Finding any of the Van Winkle bourbons in the wild these days is almost like spotting a unicorn. But given my recent review of the Old Weller Antique (OWA), I thought I should give you a direct comparison to what is essentially the same whisky – the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year old.
As I pointed out in that earlier OWA review, these two Buffalo Trace brands share the same basic DNA – the only real difference is the age and barrel selection. Otherwise, they are produced by the same distiller, share the same mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof.
It is commonly believed that distillers know the “sweet spot” (or “honey holes”) in their rickhouses, where conditions are believed to be ideal to produce the best whiskies (i.e., not too hot, not too cold, etc.). So the suggestion is that they let these selected barrels age for a full 10 years for each year’s batch of the Old Rip Van Winkle – while blending the rest at a younger age (estimated to be ~6-7 years) for OWA.
While this means the Old Rip Van Winkle should be a higher quality product, the difference is not likely to be so great as to justify the huge price mark-up on Van Winkles (due to the insane demand).
Let’s see how the main Weller and Van Winkle bourbon lines compare in the Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.06 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.17 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.21 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ok, OWA vs ORVW is the one case where the critics consistently seem to prefer the Van Winkle product to the Weller, by a noticeable margin. Let’s see if I find the same thing. 😉
My Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo sample was provided by the Redditor Jolarbear. For my tasting notes below, I am also comparing this bourbon to the W.L. Weller 12 Year Old (which I will describe in an upcoming review).
Colour: The ORVW seems a touch darker than my bottle of OWA, or my sample of Weller 12.
Nose: As expected, ORVW is closer overall to the OWA than the Weller 12, with more up-front honey and caramel sweetness. But it also has some dark fruits too – I’m getting dark plums, raisins and cherries. A bit of tartness (Sweet Tart candies come to mind) and red licorice as well. Baking spices and a hint of chocolate. Unfortunately, a faint hint of solvent too, which is disappointing. But more complex than I was expecting, based on OWA.
Palate: I would say that this is closer to the Weller 12 here, but with an extra touch of sweetness – and with more vanilla than caramel. A good amount of character and spice, with lots of leather, wood spice, baking spices, and pepper – much more than exhibited by any of the Wellers (which is odd). Tons of cinnamon in particular, which I am a fan of. Good juicy mouthfeel. It doesn’t seem like a 53.5% ABV whisky, as there is relatively little alcohol burn here. This is a nice palate – definitely my favourite of the three going down the hatch.
Finish: Long and lingering, with that cinnamon spice continuing right until the end. It is like slowly melting cinnamon red-hots (or more accurately, those hard Swedish fish-shaped cinnamon candies I remember from my childhood).
There is no contest here – I greatly prefer the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 over my bottle of Old Weller Antique (or my sample of the W.L. Weller 12). The sweet and spicy kick of the ORVW is right up my alley. I think the average Meta-Critic score for this whisky is spot on, and the lower score for the OWA is, if anything, actually a bit generous. Of course, since Old Rip Van Winkle is virtually impossible to find, you may need to settle for the otherwise decent Old Weller Antique.
For similarly positive reviews of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo, I suggest you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug and André of Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray gives it a very decent score, as do most of the reviewers on Reddit – check out for example LetThereBeR0ck and Texacer. Slightly more moderate reviews would include those from t8ke and HawkI84.