The legendary bourbon Pappy Van Winkle is the gold standard by which all other bourbons are judged. At least that's what Buffalo Trace, the distiller, would like you to believe. However, given the astronomical price and lack of availability of Pappy (also known under its distillery name of Old Rip Van Winkle), it seems that many consumers agree.

The legendary but unavailable "wheat" bourbons.

One unique aspect of the Pappy Van Winkle line is that it is a wheated bourbon. Quick recap: For a spirit to be called a bourbon, it needs to have a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn, be aged in new, charred oak barrels and be free from additives. But beyond the requirement that corn be the dominant grain, what comes next is up to the distiller. Typically, the second dominant grain is rye or barley. However, a bourbon that uses wheat as its secondary grain is called a wheated bourbon and many drinkers claim it leads to a smoother spirit that has more sweetness and fruit flavors. It has a "creamy" mouthfeel and lacks the burn even at higher proofs.

And Pappy Van Winkle is undeniably a good tasting bourbon. In 1996, the Beverage Testing Institute scored the 20-year release a 99 out of 100. This was the highest rating the institute ever awarded a whiskey. This combined with the fact that the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery only produces a few thousand cases per year (approximately 84,000 bottles) has meant the price has skyrocketed. For comparison, your $20 bottle of Jack Daniels is produced at the rate of 100 million bottles per year!

Let's look at the street price of some common versions of Pappy.

Age Proof Street Price
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 years 107 $1,000
Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot "B" 12 years 90 $1,100
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 years 107 $2,600
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 years 90 $3,500
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 years 96 $4,500

All of this assumes that you can even find a store that has a bottle. In most places and for most people, Pappy of any age is "un-obtainium." So, whether you consider Pappy to be overpriced hype or you simply can't find a bottle, here are the best alternatives to Pappy.

Maker's Mark

Let's get this one out of the way. Maker's Mark is the most famous every day wheated bourbon. It is so popular and affordable that it could be called the wheated Jack Daniels. In fact, most people don't even realize that it is a wheated bourbon. What they do notice is that when compared to similarly priced whisky, Maker's Mark has a noticeably sweeter taste. This is due to the wheat! So while Maker's Mark is not a high end bourbon, the fact that it is wheated makes it easily sip-able straight or on the rocks.

Maker's Mark - The most popular wheat bourbon.

Here is a good test. Grab an old empty bottle of Pappy (you can get just the bottle for $70 on Ebay!) and fill it with Maker's Mark. Trust me, it is going to taste a whole lot better.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Maker's Mark 6 years 90 16% $25

Maker's Mark 46

Maker's Mark Distillery are not idiots and when they saw the popularity of wheated bourbon rising, they did something that they had not done since the 1950s. They came out with a more refined version called Maker's 46. This wheated bourbon is aged longer and includes seared French oak staves inserted into the aging barrels. This adds more vanilla and caramel notes and creates a more complex flavor.

Maker's Mark 46 - Added French oak staves for more complex flavor.

At a price of about $10 more than regular Maker's Mark, this is one of the best, affordable alternatives to Pappy's.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Maker's Mark 46 7 years 94 16% $38

Weller Antique 107

Distilled by Buffalo Trace and coming in a 107 proof, Weller Antique 107 also known as Old Weller Antique or just OWA, is thought to have a mash-bill that is very similar to Old Rip Van Winkle. Conspiracy theorists claim that it is the same, and the best are hand selected to become Pappys while the rest remain Wellers. It's just a theory, but there is a reason why "bourbon geeks" who have tasted both refer to Old Weller Antique as a "Poor Man’s Pappy." Unfortunately, the secret must have gotten out since the street price of Weller Antique 107 is now over $100, which is double the MSRP.

Old Weller Antique 107 - Getting hard to find and pricey.

If you can find a bottle of OWA, you should get it. It will probably be the closest in taste to Pappys that you'll find. Weller also offers a 90 proof Special Reserve. However this has been generally panned (and I have to agree) as not being as tasty as OWA. I would say it is overly tannic on the finish and feels light or watered down probably due to being aged for less time.

Weller Special Reserve - The youngest version of the Weller line.

There is one good use for Special Reserve. There is a popular "hack" that involves mixing OWA with Special Reserve to recreate the taste of Pappys.

