landscaping mulch, and country birdhouses. Truly scents to reflect upon.
Taste: I take a sip and swirl the nectar around my tongue. The first thing that hits my tastebuds is the barrel wood. Not just any barrel, but the wood of an old barrel, rediscovered from a time now past. A simpler time, when the breeze blew through the oaks and you hadn’t a care. Next comes a slight sweetness coupled with a dryness, like maple sugar rubbed into your grandfather’s workbench. Then wave after wave of flavors: fence post, driftwood, bassoon reed, and worn rowboat oars.
Finish: This is a long finish to be experienced gradually. Lingering on the back of the palate for many moments are floor joist, bookcase, grandfather clock, old picture frame, wooden nickels, clogs, and the stilts I used as a child.
This is a whiskey to be savored slowly, perhaps on a creaky Southern rocking chair, sitting on the porch and pondering it all.