I cracked open the Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 year old that I wrote about on Saturday. As you will recall, Pappy Van Winkle owned the Stitzel-Weller distillery after Prohibition, producing several different brands including Old Fitzgerald and WL Weller, both of which were known for being wheated. Pappy's son sold the distillery in the early 1970s but continued to bottle S-W whiskey under the Van Winkle label. Julian Van Winkle III, Pappy's grandson, continues to do this today. The only problem is that the Stitzel-Weller distillery closed in 1992. So you can do the math: any Van Winkle bottling with an age less than 15 years either contains whiskey older than that or is composed of wheated Bourbon distilled at Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill's Bernheim. In other words, the 15 year old bottling being released this year is the last 15 year old that will be exclusively S-W juice. That's not a problem with the 20 year old, though -- it can be S-W exclusively for the next 5 years.
The conventional wisdom is that wheated Bourbon benefits more from extreme age than Bourbon made from a standard rye recipe. I don't know if this is universally true -- Sazerac 18 year old rye, which of course has more rye in it than ryed Bourbon, is excellent. Regardless, though, 20 years is a long time for Bourbon. To be honest, I think that it was too long for this Bourbon. The nose is the same delicious caramel creme brulee that the 15 year old version has, but the palate is dry and woody. It's not unpleasant, but I prefer the 15 year old. I'm not disappointed that I spent the money for this bottle since I was intensely curious about it and it's both good and enjoyable; but in the future, if I'm confronted with the choice of a bottle of 15 year old and a bottle of 20 year old, I will take the 15 year old and spend the extra $45 on something nice.