Whether you’re a casual admirer of America’s cardinal spirit—bourbon—a die-hard enthusiast, or even an abstaining onlooker, you’ve no doubt heard the name “Pappy’s” being tossed about increasingly in recent years. The name stems from the most notorious bourbon the world over: Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. Cigar Dojo ranked our selections for The 5 Best Bourbons in 2013 and Pappy’s topped the list, scoring both the number one and two spots (20-yr and 15-yr, respectively).
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve is distilled by the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, a subsidiary of Buffalo Trace Distillery, located in Frankfort, KY. The collection spans three different expressions (15 year, 20 year, and 23 year), as well as other variants such as Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year, Van Winkle Special Reserve (Lot “B”), and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. These whiskeys undisputedly lead the charge of America’s (and the world, to an extent) current obsession with bourbon/whiskey.
SEE ALSO: Best Bourbon 30 Dollars And Under
Without diving too deep into the exhaustive lore behind Pappy Van Winkle (this is a cigar review, after all), the basic premise is that this collection of family-controlled whiskeys has become one of the most sought-after commodities across the country over the past few years. While bottles once gathered dust and could simply be plucked from store shelves like sliced bread, the hype began to build in the mid-2000s—ramping up year after year until the wheat-heavy liquor reached secondary market prices of roughly 1,500% greater than MSRP! Of course, the whole issue arises from a disproportionate ratio of supply vs. demand, but bourbon poses the unique dilemma of time being the operative ingredient (hence the name, Rip Van Winkle), meaning it could be some time before these two factors reach a more sensible balance.
Capitalizing on the surge of popularity in the Pappy brand, great granddaughters of Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle (i.e. the original Pappy) formed Pappy & Company in 2013 as a means to offer merchandise and other collaborations bearing the Pappy Van Winkle imagery. The most notable of these collaborations is a partnership with cigar manufacturer Drew Estate, where Pappy & Co. began offering Van Winkle-inspired cigars through their website in 2014.
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Pappy Van Winkle Tradition Belicoso Fino Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro
- Binder: Indonesia
- Filler: Nicaragua | Dominican Republic
- Factory: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate (Nicaragua)
- Production: Limited/Seasonal (Drew Diplomat Exclusive)
- Vitola: 5″ x 50 “Belicoso Fino”
- Price: $24.60 (MSRP)
Drew Estate first announced the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve cigar in 2014 to the delight of cigar/bourbon enthusiasts the world over. Interestingly, the cigar’s details were kept somewhat ambiguous, with fans not knowing whether the blend had been aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels or if they were simply intended to be paired with the bourbon. After the announcement, the cigars went through many changes, including the name and even the blend. The cigars are now known as Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented, and use a unique blend that includes a Kentucky Fire Cured wrapper (as one of the cigar’s two wrappers) that is barrel-fermented—where the leaves are highly compressed in wooden barrels using screw jacks—a technique found in certain pipe tobaccos.
Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented cigars were made in very small batches at Drew Estate’s factory in Nicaragua, with the cigars selling out quickly through Pappy & Co. when they were periodically made available. The cigars have since become readily available, with Pappy & Co. stating “we have invested even more into our exclusive manufacturing partnership with Drew Estate. […] No pre-ordering, no long wait-times and no need to hide them away for special occasions.”
At IPCPR 2016, Drew Estate showcased a new blend under the Pappy name. The cigar’s name/blend/appearance had not been finalized, but was advertised as making use of a more traditional smoking experience. One year later, the cigars officially debuted at IPCPR 2017 under the name Pappy Van Winkle Tradition. Differing from the original Pappy cigars, Tradition uses a traditional blend, crafted by Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera in 2010.
Unlike the original Pappy cigars, Pappy Van Winkle Tradition is being offered nationwide, where authorized “Drew Diplomat” retailers received small allotments of the cigars beginning on September 30th, coinciding with “Pappy Day” on October 1st (when Old Rip Van Winkle traditionally reveals release details to wholesalers for their annual whiskey release).
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Arriving in seven sizes (three of which are exclusives), Pappy Van Winkle Tradition is an ultra premium in terms of pricing, ranging from $15 to $25 per cigar (compared to $13 to $17 of the Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented cigar). The look is similar to to all other Pappy-branded products, showing an old photo of Julian Van Winkle smoking a cigar. The bands feature a new red color scheme that is more akin to the 20-year vintage of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbon. There is also a new sub-band that identifies the cigar as “Tradition.” The look is about what you’d expect, however, I can’t help but notice the lack of embossings, metal foils, and other “fancifications” I’d expect to find on a cigar of this price.
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Despite not being the largest size, the Belicoso Fino is the priciest of the bunch—most likely due to its more intricate shape. The cigar’s wrapper is slightly darker than medium brown, about Colorado shade (a little darker than the cigar’s sister blend, Herrera Estelí). There is a smooth, lightly fuzzy feel to the wrapper, showing few veins and visible, yet flush seams. The bunch is quite firm, giving the cigar a hard, papier-mâché-like exterior.
On the wrapper, there are notes of hay, cedar, and citrus, and the foot aroma adds chocolatey nuances to the mixture. With a double guillotine cut, the pre-light draw shows a medium-firm resistance and notes of corn chips, cherry fruit, and an underlying terrarium tone.
Pappy Van Winkle Tradition Belicoso Fino lights up with spicy notes of raw peppercorns. The second puff is sweeter, and the third sweeter still. Each draw reveals a little more to the cigar’s profile, with eventual notes of citrus, cedar, sweet butter, and tangy sourdough bread. The profile is bright and classic, being fairly mellow in overall body.
The cigar’s construction is exemplar of the La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate factory, gathering roughly two inches of stark white ash before falling from the cigar. The draw seemed slightly more firm than ideal on most samples, though this could be remedied with a deeper cut—a common benefit of the belicoso vitola. Even still, the smoke output was around medium and was satisfactory throughout.
Nearing the halfway point, there is an added zip of spice in the nostrils, accompanied by a semi-sweet note of anise/black licorice. The smoking experience is classic and clean, having a medium-minus strength, medium flavor, and medium body.
In the final third, the Tradition goes out with a bang, boosting the spice and adding fresh notes of coffee liquor, toffee sweetness, and toasted bread. The cigar has a long burn time for its size and retains its desirable flavors longer than expected, allowing most samples to be nubbed farther down than I’m often willing to go.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Yes and no. Does Pappy Van Winkle Tradition have enough enjoyable flavors, adequate draw and construction, and overall enjoyment to warrant future tastings? Absolutely, but it’s price is hard for me to get around. Sure, there are a handful of luxury-priced cigars that I can recommend without pause (OpusX, Plasencia Alma Fuerte, Illusione Haut 10, and a handful of Padróns, to name a few), but this isn’t exactly the category that most cigar smokers can swing on a whim. In this category, the cigar needs a SERIOUS “it factor” to set itself apart, something you can’t exactly find elsewhere for a much lower price and ease of procurement. In my opinion, the Tradition smokes quite similarly to Drew Estate Herrera Estelí, which is available in many more formats, easily found in most humidors, and at a far more affordable price.
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve (or any of the six Old Rip Van Winkle offerings), W.L. Weller (any of the four variants), wheated bourbon (last resort)
- Purchase Recommendation: single cigar
Images without Cigar Dojo watermark were provided by Drew Estate
- Pairs great with bourbon
- Clean, classic profile can be enjoyed by most anyone
- Solid construction, ash lasting roughly 2"
- High price point
- Expected more luxurious presentation for price
- No real "it factor"