Please Don’t Ask Me About Pappy Van Winkle - The Ravens Club
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Zack Pappy Van Winkle

Please Don’t Ask Me About Pappy

As some may have noticed, and many comment on at The Ravens Club, beards are in abundance. All five members of our bar staff (including myself) wear a beard. At least once a shift we field the question, “Do you have to have a beard to work here?” We’re running out of clever answers, but thanks for noticing, guys. And no, you don’t have to have a beard to tend bar at The Ravens Club. But it helps.

This time of year the “do you guys have any Pappy?” question becomes about as popular, if not more, than our guests’ beard curiosities. For those that have been with us for the long haul, it really is a very appropriate question. Two years ago we had the great pleasure of hosting Julian Van Winkle III for a once-in-an-Ann Arbor-lifetime Pappy Van Winkle tasting and dinner. To this date it remains one of my most proud services and professional moments. Typically our allotment of the treasured distillate is among the most in Michigan and we have been happy to be able to provide Pappy much to the pleasure of our guests.

The whiskey is by no doubt the hardest to acquire and most sought-after liquid on the planet, at least that is produced in the United States. It’s very good…very, very good, and by all means worthy of the multiple Whiskey of the Year awards and accolades that it has received. The story of the whiskey is an American dream, and to have had the privilege to hear firsthand from Julian what it was like growing up in the most storied distillery in American History was truly inspiring. It made me appreciate the coveted bourbon that much more. (For some great reading material check out the story for yourself in But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald written by Sally Van Winkle Campbell.)

Pappy is wheated bourbon. The most sought-after expressions are aged 15-, 20- and 23- years, respectively. Creamy, full-flavored, so smooth, big and bold and everything you want when you think top shelf. The only problem that we’re seeing in the industry these days is that it’s just so hard to find and when you do the prices are maddening. I’ve seen a 1oz. pour of the 23-year bottle for as much as $300. 20- and 23-year pours exceed the one thousand dollar mark (2, 3, as much as 4k) all the time. Crazy.

Julian wasn’t shy at our event when he said their strategy was always low production and high demand and that’s exactly what have, or the lack there of. This has created a madness in our whiskey world and people are nuts for it. Seeing a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20yr in the wild in 2015 would probably come close to the rarity of finding a bottled elixir made of unicorn tears.

I feel for those that perhaps may never get to treat themselves to a pour of Pappy but perhaps I feel worse for the other whiskey producers out there. Not out of pity, but because the popularity of Pappy has, in a way, relegated all other fine bourbons to middle shelf. If the label doesn’t say Van Winkle, novice collectors and drinkers want nothing to do with it. The truth is, in my opinion, there are as good, if not better, whiskeys out there. It’s all a matter of personal preference but I’d like to suggest some American whiskies that I feel go toe-to-toe with the Pappy Van Winkle.

Elijah Craig 18yr, Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition and Small Batch Limited Edition Barrel Strength, The Parker’s Heritage Collection (the 2015 release, an 8yr aged malted whiskey is maybe the best thing I’ve tried all year), Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep and the 1998 Russell’s Reserve are all deserving of being celebrated and are most certainly highly collectible whiskeys. Because everyone is looking for one thing, your chances of scoring one of these could literally be a million times greater. Any of said whiskeys will be sure to please most, if not all, whiskey enthusiasts. Keep an eye out for any collectible Four Roses limited bottlings or barrel picks (distilleries will sell a whole barrel of whiskey to you). Four Roses is on top of their game and arguably at the top of the bourbon game in general, making this choice really special. (Check out Tippins in Saline for Four Roses barrel picks. They’ve brought in four barrels worth of whiskey this year and the year before. That’s a ton of Four Roses!)

There are already conclusive reports that this 2015 whiskey season’s stock of Pappy Van Winkle will be far less than there has ever been. Those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an allocation of the whiskey have all been told to be prepared for next to nothing come this November when it’s released. In lieu of these events we’ve prepared something for the Pappy-pursuers. Acquiring Pappy has been a long story and it’ll most likely be gone before most can buy a dram. With that in mind I beat you to the punch and playfully printed Ravens Club t-shirts that read, “Please don’t ask me about Pappy”. If there is a demand, I’ll be sure to get more printed for all you fans out there.

Happy bottle hunting everyone, and here’s to Whiskey Season 2015! Cheers.

zack