Bull & Bush Reviews Part 1 of 4
This is the first of a four part review from my recent trip to Bull & Bush in Cherry Creek. Their bourbon list rivals some of the best bourbon bars in Kentucky, providing us Coloradans an opportunity to taste some bourbons most thought were long gone. Black Maple Hill 14, the early Parker’s Heritage stuff, and a decent stock of earlier vintage BTAC are enough to make even a Kentucky native jealous.
The atmosphere at Bull & Bush is upscale enough so you don’t feel like you are at a dive bar, but laid back enough to where you and your friends can come dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. In the right weather, their patio is a relaxing place to catch a baseball game on TV, and the food menu is family friendly and perfectly suited for a night of drinking top shelf whiskey.
Off of their entire list, I had the opportunity to order four of their incredible bourbons; Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter, Parker’s Heritage 27 Year, Vintage Bourbon 25 Year and A.H. Hirsch 16 Year. There are more pages on their bourbon list than what is shown above, so if you are in the mood for your favorite mid-shelf brand, or feel like treating yourself to a pour from one of their many legendary bottles, it is safe to say they have something for every occasion.
Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter
The Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter set (VW23D from here on) was a special release from a few years ago that will likely never again be reproduced by the Van Winkles. The set included a beautiful leather lined cherry wood box, two rocks glasses and a handcrafted glass decanter filled with 23 year old, 114 proof Van Winkle bourbon barreled in the spring of 1986. These dates are indicative of true Stitzel-Weller barrels which is always very exciting, but I am not the biggest fan of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year (PVW23), so I am hoping these barrels prove unique.
Only 1,200 of these decanter sets were produced. Knowing the normal PVW23 year goes for upwards of $800 in secondary markets, you can assume that if you run across a complete set, you will likely have to take out a second mortgage to make it yours.
Color: After 23 years in the barrel, VW23D is an iconic deep brown bourbon. Rich burgundy, heavily steeped black tea.
Nose: Oak, honey, vanilla spice and caramel are strong upfront in the nose. Dark cherry, butterscotch and a bit more bitter oak follow up in the end. There is a great balance of a classic bourbon nose, with as much oak as you would expect from a 23 year bourbon.
Sip: The amount of oak is the downfall of PVW23, but these select barrels chosen by Julian Van Winkle for the Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter are truly worthy of the extra frills and higher price of the decanter set.
VW23D has an incredible thick, viscous mouthfeel. The balance of the VW23D is much more welcoming of the sweeter aspects lost in the heavily oaked PVW23. Caramel, buttery toffee and rich, thick honey define this famous flavor profile, while the oak is reduced to an equal partner in the back palate with some dark fruits and pipe tobacco.
Finish: Fresh caramelized sugar, sharp, smoky spiced oak and soft vanilla fudge linger for a great length. The oak is strong in the VW23D finish, but the heavy bitterness of too much oak that is common in the PVW23 is missing from the VW23D.
Overall Grade: A
These hand picked barrels truly are the best of the 23 year bunch. My overall grade for PVW23 is a B+. The oak is just too much in that offering, leaving the classic wheated flavors suffocating beneath. The Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanter tames the oak, creating a perfect balance of what high aged wheaters have to offer.
If you ever have a chance to taste this exquisite 23 year bourbon, I recommend trying it without hesitation. Sometimes tasting bourbon history is worthy of a high priced pour. Soon, all of the Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Decanters will be gone with the rest of the Stitzel-Weller stock, so there is more to gain here than just a nice pour of bourbon.
Drink this, not that: PVW23 is the obvious answer and more likely to be stocked at a reputable bar than the decanter edition. PVW23 is lower proof, heavier on the oak and less expensive. I believe every intermediate bourbon drinker should try PVW23 at least once, if only so they can decide for themselves if it walks on water or is outrageously overrated. I tend to lean towards outrageously overrated.
In my opinion, PVW15 is the only Pappy worth hunting and paying up for. The 23 year decanter edition is world class, and distinctly better then the standard PVW23, but damn near impossible to find. The PVW15 is a no brainer, A+ wheater and offered at a steal of an MSRP, about $79.
If you find yourself staring at a PVW15 and a PVW23 with a 1 bottle limit, I urge you to save your money and enjoy the PVW15.
If you find yourself staring at a $3,000 VW23D set, resist the urge to sell your car, kidney or first born. If you come across a $40 pour of VW23D, the juice is top notch, the history is legendary and the bragging right might be worth the entire pour.