Afraid to crack open that precious bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye? Not me! The other night CaptainQ and I put the VWFRR B and C bottlings head to head. I also did it again this afternoon to ensure my palate did not change; the results were the same. While close, there were differences in the bottlings. The C bottle was open about a week prior to this tasting and the B bottle was open about three weeks, I do not think oxidation was a factor.
Color: The color is exactly the same – they are both a nice dark russet color.
Nose: The difference on the nose of these two releases was the first thing that tipped me there might be some differences. While the profiles were close, the difference was in how much more open and fragrant the B bottling was. The B bottle had a lot of tobacco and wood scent in the mix, really outstanding. In comparison, the C bottling was much more subdued and closed; it did not quite inspire the wow factor that the B did.
Palate: The B bottling packed a stellar amount of creeping rye spice and a little of that rough around the edges characteristic I appreciate in a good rye. The C bottling was a bit smoother overall, which some might appreciate. The C lacked some of the spiciness of the B, but it showed a touch more sweetness in the form of noticeable dark fruit characteristics. VWFRR is known for being quite creamy, and they both faired well in that regard, neither one seemed hotter or thinner than the other.
Finish: The B bottling had an impeccable finish with the spice fading to wood and a hint of dark cherry. For me, the finish on the C bottling had more “green wood” taste to it than the B - the C seemed a touch more bitter.
Overall, the B bottle gets my nod. However, I have to stress that the differences, while present, are subtle - unless the two were had at the same sitting, it would be nearly impossible to tell. While I did not think tanked whiskey changed enough to be noticeable, apparently it does. I think a future tasting will involve a couple different years of Saz18 to see if I pick up differences there too.