ALL OF THESE BOURBONS ARE BETTER THAN PAPPY VAN WINKLE

The calendar has turned to September, which can only mean one thing in the bourbon world – hunting season is upon us. Every fall 1000’s of bourbon fans scour liquor stores across the country hoping to find their personal “unicorn” bottle sitting quietly on a shelf amidst a slew of otherwise mundane offerings. Of course, at the top of many hunters list will be the annual releases from the venerable Van Winkle line. In a market driven by expectations of special releases, the Van Winkles, most notably the Pappy Van Winkle releases (the 15, 20, and 23 year offerings), are easily the undisputed kings of hype. However, as most seasoned Bourbon Sippers know, hype does not always equal quality. In fact, we posit that the Pappy releases are not only grossly overhyped, but also overrated. With that in mind, here is our list of 8 bourbons (in no particular order) that we could support as being better sippers than anything in the Pappy lineup.Bourbon Sippers Review - Pappy Van Winkle - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Disclaimer: We fully admit that several of the bourbons on this list are nearly as difficult to find as the Pappy releases. However, they are all considerably cheaper, even if you end up paying full secondary prices.





Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single BarrelBourbon Sippers Review - Smooth Ambler Old Scout - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Smooth Ambler (MGP)
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $59.99

Why it’s better: Say what you want about NDP’s, but Smooth Ambler puts out some amazing bourbon. In fact, SAOS barrel picks have been among the best bourbons we have tried in the last few years. With many offerings approaching or exceeding 10 years in age, there may not be a better bargain in the bourbon world. These are getting scarce so buy one if you see one. Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel is better than Pappy Van Winkle. 



Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel ProofBourbon Sippers Review - E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Buffalo Trace
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $69.99

Why it’s better: Although releases vary slightly in flavor profile, E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof is a sweet, potent bourbon that warrants a prime spot on any shelf. This yearly release used to be a relatively easy find but is now allocated in many parts of the country. Still, if you put in the time your odds of finding this gem are pretty solid. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof is better than Pappy Van Winkle. 

Knob Creek Single Barrel Private PicksBourbon Sippers Review - Knob Creek Private Selections - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Jim Beam
Proof: 120
MSRP: $45

Why it’s better: If you read our recent article on KC 25th, you already know we’re big fans of the KC private picks. The best picks are bold, complex, and every bit as good as most of the bourbons on this list at a fraction of the cost. If you can find a pick from a reputable source, buy multiples. KC Private Barrel Picks are better than Pappy Van Winkle. 

Maker’s Mark Private SelectBourbon Sippers Review - Makers Mark Private Select - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Maker’s Mark
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $45

Why it’s better: Maker’s Mark Private Select starts out as standard Maker’s at cask strength, which is subsequently finished via the addition of custom staves to the barrel. In the end, you get a bourbon that is reminiscent of Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength but with infinitely more layers of flavor and intrigue. Bottles will obviously vary according to the recipe chosen, but the ones we have sampled have been fantastic. Maker’s Mark Private Select is better than Pappy Van Winkle.




Bourbon Sippers Review - Four Roses Private Barrel Selections - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle


Four Roses Private Selections
Producer: Four Roses
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $60

Why it’s better: With ten different recipes there is something here for everyone. Sweet, spicy, minty…you name it and you can have it.  Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch tends to get all the buzz, but don’t overlook these easier to find standouts. Still one of the best bargains out there, particularly if you can find a barrel older than 10 years. Four Roses Private Barrel Picks are better than Pappy Van Winkle. 

Blanton’s Straight From the BarrelBourbon Sippers Review - Blanton's Straight From The Barrel - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Buffalo Trace
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $100

Why it’s better: This is more difficult to find than most on this list since it’s currently not available in the US. However, you can still hunt a bottle down through several online distributors – and it is well worth the effort. Blanton’s SFTB is one of the few bottles on the market that could give George T. Stagg a run for its money. Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel is better than Pappy Van Winkle. 



George T. StaggBourbon Sippers Review - George T. Stagg - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Buffalo Trace
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $80

Why it’s better: Simply put, George T. Stagg is the best bourbon currently being produced. And the 2014 release may be the best bourbon we have ever tasted. Stagg definitely isn’t easy to come by, but your odds of finding a bottle are still better than anything from the VW lineup. It is also much cheaper, even assuming a hefty markup over MSRP. George T. Stagg is better than Pappy Van Winkle. 

William Larue WellerBourbon Sippers Review - William Larue Weller - Bourbons better than Pappy Van Winkle
Producer: Buffalo Trace
Proof: Barrel Proof
MSRP: $80


Why it’s better:
William Larue Weller is the best wheated bourbon on the market, period. In fact, many would argue that it should be ranked it right up there with Stagg in the bourbon power rankings. WLW is typically a bit more expensive than Stagg (there are often fewer bottles available), but it is well worth the splurge if you find a bottle. William Larue Weller is better than Pappy Van Winkle. 

– JE

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