Poor Man's Pappy
60 percent Old Weller Antique 107
40 percent Weller Special Reserve

This home blended bourbon, which some have named "Franken-Winkle," shows just how far some enthusiasts will go to recreate that Pappy taste. Also, don't forget to grab an empty Pappy bottle on Ebay to complete the hack.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Weller Antique 107 7-8 years 107 Undisclosed $200
Weller Special Reserve 7 years 90 Undisclosed $90

Jefferson Reserve 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon

Named Whisky of the Year in 2019 by Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, Jefferson Reserve 1792 has also seen its popularity and price skyrocket. At 92.2 proof, it is a well balanced blend of sweet and dry notes. There are hints of dried fruit along with the typical vanilla, toffee, and caramel. Like most good wheaters, 1792 has a full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel.

Jefferson Reserve 1792 - Sweet wheat is very sweet.

The main issue with 1792 is finding it at a reasonable price. The street price can be high but is still no where near that of Pappys. Remember, that in today's crazy bourbon market, MSRP means almost nothing.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Jefferson Reserve 1792 8 years 91.2 Undisclosed $180

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond

This is a bi-annual release from Heaven Hill that distinguishes itself using green labels for spring and black labels for fall. The age varies with each edition but has ranged from 9 to 15 years. The bottled-in-bond designation means that the spirit must be aged for at least four years and bottled at precisely 100 proof. It also must be crafted by a single distiller at a single distillery and all within one season. Given these rules, not too many distillers take the time and effort to meet these stringent requirements.

Old Fitz BIB - Getting pricey and note that each year is a different age.

Old Fitz Bottled in Bond comes in a cool old-school decanter. So when you are done, you can keep the bottle for your other bourbons. Maybe as storage for a Poor Man's Pappy blend?

Unfortunately, even Old Fitz is getting hard to find and expensive. But if you are looking for an alternative to a $2,000 bottle of Pappys, you are going to have to expect to pay.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Old Fitzgerald BIB 9-14 years 100 20% $525

McKenzie Bottled-in-Bond Wheated Bourbon

If you can't find Old Fitz, try looking for McKenzie Bottled-in-Bond Wheated Bourbon Whiskey. Located on the shore of Lake Seneca in New York, it comes from one of the best craft distilleries. Using locally source grain grown in upstate New York, McKenzie is aged at least 4 years and bottled at 100 proof. As for taste, McKenzie delivers a rich, spicy, and flavorful spirit with a super creamy mouthfeel.

McKenzie BIB - Great alternative to Old Fitz BIB.

One of the common misconceptions is that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's Beverage Alcohol Manual, bourbon must be produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80 percent alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5 percent alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers. Nowhere in the rules does it state that bourbon must be distilled in Kentucky. In fact, before prohibition, over half of all bourbon distilled was done outside of Kentucky. So while today Kentucky is at the heart of bourbon making, it is not a requirement.

At $50 a bottle, this New York craft wheated bourbon is an excellent alternative to Pappy and it should be nowhere near as difficult to find.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
McKenzie BIB 4-5 years 100 20% $50

Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon

This craft distillery founded in 2006 is the first legal bourbon distillery in the state of Texas. Since then, Garrison Brothers has received a ton of awards including the Double Gold from the San Francisco World Spirit Competition in 2020. In fact, their wheated bourbon was awarded a silver medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Garrison Brothers - No question it's from the Lone Star State.

This Texas bourbon offers deep, rich flavor and fantastic mouthfeel. Tasting notes include nutmeg, vanilla, and caramelized oranges. The finish is ultra smooth with a hint of chocolate and espresso.

The Texas Whiskey Association has designated this as a Certified Texas Whiskey, which means the entire production from grain to glass is all done in the lone star state. At about $85 a bottle, this is a great alternative to Pappy and in terms of bottle design could not be more different -- in a good way!

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Garrison Brothers 4 years 94 15% $85

Wyoming Whiskey Wheated Bourbon

Wyoming Whiskey was founded in 2009 and is Wyoming's first (at least legal) whiskey distillery. This wheated bourbon is aged for at least five years and bottled at 88 proof.

Wyoming Whiskey - The first legal whiskey distillery in Wyoming.

As a small batch craft distiller, this means that each batch (approximately 15 barrels) can and does vary in flavor. But this is what makes craft distillers so special. In fact, in the beginning, the distillery hired a former Master Distiller from Maker's Mark to get up and running.

This bourbon has both the spicy, peppery flavor with notes of vanilla and cherry. Wyoming Whiskey Wheated Bourbon is priced at $40 a bottle and is fairly available.

Age Proof Wheat Content Street Price
Wyoming Whiskey 5 years 88 20% $40


So there you have it. Some great alternatives to the legendary (but often unavailable) Old Rip Van Winkle wheated bourbon. Cheers!

What do you think? Have your tried some of these? How do they compare to Pappys? Got any suggestions for alternatives? Please write them in the comments below.