Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Hunting for prized bourbon Pappy Van Winkle 23 in Tampa Bay bars

RECOMMENDED READING


It was another slow day at the office — the sun engaged in heated battle with the drawn vertical blinds, the desk fan shifting the temperature just barely back into the double-digits. The coffee in the pot was stale, which meant it was time to crack open the office bourbon, located in the filing cabinet under "B" for "bad day."

It wasn't until I sat down with two ice cubes, a glass and a bottle of John Barleycorn's cheapest that I noticed a portly, serious man waiting in the lobby. I invited him to take a seat, and he took all of it. This was a large fellow, with a tight-fitting suit and a long, thin cigar glued to the corner of his mouth.

He needed me to find something — a whiskey, one of the best. It was called Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23 year old, a bourbon slightly less rare than actual liquid gold, with which it's often compared. I told him I couldn't make any promises, especially with something this rare, but my landlord wouldn't let me turn down another case.

The name Pappy Van Winkle name comes from Julian Van Winkle Sr., who founded the Stitzel-Weller Distillery with partner W.L. Weller in 1935. Toward the end of the century, the distillery was famous for its top bourbon, a corn, rye and wheat blend named after Van Winkle and aged in charred oak for 23 years. When Stitzel-Weller punched out 20 years ago, Buffalo Trace Distillery took over, with grandson Julian Van Winkle III taking the reigns of the Old Rip Van Winkle brand.

I started my search at Luekens Big Town Liquors, a Dunedin shop I often visit when I need something out of the ordinary. The clerk gave it to me straight: Pappy 23 is only delivered once a year, and it's gone before the first dust particle settles on the shelf. Last year it came the week before Thanksgiving — in store on Friday and gone by Sunday morning. This year likely will be a repeat. My best chance to track down Pappy until then was at one of the better local whiskey bars.

To me, that meant St. Pete's Mandarin Hide, a Prohibition era-themed cocktail joint with enough whiskeys to keep you busy for days. Mandarin Hide has been known to stock Pappy Van Winkle releases on occasion, but I was more than a year too late — the last Pappy 23 stock came in back in October 2011, and it was all gone by New Year's.

Earlier this year, Mandarin Hide stocked the Pappy 10-, 13-, and 15-year varieties, so the trail wasn't entirely cold. There also were other bottles from the same distillery, such as Blanton's, the "original single-barrel Bourbon," as well as Buffalo Trace bourbon itself.

Next I headed to Datz, a restaurant in South Tampa whose whiskey menu could double as a small-town phone book. Sure enough, there were several Buffalo Trace selections, like Eagle Rare 10-year, part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection; as well as Bernheim Wheat, which is a wheated Bourbon, just like Pappy. Another variation, Old Van Winkle, was listed, but both that one and the Bernheim were out of stock.

Datz gets Pappy in somewhat reliably, which explains why four different varieties stay on the menu, including the 23, at a cool $45 a pour. Still, Datz can't keep the stuff in stock — the most recent bottle was several months gone, as were its younger siblings.

My search came up emptier than a bottle of Pappy 23 on New Year's Day. It looked like this case was going into storage for another couple of months. I knew my client wouldn't be happy, but I had a bottle in the filing cabinet I could split with him. It was no Pappy 23, but then again, what is?

Comments
Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Thanksgiving can put a heavy burden on the host. We’ve assembled five appetizers that are quick and easy to prep. Some, like our risotto balls and goat-cheese figs, cater to vegetarian diets, so you can be sure to please all your guests. Even if you’...
Published: 11/21/17
Tips for first-time Thanksgiving hosts (or really, any of us)

Tips for first-time Thanksgiving hosts (or really, any of us)

Take small bites.This may be the most crucial advice for Thanksgiving hosts who don’t have years of cooking and coordinating experience to provide the confidence that comes with leading the charge on the year’s biggest cooking day.It’s the first thin...
Published: 11/20/17
American wines red, white and sparkling for your Thanksgiving table

American wines red, white and sparkling for your Thanksgiving table

You’ve dusted off Grandma’s good crystal for the Thanksgiving table. Or you’ve pulled out all your mismatched stems to have enough for every place. Now what to pour?For this most American meal, based on foods native to America — turkey, pumpkin, corn...
Published: 11/20/17
How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

Perfect your crust. Try new filling recipes. Learn some decorating tricks. And prepare for the biggest pie day of the year: Thanksgiving.   From apple to thyme You’ve got the crust down. Now it’s time to choose a filling for your holid...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

From appetizers to pies and everything in between, we’re here to help you put together a low-stress Thanksgiving spread. Here are a few ideas, and be sure to check out our Thanksgiving special report for more tips on preparing for the big day. ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

There are probably a handful of essentials, things you must have on the Thanksgiving table lest some family members begin to riot. But I find there are often a couple of slots open for new things, chances to get weird or creative or, gasp, healthy. ...
Published: 11/17/17
How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

As far as we’re concerned, anything you can make in advance of actual Thanksgiving Day is a good thing, and this make-ahead gravy fits the bill. Plus, Tucker Shaw of America’s Test Kitchen says it tastes just as good as if you made it wi...
Published: 11/17/17
How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

Planning a really good menu is the stealth approach to being a really good cook. Here are some tips from the experts. New York Times Put some thought into the menu What leaves an impression is not only the dishes you can make, but also how they t...
Published: 11/17/17
Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

The turkey is the unquestioned star of the Thanksgiving meal. It can be the most daunting part as well. But with a little planning and care, it doesn’t have to be.   Before you start • A decent roasting pan, one heavy enough that it wo...
Published: 11/16/17
Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

If you want to spend more time with your family and friends this holiday season and less time in the kitchen, our judges suggest serving Hormel’s mashed sweet potatoes. No need to wash, peel and heat potatoes. Just pop the container in the microwave ...
Published: 11/16/17