Seriously. Let me say it again slowly in case you missed it – THERE IS NO BEST WHISKY!!!
This might be the best whisky in the world, or not.
The most common question I’m asked is: “What is the best whisky?” After that the 2nd most common question would have to be: “is Pappy Van Winkle really that good?”
I’ll answer them both starting with the first.
Everyone has their favorite whisky – sometimes lots of people’s favorites are the same whisky, but that doesn’t make a particular whisky the best. It is merely the best whisky for them, but who knows if it will be your favorite.
And this may be heresy, but sometimes your favorite whisky isn’t necessarily the whisky that you think is the best. And my favorite whisky probably won’t be your favorite whisky, which probably won’t be the next person’s favorite whisky either. Sometimes your favorite whisky happens to be the whisky you have in your glass right now.
Personally I’ve been privileged to taste some amazing whiskies – whiskies way beyond what I could realistically even think about buying – like the 1973 Ardbeg tasted at last year’s WhiskyFest NY. Beyond description. But it’s not my favorite. It was a special whisky that I got to taste just the one time, but I can’t reasonably expect to drink it again in the future so it isn’t one of my favorites.
Price is not a great guideline quality, nor is age. I have favorite whiskies that cost $12 a bottle and $200 whiskies that I wouldn’t drink even if given a free taste, and I’ll leave for another time the new unfortunate trend of multi-thousand dollar whiskies. I have favorite whiskies that are only 5 years old and ultra old whiskies that were awful. Somewhere in between those price and age extremes there is a plethora of choices, many of which are amazing whiskies. Some are great, some are my favorites, and some might even be your favorites.
I’ll let you in on another secret – you are allowed to have more than one favorite.
Whiskies are not like women. My Scottish grandfather once told me this story - all you need in life to be happy is to find two things. You need to find the right woman and you need to find the right whisky. But remember to stay happy, never cheat on your woman and whisky doesn’t care if you cheat on it with another whisky. So never feel guilty about having more than one favorite whisky.
As to the 2nd question – is Pappy Van Winkle really that good? Hard to say – it might be for you, and it might not. I will say that Pappy Van Winkle is one of my favorites for several reasons – only one of which is because of the whisky inside the bottle. A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Old was my first serious whisky purchase – I paid what I thought was a ridiculous price of $105.00. I couldn’t believe I was spending so much on mere bourbon. But when I tasted it that night with friends and family I was blown away by how good it was. It is a special whisky and now that people are paying $1,200 or more for a bottle, it’s whisky that I probably won’t get to enjoy very often because the demand is so much higher than the availability.
The Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old is a special bourbon, but it isn’t the best bourbon.
Now back to the original questions – is Pappy Van Winkle that good? They say you’ll always remember your first love and Pappy really was a first love. But as much as I love it, I’m not willing to pay ridiculous prices for it. I wouldn’t pay $500 for a bottle of the 15 year old or $300 for a bottle of 12 Year old – all prices I’ve seen on craigslist in the last month. If I have a chance to buy it at retail I will, but there are plenty of other great bourbons out there that also taste great. They aren’t Pappy, but they are tasty and they are a whole lot more affordable and much easier to come by.
I confess that price is part of the equation for me in what makes a favorite whisky. If I pay $12 a bottle for some Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond – I’m happier than a pig in fresh mud, but if I paid $70 for the same whisky with a fancy label I’d feel disappointed.
Whisky is a commodity and if I pay too much for a commodity it changes my perception. I’ve tasted some very expensive whiskies that just didn’t do anything for me – some I doubt I’d try again even if given a free taste. They just aren’t for me – not because of the price (although that is part of it) but because the flavor of the whisky just didn’t push any of my flavor buttons. And different people have different flavor buttons.
And that brings me back to the original point – There is no best whisky but there are many great whiskies. Remember, there is only one way to find out your favorite whsikies - and that is to taste the whisky yourself. Good luck and have fun. -t