Whiskey Review: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old

image via Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

Editor’s Note: This week we are reviewing a range of bottlings that are part of the Old Rip Van Winkle/Pappy Van Winkle line up. We kick things off with the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old.

Van Winkle. The mere mention of the words can send bourbon aficionados into a frothing, wallet-emptying frenzy, fighting one another in lottery lines for the chance to have a chance to buy a bottle of the stuff. For many, the Van Winkle expressions are the white whale of whiskey, a tantalizing promise that a better bourbon is out there, being enjoyed by others who are better-connected and deeper-pocketed than yourself, that you may never taste. Talk about FOMO.

So when a vertical sample of Van Winkle bourbons (tasting bottle size, not full) drifted across our desk, I had mixed feelings about reviewing them. Of course, I was curious. But truth be told, there is a part of me (the same part of me that skipped high school pep rallies to smoke pot in the back seat of my friend’s Volkswagen van) that wants to roll my eyes at the whole business. Sure, Van Winkle might be good – but so are zillions of other whiskies, and all available at a price point that doesn’t force you to choose between a drink and paying your mortgage.

I had a boss once who got a bottle of Pappy 12 Year every December for the company holiday party. When I asked him why, he said (in the tone of voice he reserved for nincompoop clients and irritating young female employees) “Because it’s the best,” as if “best” was an objective, self-evident reality.

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And I guess if you let the market dictate what’s “best” in the form of high pricing, then Pappy may very well be the best bourbon there is. But is it the most enjoyable? Does it bring the drinker the most delight? Is it the best way to spend your whiskey dollar? Color me skeptical.

Over this week, I’ll be reviewing the full Van Winkle lineup, from 10 to 23. That same contrarian part of me wonders what the point of reviewing Van Winkle whiskies truly is – if I say they taste like dishwater, will anybody believe me? If I tell you they’re nectar supplied by the angels themselves, will you ever be able to taste them to find out? Yet after tasting all five, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you.

Tasting Notes: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

Vital Stats: 107 proof

Nose: Very clean and soft, like a fresh-washed comforter. Notes of red-skinned plum, Rainier cherry, and fresh grain combine for a fruity, sweet nose reminiscent of summer cobbler.

Palate: On the palate it’s juicy and almost unctuous, with notes of sweet honey, soft tobacco, and caramel alongside a soft, quenching acidity like a ripe peach. The finish is surprisingly warm and gingery, with a long, lingering exit. The sensation is so plush – rich and full-bodied without being hot. With water, aromas of white grape, Riesling, and Swedish fish gummy candies surface, and the palate leans woodier.


I didn’t expect this whiskey to be as fun as it was – fruity, sweet, full of life. It’s not the most complex bourbon I’ve ever tasted, but it is undoubtedly an enjoyable one (and, I imagine, is the world’s best accompaniment to peach cobbler on a warm summer evening).

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