1966/1974 Old Rip Van Winkle

While perusing a dusty, old antique shop in eastern North Carolina last winter, I spotted a colorful ceramic decanter sitting high on a shelf. Interested, I asked the crabby shop owner if I could have a look. Fully assuming this thing to have been emptied decades ago, I almost dropped it when she handed it to me. Full! Of Stizel-Weller bourbon whiskey! Barreled in 1966! Julian Van Winkle, Jr. hand bottled this thing for the town of Sanford, North Carolina ("The Brick Capital of North Carolina!") for its centennial in 1974. 

After filtering my 40+year-old, dark, viscous Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey through a coffee filter to remove bits of disintegrating cork, I poured a dram. Blown away. I also sent a sample to our buddy Mike B for his thoughts, which are below.

- John

1966/1974 Old Rip Van Winkle

Stitzel-Weller Distillery
90 proof
8 years old

"Economics, Old Commercials, Mindful Tea and the Tell-Tale Heart" 

This tiny dram sample has been holding me at bay for several months…perhaps even spellbound. 

I’ve kept on second guessing myself on capturing the signature of this remnant from the original Stitzel-Weller Distillery that Pappy started in 1935 and Julian Jr. carried on into the early ’70s.

I was at an impasse…was my vocabulary that limited? Is this Bourbon that complicated? Am I out of my league? 

With the decision pending of fight or flight from the enigmatic, I decided to stall. I put the booze away for months. A kind and tactful query from the Captain of the Scouts this week prompted me to face my tormentor. 

After all…he gifted it to me and trusted my opinion. I couldn’t let the Captain down.

I re-examined my intimidation (and intentions).

If it were an impressionist painting, I would have gone back on my lunch break to the museum and stood there on different days and in a variety of moods to determine what I was experiencing. 

If it were a woman, I would have plotted the savory or sweet moments together on some graph paper to see if I was in love or just intrigued. Now wait a minute! This is not that hard to do! Do I like it or LOVE it? Two stars? Or Four? Get on with it!

Today I took the scientific method: and tried to pull the essence out and report it accurately to you fellow imbibers. Impossible. Old Rip reminded me of Bigelow Constant Comment Black Tea. Well? Make some! See if there is a similarity in the oils floating around from cloves and allspice. What cloves? There are no cloves in Bourbon! The tea steeping within inches was nothing like the tablespoon after tablespoon of bourbon I was calmly examining like “El Exigente” from the 1960’s commercials. Mixing with and without different amounts of high PH water versus filtered tap versus lukewarm Deer Park didn’t help. It just confirmed that I like my Bourbon with branch. Then I realized the true beauty and benefit of this whiskey. Old Rip keeps you coming back, like a high handicap hole at a course you thought you had mastered but can’t. No magic formula, no rescue club…just a great and memorable challenge. You’re smitten and embarrassed by a hard to get fantasy, who plays indifferently with your senses. You wait addicted to see if she will ever reveal her true self.

Now, don’t go thinking that I’m an Edgar Allen Poe kind of blogger on the fringe of madness. I have one practical piece of advice. This Bourbon is a great value. On the scale of price to rewards, it sits at the top. Each time your trembling hands pry open that secret flask hidden in an old gold bound book with the core cut out of its pages, you will realize this puzzle will take years and never be solved. This affair may last forever. There is slightly smoky Brown Sugar (not caramel) from some perfectly charred, high quality barrels. The sweetness almost got past me...imagine ribs with this stuff in the glaze! 

The light and lingering ether gives you the longest lasting, most heartwarming mouthful with just the right amount of grace and balance. This is fine dining, with one part water! You’ll return to the old man knowing satisfaction lies with the economies of scale this nourishment provides. The salubrious miles per ounce will be measurable as everything slows down and all distractions dissipate. You’ll anticipate the faceless voice that tells: “time to take your medicine.”