Back in February, I wrote about the process of whipping up a batch of Poor Man’s Pappy. Since then, several of you have been sending me emails and tweets asking when I would finally post my thoughts on the blend. According to what I’d read online, the whiskies would take about six weeks to marry together.
Well, it’s been closer to… eighteen weeks, so I suppose you’re well within your rights to bug me about it! I have a few good reasons for the delay, though:
- I’ve been tied up with other exciting spirits and events to cover (and I finally managed to find a good window!)
- I wanted to hold off until I could sample Pappy 15 as a comparison (which I finally did!)
- It just din’t seem quite ready when I tasted it at six weeks (Okay, that doesn’t explain waiting three times as long…)
Anyway, sorry for the delay! Hopefully you find this write-up worth the wait!
Rather than keeping you in suspense (I’ve done that long enough), I’ll get this out of the way up front: No, sadly, Poor Man’s Pappy (at least my batch) tastes nothing like Pappy Van Winkle. I get the slightest similarity in flavor on the finish, but that’s it. As much as the goal was to see if I could make a substitute for Pappy Van Winkle, considering just how dramatically different this turned out, I think it’s best to evaluate this blend on its own merits. Otherwise, disappointment is sure to follow.
Nose: The first impression I get is heavy cinnamon and some vanilla. There’s a bit of honey as well as some red apple. There is almost no alcohol evident on the nose. It’s a pleasant, if simple nose, but it doesn’t have the rich complexity I get from Pappy 15. The nose is also somehow distinct from both the Old Weller Antique 107 and the 12 Year Old; it’s less floral than the 107, and doesn’t seem to have as much butterscotch on the nose as the 12 Year Old. The cinnamon is more pronounced in my Poor Man’s Pappy, so if that’s your thing you may not mind this change.
Taste: It’s a bit hard to describe, but it tastes”fractured” at first. It’s like there are two different flavor profiles that aren’t quite meshing (probably because there are two distinct whiskies in there). Someone suggested transferring the spirit to a larger container and letting it sit for a while – maybe a bit of oxygenation would actually help the marrying process. In the meantime, the arrival is soft and smooth, almost candy sweet. It reminds me of red hot cinnamon candies, coupled with honey and baked apples. However, just as I’m settling in to savor those flavors, the sweetness disappears and is replaced by a rough bitterness on the middle of the palate. It reminds me of burnt walnuts, coupled with something herbal that isn’t unpleasant, but just doesn’t match the sweet arrival.
That roughness also surprised me because both of the base ingredients are really easy sippers. This is probably the blend’s the clearest deviation from Pappy Van Winkle, which is ridiculously smooth and easy drinking. When sipped neat, the finish is also quite short, burning away into those bitter walnuts and disappearing as fast as it arrives.
Just like on the nose, Poor Man’s Pappy tastes quite different from either of its component spirits. It’s sweeter on the arrival than the 107, and has a peppery bite to it that that spirit doesn’t. It also seems a bit fruitier than the 12 Year Old is to me.
Adding water really helps the flavors to coalesce, and rounds off the rough edge that I got on the arrival when I sipped it neat. After some experimentation, I found that I could add a substantial amount of water to this, and it kept improving. I actually added three full eyedroppers worth of water to hit what I think is the sweet spot. For my usual tastes, that’s a ton of water!
Letting it sit in the glass to open up really helped, too. I recommend adding water and then covering it and letting it sit for at least fifteen minutes After that, even though it tastes completely different from Pappy, it’s pretty darn good as it’s own spirit. In fact, the longer I let it sit in the glass, and the more I sip at it, the more I like it. It’s actually quite a tasty whiskey!
Nose with Water: Wow, did this evolve! It’s sweeter now, but less cinnamon-spicy, and there’s a very nice floral note running through it. I also get a bit of orange, some clove, and green apple (not just the red I got neat). There’s also a bit of something that reminds me of buttered wheat toast,and a little black pepper. It’s still not the most complex nose, but there’s more to it, and the aromas are quite pleasant.
Taste with Water: There we go! The arrival is still sweet, but less cloyingly slow. More importantly, it now rolls right into a spicy and mildly bitter burst of flavor, rather than leading to a clash in the middle of the tongue. The initial tastes are cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and strawberry jam. These lead into toasted pecans and walnuts, a bit of orange zest, and butterscotch. The finish a nice dry counterpoint to the sweet arrival, and it’s longer now as well, with cinnamon, walnuts, and green apple lingering for a reasonably long time.
Overall, even though this blend doesn’t remotely resemble Pappy Van Winkle 15 (or any Pappy that I’ve tried), it’s a solid whiskey in its own right. With a little water and time in the glass, some fun aromas and flavors come out. It may not have been what I was going for (and the results may not be what you were hoping to hear), but I’m glad I tried this little experiment, and I know I’ll enjoy the rest of the bottle!
Questions of the Day: Have you tried (or made your own) Poor Man’s Pappy? How was it? Do you have any suggestions for tweaking the recipe?