Yardbird's Pappy Van Winkle: Does This Beach Eatery Have Best Bourbon?

Pappy Van Winkle is undeniably the "it" spirit.

Distilled in Frankfort, Kentucky, these America spirits are rare, expensive, and the drink of

choice of celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain, Sean Brock, and Mario


The bourbons, which are rated near perfect by Wine Enthusiast

magazine and The Beverage Tasting Institute, are in high demand and short supply, making for a little

sticker shock when a bottle is actually found.

For instance, I found  the Family Reserve 15 Year at a local liquor store

selling for $299, while the Family Reserve 20 Year being offered at

$400. To compare apples to oranges, an average "good" bottle of bourbon

can be had for around $50. What makes Pappy so dear, with such a loyal

and outspoken fan base?

We spoke with Amy Preske at Buffalo Trace Distillery, where Pappy Van Winkle is produced in a joint-venture agreement, to get a better understanding. She told us that "Pappy" is seen as a prestige brand for a number of reasons.

First and foremost -- it's simply good. "Van Winkle is made with a blend of corn, wheat, and barley instead of most other bourbons, which are made from corn, rye, and barley. This gives the Van Winkle brand a softer, smoother taste."

There's also a legitimate supply and demand factor in play. Preske said that decades ago, when the 20 and 23 year old bourbons were put to rest, there wasn't a huge market for the American whiskey. Factor in evaporation while aging, what distillers call the "angel's share", and you can wind up with less product than you've counted on. "Sometimes we open a 20 year old barrel of Van Winkle and there's only five gallons in it..or it may be empty." Preske said that the distillery is planning now for 40 years into the future -- which means we can look forward to enjoying some good booze at the retirement community -- but that doesn't help supply now. It's estimated that only about 7,000 cases (42,000 bottles) gets shipped out yearly -- and that's shared by every restaurant, bar, and retail outlet in the world.

Then, of course, there's the cult status that the Van Winkle name has attained. With celebrity chefs drinking it and Tweeting pictures of their stash, the word has gotten out that "Pappy" is the gold standard.

With all that talk of Pappy, the big question is where can you find it in Miami...and is it worth the price?

Yardbird Southern Table & Bar carries the entire line of Van Winkle products -- including their premium rye.  We met with beverage manager and in-house bourbon professor Allegra Angelo to drink a flight of Van Winkle.  As we sat down on the outside patio, strangers came by. Lots of them. Drawn by the bottles that many people recognize but few have encountered in person. One man, who acted like he had just seen his favorite celebrity, came over to the table. "Is that Pappy Van Winkle? And you're drinking it?" There's certainly a mystique. But what's behind that mystique? Here's what we found:

Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr

10 Year, 107 Proof

Rated 94 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
The youngest of the group, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year is sweet, smooth, and fruity.  The nose has hints of sweet orange. The distillers add just a touch of well-water before bottling, making this bourbon as close to barrel proof as possible.

Van Winkle Special Reserve

12 Year, 90.4

Rated 98 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
This medium-bodied bourbon is also known as the "nectar".  It's a honeyed whiskey with some richness and sophistication, but lacked some of the character that bourbons tend to have. It's a good sipping bourbon, with a lot in common with fine spirits.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15yr

15 Year, 107 Proof

Rated 98 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
The most "masculine" of the flight, this bourbon had a rich tobacco nose and rich herbal notes.  Strong yes, but not overpowering -- this bourbon packs a lot of bold flavors.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20yr

20 Year, 90.4 Proof

Rated 99 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
The highest rated bourbon in the world, this 20 year-old bourbon had a distinctly earthy nose, like it was plucked from the ground rather than a barrel. The taste is multi-layered. First we got mossy notes, than tasted the earth that we smelled. We even got mushroom, loam, leaves. This is a bourbon to be savored and contemplated.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr

23 Year, 95.6 Proof

Rated 99 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
Though the 23-year shares the same distillation as the 20-year, they couldn't be farther apart. This bourbon is sweet and buttery, with strong butterscotch and vanilla tones and a very long finish. It ranked as our favorite -- hands down.

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

13 Year, 95.6 Proof

Rated 95 by the Beverage Tasting Institute
The rye for people who don't normally enjoy rye whiskey. Normaly, rye is just too "rough" for some drinkers, which is why it's used in so many classic cocktails, yet is rarely enjoyed neat. This rye is aged 13 years, while most ryes are aged only about four years. The result is a complex blend of sweet and spicy notes with hints of cocoa, pepper, and nutmeg.

In conclusion, the Van Winkle line lives up to the hype. Where many bourbons are "too rough" (think Wild Turkey) and others are "too domesticated" (think Maker's Mark), the Van Winkles are "just right". Sure, they're expensive. But unless you've attained rock-star-chef status, they're not meant to be guzzled on an every day basis. If you, however, appreciate a good, thoughtful, hand-crafted spirit, you won't be let down.

And when you think that a Red Bull and vodka can set you back $20 in some douchebag nightclub -- enjoying a little "Pappy" seems like a downright solid choice for your discretionary dollars.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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