Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

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Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby Mike » Tue Aug 28, 2012 8:25 pm

I hauled out my Van Winkle Lot B today after reading an article which was an interview with Julian Van Winkle III. The article was in Garden and Gun (August/September issue), a magazine about which I know nothing (I heartily recommend this article). The mag was brought to me by a friend who knows that I am inordinately fond of Van Winkle bourbons. Mr. Van Winkle (note that, I, a Southerner, having never met Mr. Van Winkle, would never deign to call him, 'Julian'....... it would be far too presumptious) comes across as an interesting and quite modest fellow who has no desire to expand his empire by changing anything he does. He claims no special talents for his taster, but is an acknowledged master at what he does by many bourbon lovers........ and, I certainly acknowledge his mastery at producing wonderful bourbons.

As I recall it, on the day he was interviewed he was at Buffalo Trace sampling the first batches of Van Winkle bourbon (I assume this is according to his own recipe) ready for bottling (again, I assume this bourbon will be for Lot B 12 YO bourbon, but it is never stated). I also need some help in clarifying whether Mr Van Winkle has previously selected bourbons for his labels from Buffalo Trace stocks, as I suspect has been the case (John Lipman, Mike Veach, others?).

The bottle of Lot B from which I am drinking was originally purchased at $40, but I haven't a clue what it sells for now except that I know that when it is available, it will not be $40. It, like all the Van Winkle bourbons is exceptional bourbon. It has what I prefer to call the subtlety and the delicacy of the Van Winkle bourbons, yet, as especially is the case with the 12 and 15 YO Van Winkle bourbons, it is the barrel richness that delights the palate.

There is not a Van Winkle bourbon that I have ever had that did not suit my palate to a tea, and I have owned them all in abundance, and at present still have 5 at hand, plus several Black Maple Hills ryes and boubons, rumored to be Julian Van Winkle selected.

BUT, there are other excellent bourbons available at far less cost that are the equals of the Van Winkle bourbons. Among these are several Heaven Hills products, several Four Roses products, some Wild Turkey products, some Beam products, some Buffalo Trace products, some Barton products, some Brown Forman products. Each of these distilleries produces some first rate bourbons to keep me happy when I exhaust my Van Winkle bourbons and refuse to buy more (or only the very occasional bottle) for cost reasons.

Thus do I arrive at the sentiment expressed in the title of this post. Thank you for your patience in making it thus far. I wondered if I could not construct a Lot B quality bourbon for about that same $40 that I spent for that bottle of Lot B that I now possess.

Lot B possesses, as do all Van Winkle bourbons (I have absolutely nothing to gain in praising these bourbons, so my opinions are 'clean' here), a certain, 'je ne sais quoi' quality that is their own, that apparently owes its existence to the Van Winkle genes. How close dare I come, in my attempts, to this Van Winkle gift. It may be for you to decide, if you are interested.

The primary characteristics I find in Lot B are richness, balance, complexity, and subtlety (this one I take to owe a lot of time in the barrel........ reaching for those very difficult to define qualtities that Julian Van Winkle has an exceptional talent for recognizing)........ in short, the characteristics of an exceptional wheated bourbon.

So, me tells meself, which bourbons on hand, for less that $40 might provide a similiar set of characteristics, while still likely falling a bit short of Lot B. Age is an important characteristic in ALL Van Winkle bourbons...... they rely on tannins (in my opinion........ something I have said for years now on BE) to offset sweetness and build subtlety and delicacy (the model being that of 50 YO Cognac........ the French know more than Americans about long barrel aging......... they are more patient).

I will not waste any more of your time in how I arrived at this vatting, other than to defend its components, but here is what I came up with (as a $40 or less substitute for Lot B).... along with its proportions.

I want to stay within the wheat recipe to a great extent, so I choose 5 ml of 107 proof Weller Antique for its barrel richness and alcholic presence. I next choose 20 ml of 12 YO W L Weller for its mature softness and delicacy. My next choice was arrived at by comparing some superb boubons from the Old Forester Birthday Bourbons (often underated bourbons of extremely high quality). For this purpose, I chose 25 ml the 2010 Birthday Bourbon for its 12 YO tannic/pot stilled qualities that give it sublety and sophistication. This is now about a 94 proof bourbon, and it is one I assert can be made for no more than $40 a bottle and is quite the equal of Lot B.

The purpose of this post is not to diaparage in any way the extraordinary talents of Julian Van Winkle, but to assert that with a good knowledge of bourbons and your own palate, you can build your own bourbon that fits your particular palate.......... which is equal to the best bourbons, as acknowledged by the 'experts'. I am a committed believer in the notion that some bourbons are better than others, and that we do, in fact, have bourbon 'experts' and accepted opinions that matter as guides (and matter a lot). But, I also recognize that folks who do not claim great expertise (but are quite experienced with bourbon) such as Julian Van Winkle, always (having a modest wisdom on their side) provide room for the person willing to invest time into developing his or her own bourbon palate............ which can offer some guidence to others.

