Rip Van Winkle Bourbons Review Project: Final Thoughts

Last week I tasted five Rip Van Winkle bourbons. I was a little ambivalent about the project – I’m completely uninterested in spending thousands of dollars on a single bottle of bourbon, and I think the Van Winkle scarcity diminishes what I think of as whiskey’s true role: to be shared generously and enjoyed freely among friends. So I was ready to condemn the Van Winkle line as an overhyped phenomenon not worth your time and money.

But it turned out that I really liked them all, and there was one that I totally loved. And it got me thinking: Is Pappy worth it after all?

In the end, I still think the answer is no. And also, yes.

Rip Van Winkle bourbons

image via Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

First, the no: Seriously, $3k for a bottle of booze? If you love bourbon and you have thousands of dollars to spend on the stuff, think of the alternatives! For the price of one bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, you could buy a different bottle of great bourbon every week for a full year. At the end, you’d have a real bourbon education and a fabulous home bar to share with your friends and family for a long time.

Now, the yes: Pappy – specifically Pappy Van Winkle 20 – is astoundingly delicious, and I think its outrageous price might be worth it for a few kinds of people:

  1. Tech founders and/or anesthesiologists for whom $2,000 is a rounding error.
  2. Committed collectors, the kind of people who’ve spent years finding and buying rare bourbon to stock away in their bunkers. If you’re already in for five figures (or more), why not? In for a penny, in for a pound.
  3. People commemorating a major life event, the kind of occasion where spending money is almost and end in and of itself. No matter how good Elijah Craig is, there are a few occasions where a $30 bottle just won’t cut it. Think births, retirements, and 50th birthdays.
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But if you’re just a regular old person, the kind who likes drinking whiskey with your friends, ignore the hype. There are so many other wonderful whiskies out there. Spend your time learning more about what you like, exploring new releases from old and new distilleries, and enjoying your favorite bottles with your favorite people.

Then maybe, someday, it will appear – the bartender at your regular will sneak you a pour, or you’ll get invited to a party where a generous soul is offering tastes. And until it happens, you’ll get to relish the pleasure of knowing you have something fantastic to look forward to.

A final note on the Master of Malt tasting set I had: If you’re in the industry and you’re looking for a (relatively) inexpensive way to taste all the Van Winkle bourbons – hopefully one you can write off – then this might be a good path. But otherwise, save your money. To me, the whole point of having a bottle of super-fancy whiskey is the opportunity to share it with your friends, and there’s not much to share in a one-ounce pour.

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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...