Van Winkle 12 Year Old Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Review

According to Washington Irving, Mrs. Van Winkle was a royal pain in the ass.  From the sound of it, all she did was nag old Rip Van Winkle into a bowl of Dutch jelly. Granted, Ol’ Rip might have deserved some nagging as he really let his place go, and he wasn’t quite the ladder-climbing cubicle jockey she wanted him to be, but by all accounts, the Missus layed it on thick and often drove Van Winkle out to the pub for a few rounds with the boys. On one occasion, he apparently wandered off into the woods for a little peace and quiet and stumbled on a bunch of dudes playing 9-pins. Mind you, these were not just your garden variety guys playing mini-bowling in the woods, these were the smooth rolling cronies of one Henry Hudson, famous explorer (the Hudson river) and inventor of the controversial “Australian Toss” method of 9-pin bowling (I made that last part up). Not only were these guys rolling a good game, they also had some world-class hooch with them and Mr. Van Winkle was, shall we say, over-served.  He passed out, not just for the night, but for 20 years, awaking to find himself in a very different world. Damn near everyone he knew was gone, which sucked except in the case of his wife where it was more of a blessing. Once a well-loved man-about-town, his politics now made him suspect, and if he hadn’t run into his now adult daughter, things might have been a bit rocky for him.  As it was, things ended pretty happily. As far as I can tell, the moral of the story is that a going on a decent bender on occasion, while not recommended or very healthy, can have some positive consequences.

As you might guess, Rip Van Winkle is not part of the bourbon making Van Winkle family of Kentucky.  All they probably share is the name and a love of good booze.  The Van Winkle’s have been involved in the production of bourbon since the late 1800’s, and today have several expressions produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfurt, KY. The Van Winkle’s differ from most bourbons in their wheated mash-bill – there’s no rye in theirs and therefore they have a softer, smoother flavor profile than most.  They are also unique in that they prefer to age the whiskies longer than most.  Along with the 12 year old, there’s a 10, 15, 20 and 23 year bourbon as well as a 13 year old straight rye in their product line.

Van Winkle 12 Year Old Reserve

Nose: Incredible…butterscotch, caramel, vanilla…cake…marzipan!  There’s a familiar warmth (not heat) here that reminds me of baking bread. Toasted almonds and cashews.  Bright Vietnamese cinnamon and a little clove.  There are some luscious fruit notes hovering over everything, sweet orange…almost a sugared orange.  A faint whiff of a citrus-y pipe smoke as well. A little cognac-like, the nose is so rich, so inviting…this is one of those whiskies you stick your nose into and just don’t want to leave.

Palate: Absolutely tremendous, almost voluptuous entry with smooth, sweet vanilla and caramel tones that give way to some tobacco-y dryness.  There’s strong vanilla bean as well, as if you were scraping a raw Madagascar pod across your tongue.  That Van Winkle wheated smoothness is here in spades, such a luscious mouthfeel.  It builds up a nice bit of char and wood leading into the finish.

Finish: Perhaps, ever so slightly disappointing and a little short. The nose is so rich, the palate so smooth, I really wanted this to linger on for, oh I don’t know…8 days, but it slips away a little quickly.  Vanilla bean and charred cask hang out for a bit, but they’re over there in the corner, not paying much attention to the guy holding the glass.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the finish is better than what I’m getting.  My bottle’s been open for a bit, and while I’m sure it’s not been affected much at all, the open time might have cheated the finish a little.

Thoughts: What a smooth, worldly, beautiful sunset of a bourbon!  This is one of those girls who knocks you out with her looks, blows you away with her knowledge of opera and Russian literature and then proceeds to drink you under the table. It’s almost too drinkable to be savoured and too easily savoured to be that drinkable.  Probably not easily found, if you see it…buy it.

Van Winkle 12 Year Old Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

45.2% ABV

Score: 95


4 thoughts on “Van Winkle 12 Year Old Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Review

  1. Just enjoyed a tipple of the Van Winkle 12-year to celebrate my 31st Birthday. I found your review to be spot-on; just bookmarked your site. Looking forward to more of your reviews. Cheers.

    1. Thanks! I can’t think of a better birthday bourbon…in fact, I just received another bottle for my birthday on Saturday!

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