Bourbon Enthusiast is a site devoted to people who love bourbon, and know that, any opinion to the contrary being uninformed, bourbon drinking is an art, albeit it a potentially dangerous one. It is probably reserved for the few, which makes it neither good nor bad, it just is that way.

The Bourbon Enthusiast site offers you the opportunity to go beyond being someone who likes bourbon, to one who is a true Enthusiast, to one who goes to another level of Bourbon Appreciation. Van Winkle bourbons, to their everlasting credit, open that passage to another level!! Julian Van Winkle, in that scenerio, is an American hero, and like all great heroes, is modest. But, I think it important for us Bourbon Enthusiasts to find our own way....... and never, never, to accept what others say (without dismissing their findings) about bourbon.

You do indeed have a sacred right to your opinion as to which bourbons suit you......... but you do not have the right to express an opinion, claiming it to be informed, on bourbons, if your opinions on bourbons has been formed in the absence of a wide experience of their variety and quailty.

I gladly support your venturing out on a limb in your bourbon opinions, and certainly in your bourbon reviews, but always, always, acknowledge that you are humble in the presence of the complexity that lies at the heart of the bourbon expertise........ just as Julian Van Winkle has done.

In this sense, Julian Van Winkle, as presented in Garden and Gun, is the model for bourbon experts......... he claims no special knowlege nor insight, but he honors his own palate........ formed as it is by vast experience!!
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:40 pm

Here, I must disagree with you Mike. Lot B is my least favorite Van Winkle expression. There are many 12 y/o wheaters that IMO leave it in the dust. The old S-W stuff was ok but the new stuff is not the same IMO. Also you refer to Julian as a modest man. I have known him for quite a few years and I would not describe him as being modest LOL.
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Re: Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby Mike » Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:59 pm

As I said, Joe, I do not know Mr. Van Winkle, and the article paints him as a modest man. I will not judge him, even if he is immodest, as many men of accomplishment are not modest. I respect your opinions greatly, Joe, but we do indeed have a significant difference of opinion here. Even now, as I sip the Lot B, I think it is a great bourbon, rich, sophisticated, delicate, balanced, and complex............. Still, I know beforehand that what comes from your keyboard is straight up, and I sure admire that in you!
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby MacinJosh » Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:46 am

Mike wrote:I respect your opinions greatly, Joe, but we do indeed have a significant difference of opinion here. Even now, as I sip the Lot B, I think it is a great bourbon, rich, sophisticated, delicate, balanced, and complex!


Which is exactly why all of this (as well as your initial post Mike) is 100% subjective. One man's (or woman's) sweet nector of the Gods is another man's deer piss. I'm glad you have found a line of bourbon that sings to you Mike. I'm also glad there are a vast number of other bourbons out there for anyone who doesn't dig the Van Winkle lineup. I'm not trying to be snarky, just factual. Everything when it comes to the taste of bourbon is purely subjective. No two palates are the same.

Thanks for sharing your passion Mike! Cheers! :)
Josh

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Re: Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby MacinJosh » Fri Aug 31, 2012 12:14 pm

Perhaps I should elaborate on my previous post.....

I can't help but get a little skeptical and suspicious whenever someone suggests to me that their favorite bourbon(s) are anything and everything from the Van Winkle lineup. There’s an exorbitant amount of praise towards the Van Winkles floating out there in news publications and cyberspace. Their line of bourbon is presented as the best in the United States……and not subjectively…..but as a matter of fact. I tend to believe this partially influences people and prejudices their opinion before ever trying any of their products.

I’m by no means suggesting the Van Winkle’s don’t make (in the past) or source (in the present) high quality, tasty bourbon. They do, in my opinion (again, this is subjective), and some are absolute crackers.

But I wonder how many people drink Van Winkle pours because they’ve (subconsciously maybe) been told……this is THE best. No need to explore any further, you’ve found the magical juice. Enjoy!

I have no doubt Mike has tried a large quantity of Van Winkle products as well as many, many other bourbons from all across the country. I’m by no means questioning his experience or sincerity…..but I can’t help but wonder how many times he would pick a Van Winkle product in a true double blind taste test over all the other wonderful bourbons out there. In my experience, truly blind taste tests have an amazing way of shattering all of our label prejudices and preconceived notions.

Again, Mike likes what he likes and that’s great. This isn’t meant to be directed solely at Mike but rather the masses. I’m not trying to be a butthead or anything but rather raise a point for discussion.

So what say you Mike et all? Are our tasting preferences heavily influenced by the opinions and estimations of those surrounding us?

Sound off!
Josh

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"Sometimes I drink my whiskey neat. Other times I take my tie off and leave my shirt out."
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Re: Aiming at Van Winkle Speical Reserve 12 YO Lot B

Unread postby SWC » Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:21 pm

MacinJosh wrote: One man's (or woman's) sweet nector of the Gods is another man's deer piss.


I have derived great joy from that sentence, lol.
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