I thought a lot about what my first review should be for Bourbon and House and decided to talk a little on one of my favorite bourbons, W.L. Weller 12 year – a wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace (BT). To be honest, I debated about doing my first review on one of the more elusive, very rare and highly inflated bourbons out there. After all, who doesn’t like a grand entrance, and what better way to assert what is understood in the bourbon world as “bragging rights” than to post picture after picture and review after review on some of the rarest whiskeys in the world; the Pappy Van Winkles, the Jefferson Presidential Reserve and Sazerac 18’s and the Willet Single Barrel Family Estate Reserve’s of the world…
Not to say that I don’t love, enjoy, and own some of those whiskeys, but I felt instead that it was more important to start from the ground up when looking at bourbon, to help understand it from a fundamental standpoint. And that is exactly why I chose to review the W.L. Weller 12 year as my first bourbon. I find humble beginnings to be important after all and what better way than with the self titled, “Original Wheated Bourbon”. This bourbon is generally ignored by anyone outside of bourbon aficionados and I felt the W.L. Weller deserved a little more attention than it has gotten in recent years; although its attention, and reputation, has increased to the point where this bottle is now selling for 300 – 400% markup in some states and thats IF you can find it.
If anyone is to thank for this, look no further than to Julian Van Winkle III, President of Old Rip Van Winkle “Distillery” (all Van Winkles are now distilled, aged and bottled out of Buffalo Trace) and grandson of Pappy Van Winkle himself. In a video* uploaded to YouTube on May 22, 2013, Julian is quoted, during a small private tasting at a Rhode Island liquor store, saying “I buy this whiskey and drink it (Weller whiskey)…it’s a younger version of ours…(Old Rip Van Winkle, Pappy Van Winkle)”. This became a huge factor that pushed the now allocated Weller products into near extinction.
In and of itself, what Julian Van Winkle III thinks of this bourbon has nothing to do with the bourbon itself, and should not effect how you, I or anyone else views this bourbon. Bourbon is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion and views – thats the beauty of bourbon, and whiskey in general. However it is important to understand why this seemingly humble bourbon will be so hard to come by apart from said video above, because contrary to what many say or want to believe, its direct roots to the Van Winkle line of bourbons is very tangible. One common statement you will hear about W.L. Weller 12 year, is that it is “basically Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year Old ‘Lot B’”, the 12 year old expression in the Van Winkle line. Their is some truth to this, however much of what you hear will be highly exaggerated.
Let me help clear up the air. Buffalo Trace produces several kinds of bourbon with different mash bills which is essentially the ingredients that make up bourbon. They produce a Low Rye mash bill bourbon, High Rye mash bill bourbon, and a wheated bourbon (along with a very, very long list of experimental bourbons). What comes out of Buffalo Trace’s wheated bourbon stock becomes several different bourbons, the two most commonly known being Weller and Van Winkle Bourbons. Following that path of thought, Weller and Van Winkle bourbons come from the same source, Buffalo Trace’s wheated bourbon stock – the only difference is that Weller is simply distilled, aged, (blended) and dumped into bottles where as the Van Winkle bourbon is hand selected from chosen barrels by Julian Van Winkle III, his son Preston and a few others, and then bottled based on if the the sampled whiskies met Julian’s expectations. Therefore, what is in your bottle of W.L. Weller 12, could have potentially, in theory, become Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year Old ‘Lot B’, however it didn’t make the cut – and wasn’t chosen by Julian, therefore it didn’t become a Van Winkle bourbon. So bottom line is, yes, Weller 12 and Van Winkle 12 are similar in nature but they ARE NOT the same thing. Hand selecting barrels of bourbon and blending the whiskey are both an art form, and can potentially create huge variations which is how two bourbons coming from the same source can be so different yet have fundamental similarities. Make sense?
The last thing I wanted to do was to ramble on about the history of wheated bourbons and Pappy Van Winkle and the similarities it does or doesn’t have with W. L. Weller bourbons so I will save that for a future post on wheated bourbons. A little bit more about W.L.Weller 12 year before getting into the profile. Weller bourbons, as mentioned earlier, are credited to being the first “wheated” bourbons (circa 1849). William Larue Weller more specifically, is credited as being the first man to replace the rye traditionally found in bourbon, with wheat, creating a “wheated” bourbon. So where most bourbons use rye, W.L.Weller 12 uses wheat along with the mandatory minimum of 51% corn, which is a fundamental part of what makes bourbon, bourbon. This bourbon is aged for 12 years and is distilled to 90 proof, 45% alcohol by volume.
W.L.Weller 12 Year
ABV: 45% // 90 proof
Nose: Big pineapple and bubble gum dominate the front of this nose while soft brown sugars overlay a wheated foundation. Dark berries – grapes and blueberries – make themselves assertive with a dollop of cake frosting on the nose. Notes of snickerdoodle cookies and orange frosting come alive with lots of old time confectionery candies on this one. Their is a nice cooked pineapple note that is really pleasant. Cinnamon raisin and sweet bread dough show up with a healthy dose of vanilla and thick nostalgic Christmas spices to finish out the nose.
Palate: The classic BT wheated profile at its best. Old school hard candy shell leads to light pepper spices and buttered toasty notes. Harnessed barrel char makes itself known with a whisper. Some of the dark berry notes shine through from the nose mid palate with lots of wheat. Wisps of hickory trail the back end with polished oak and vanilla cake crumbs rounding out the palate. Again, tons of confectionery.
Finish: A sweet grapiness that I get with a lot of BT’s products shows up. Definitive furniture polish and brown sugars come back around. Granulated sugars as well create a solidified layer on your tongue like the one you’d find after freshly scorching a small dish of Creme Brûlée. Cake frosting covers the inside of your mouth. Medium spice, coffee beans and some char close things out. Close to perfectly sweet finish. Medium in length.
Bourbon and House Rating: 91
So sweet and delicious – from nose to finish, the perfect dessert bourbon. A true classic. Drinks incredibly smooth and really shows how a bourbon can shine at that sweet spot of 12 years. Overall, I think this bourbon is one of the best values on the market, IF you can find it at or around MSRP ($25-$35). Retailers will be looking for every chance to bump up the price or make you jump through hoops just to acquire a bottle of this, so be weary of anyone selling this bottle in the excess of $60+. I’ll leave it up to you, to decide if this bourbon is worth that much money to you. Bottom line, if you see this bourbon for anywhere around $30, BUY IT.