The whiskeys Van Winkle are lauded as the best bourbons by some and dismissed as over-aged hype by others. One thing is for certain: The line of aged spirits — ranging in maturity from 10 to 23 years — is increasingly difficult to find. When they are found, they can command a price tag of up to $100 a shot.
So when the Lobby Bar at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes recently began offering a tasting flight of 1-ounce pours of four Van Winkle expressions (including several of the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkles) for $75, it could have easily been an ill-timed April Fool's number. But this off-menu offer is no joke.
The hype around Van Winkle bourbons exists because they are distinctively smooth and somewhat sweet thanks to the presence of wheat, rather than rye, in their mash bill. So-called "wheated whiskies" are commonplace (Maker's Mark and Bernheim Original are two popular examples), but what sets Van Winkle's apart is a combination of lengthy aging, revered heritage and supreme scarcity.
Every autumn, 7,500 cases of the bourbon leave the Buffalo Trace facility in Frankfort, Kentucky, where they're aged and distilled under contract. Compare that to Jim Beam's 21 million cases of annual production and you start to understand how precious Pappy really is.
So how did a waterfront resort in L.A. County wrangle all these unicorns into one stable?
"We get one bottle a quarter, depending on how much Buffalo Trace we sell," explains beverage manager Drew Conly. "But we wanted to do something special with it, so we hoarded a few bottles until we had enough to make it an event."
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The first pours from bottles of the 10-, 12-, 15- and 20-year varieties happened on Father's Day during a special offer Terranea dubbed "Pappy for Your Pappy." The remaining whiskey is now available to the general public during operating hours on a get-it-til-it's-gone basis. All you have to do is ask.
Lobby Bar at Terranea Resort, 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes; (310) 265-2800, terranea.com.