Has the spot reserved in your bourbon cabinet for a coveted bottle of Van Winkle remained bare for so long you’ve had to dust it off? Several times? The potentially good news is that, according to Buffalo Trace Distillery, the 2022 release, which unleashes bourbon-cult bedlam this month, includes more bottles than usual thanks to additional liquid gold being sequestered to age a decade or so ago.
Exactly how many more bottles of exactly which of the six expressions isn’t being disclosed, because no Van Winkle release would be complete without subtle notes of inscrutability and consumer anxiety. (Even past production numbers are secret, though some armchair analysts have calculated typical annual output at around 85,000 bottles.)
We do know that the full roster is represented, from Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10-Year-Old (MSRP $69.99) to Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23-Year-Old (MSRP $299.99). Want to fantasize about having a choice and narrowing it down? Buffalo Trace advance info touts 2022’s 15-Year-Old as “particularly delicious,” even “opulent and flawless.”
“I have always said that our 15-year Pappy is my favorite of all of our brands, and this year is no exception,” says Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery president and all-around bourbon guru Julian Van Winkle III. “It is more complex than our younger ages, with a hint of oak along with intense vanilla and citrus notes, and obviously does not have the amount of wood that our 20- and 23-year bottlings have picked up over the years in the barrels.”
So, will stalking the bourbon world’s most elusive unicorn actually be easier this year? Probably not. Retail- and state-run lotteries often attract one thousand to ten thousand more entries than available bottles, so even in the improbable scenario of doubled output, odds aren’t great. Therefore, the crazy above-MSRP prices demanded by some mercenary retailers and shifty online resellers aren’t likely to be deflated. (Caveat emptor, for sure.)
What to do with that lingering, bottle-shaped void in your life? Well, buzz of another intriguing bourbon release came in the immediate wake of the Van Winkle news, this one from the distinguished distillers at, um, Arby’s. Yes, as a canny way of promoting its lineup of “smokehouse sandwiches,” the fast-food purveyor has introduced its own booze pairing, Arby’s Smoked Bourbon. It’s a collaboration with Brain Brew Custom Whiskey of Ohio, and both parties invested some brand-conscious thought into the gambit: Oak staves smoked with hickory, mesquite, and pecan at the same Texas smokehouse that smokes some of Arby’s meats are dunked into a distillate that is heated and cooled to replicate seasonal variations and push the aging process—and create a smoky profile.
Don’t guffaw too hard. When the culty “We Have the Meats” chain unveiled its first-ever spirit last year, Arby’s Curly and Crinkle Fry Vodka, fans whipped up a social-media furor. This year’s ninety-proof bourbon, sold exclusively online, dropped yesterday with a limited release that promptly sold out. A second drop is being planned.
Wait, quantities are limited? In a page ripped from the Pappy playbook, Arby’s isn’t disclosing how limited. Here we go again.