Pappy Val Winkle and W L Weller Bourbon

I’ve always been a fan of Pappy 15 and enjoyed W.L. Weller 12, but have remained neutral with Pappy 20 in comparison, and never spent too much time with Old Weller Antique. I’ve read about Poor Man’s Pappy, but hadn’t tried that experiment. My Dad, who I’ve shared most of my whiskey discussions with until now, prefers Pappy 20 and the Old Weller Antique.

Since I’ve never tasted all of these side-by-side and want to get to the bottom of the father and son discussion, I figured this would be a good place to begin my notes. Welcome.

Lineup:

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old (2013)

Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old (2011)

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old

Old Weller Antique 107

“Poor Man’s Pappy” (50% Old Weller Antique 107 / 50% W.L. Weller 12 Year Old)

Served in Glencairn glass, presented blind.

Notes:

#1 – Obviously a member of the family but seems to lack the character that some of the others have at first introduction. The palate is interesting but it leads to a finish that doesn’t sit at par compared to the rest. The corn notes really stand out as though this is a younger spirit that’s masked by higher proof. After a couple of passes this opens up and comes closer to par with #2, but lacks the finish.

#2 – Has more of a creamy, cake icing, strong vanilla nose. Autumn fruit, subtle green apple. Not quite as thick as #4 or the others at first, but definitely opens up to more complexity as you get to know it, and I certainly feel like I know this one very well. It’s reserved, not showing off and eludes to there being more behind the curtain. I enjoy the mystery as much as the aroma. I can’t help but think if a beautiful woman wore vanilla perfume, this could be a source. Sweet but not over the top. Definitely more proof on the palate but refined. Deeper and drier notes emerge as it continues to open. It’s faint, but reminiscent of the simple Derby Pie notes I love in the later Stitzel-Weller Old Fitzgerald, but without the strong presence. This is certainly not a bad thing, I’m just missing the final pleasant, sour component that hits the throat as your inhalation relaxes and the glass pulls away from your nose. This stands out. I love it.

#3 – Noses like the cheaper selection of the bunch. This one carries more of an astringent, alcohol-forward aroma but not necessarily because of a higher proof. Where I wasn’t allured by the nose, the palate here is a little more inviting but the ensemble reeks of the abundant exposed oak in a rick house. Second pass, more wood.

#4 – Definitely the richest nose at first pass. Thick, oily, but in a good way, a slight burn on the back of the throat but you really have to pull to get it. Very pleasant. On second pass this hasn’t opened up quite as well as #2, or maybe I’ve just been spending too much time with #2? First thoughts on the palate: hot, I’ll come back. The second pass is much more together than the others, but there’s still something missing in terms of quality. After some time, the sweet icing comes through in a similar fashion to #2, but with less wood; brighter.

#5 – Not enough coming through the nose to note in comparison to the rest. Clearly the most age of the group but that doesn’t translate to it being the most interesting. This one seems like it wants to blend into the crowd and remain unnoticed. First taste, if I wanted to introduce bourbon to someone new, this might be a first choice. There’s some neat things going on here but it’s too easy to put back without too much thought. Over time the nose begins to draw you back in like a very special guest who knows their importance but prefers to remain quiet while the discussion develops around them. Will they speak up or must you force them? It seems like it’s waiting for the right moment to enter and sway the conversation. On the second pass the alcohol hasn’t found its place, it stands out in comparison. There’s a sweet, fruity duet that begins to emerge the more you get to know this one, but not enough to fully engage with.

My rankings, in order of preference

1st Place – #2
2nd Place – #4
3rd Place – #1
4th Place – #5
5th Place – #3

Rankings, in order of preference with reveal

1st Place – Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old
2nd Place – “Poor Man’s Pappy”
3rd Place – Old Weller Antique
4th Place – Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old
5th Place – W.L. Weller 12 Year Old

Thoughts

These are all fantastic whiskeys and I’d be happy to have any of them. I’ve always thought that I could pick Pappy 15 out of a line up, and it was clearly the winner here, but it didn’t stand out enough to warrant the obscene price it commands today. Noticeably better? Yes. Far and beyond better? No.

It’s no news that Weller Antique and Weller 12 have also become more difficult to find, but I’m glad to know there’s a much more affordable option available to replace what demand will inevitably deprive. The blend was fantastic and I’ll definitely be doing more experimentation with these in the future.

Pappy 20 has never been one of my favorites, so it falling short validates my sentiments. My wallet thanks me.

What I found most surprising was placing Weller 12 in last place. I’ve always had this around as a go-to, but I haven’t actually poured any for myself in over a year as I’ve mostly served it to guests. This glass was poured from a 1.75L that’s been sitting for over a year at about 15% volume, so perhaps some oxidation has affected it? If that’s the case, the PMP should have been affected as well, but it seemed spot on. Intriguing.