Living in the Bay Area, like in any major metropolitan area, it can be taxing trying to keep up on everything going on within the whiskey world – particularly as it pertains to the whiskey community here. Thats why I always love when clients help me out by dropping me juicy morsels of intel such as when certain stores will be hosting lotteries for limited whiskeys, when something allocated is coming in, or in the case of this review when a store purchases a barrel of something. Especially when that barrel is a barrel of Old Weller Antique 107 (OW107), a wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace. I was informed that Healthy Spirits, a small three (soon to be four) store chain in San Francisco that specializes in whiskey, had acquired such a barrel. Upon hearing this, my first thoughts were utter disbelief followed by the assumption that their probably weren’t any bottles left. Nonetheless I called them up shortly afterwards and found out they had just pushed a fresh case out to the shelf, so I headed over immediately and secured a bottle.
Healthy Spirits is one of several establishments in San Francisco that is a must stop if you’re ever in the Bay Area and looking for some good whiskey. They host a good selection of all things bourbon and rye…really anything whiskey in general, not to mention beer as well. Whats most impressive though is they typically have a very healthy (pun intended) variety of Barrel Selects on the shelf at any given time, from Buffalo Trace products to small domestic craft distilleries, and their prices are always very reasonable with very little markup. For example their bottle of OW107 Barrel Select are $29.99 – roughly 5(ish) dollars over MSRP. Now, as most of you know I’m writing from the standpoint of someone in CA and bearing that in mind, the chances of finding ANY Weller product whatsoever is close to zero, let alone a Barrel Select Weller. Not to mention that this is sitting on a shelf in San Francisco, where a bottle of Weller 12 will set you back $59.99, that is to those who can even find it (maybe twice a year if your lucky). Considering all that $29.99 is a fantastic price.
Before continuing on to the whiskey itself let me clarify what a “Barrel Select” is. A Barrel Select is a single barrel that has been selected out of a number of samples (each coming from a single barrel) that you can either have the distillery send to you, or that you can sample at the distillery itself – in this case Buffalo Trace, but other distilleries such as Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Heaven Hill all offer similar programs. Once you’ve selected your sample, Buffalo Trace will bottle that barrel of bourbon and send you the bottles. Buffalo Trace offers this Barrel Select program to anyone who wants to buy an entire single barrel of bourbon including Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, and as this review obviously indicates, Weller. However, in recent years it has become increasingly hard (and thats an understatement) to find Blanton’s, Elmer or especially Weller Barrel Selects because of their astronomically high demand – however they are out there. (If you read my review of the **2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel, I touched ever so briefly on this topic in context to Four Roses).
OW107 is one of the current four Weller expressions that come from Buffalo Trace, is aged 6-7 years and is bottled at 107 proof.
Old Weller Antique 107, Healthy Spirits Single Barrel #088
ABV: 53.5% // 107 proof
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace’s Wheated Mash Bill (undisclosed)
Color: Russet Copper
Nose: Sweeter than the standard OW107 nose – banana and cookie dough, caramel and big butterscotch. Signature burnt toast is also present but a little more refined this time around. Not as harsh and spicy as the typical profile – cinnamon spice, cloves, christmas spices and lemon zest. Red apples, red cherries and raspberry puree in good doses. Spices become faint towards the backdrop where you find mostly hard candy shell – the old school kind, like Brach’s cherry candies I had as a child. Bazooka bubble gum has a few soft words to say with some apple juice and then the exit is all hickory wood and faint whispers of oak.
Palate: From the start, familiar OW107 notes greet you. Big brown sugars, caramel, assertive wheat and hard candy shell. Black pepper and charred cinnamon. Some caramel and thick butterscotch become quickly overshadowed by the classic OW107 barrel char and alcoholic astringency that hits from mid palate to the back – slightly bitter. Texture is on the thicker side with medium oils. Where this single barrel expression of OW107 shines brighter than the standard expression is with the dark caramels and chocolate notes. Also, unlike the regular expression, the aforementioned alcoholic astringency wasn’t as strong, but its definitly there. You’re char comes more in the form of heavily charred toast doused with cinnamon dust as opposed to barrel char. Some light menthol dryness but not in the rye sense (obviously) which comes on the back palate with medium spices, some grape juice and lastly the unmistakable charred barrel appears for the finale.
Finish: Caramel, brown sugars, and big butterscotch with a lumbering medley of spices which come in as a soft burst. Some buttery burnt toast. Much calmer of a finish than the standard OW107. Their is an affirmative sense of wheat as well that is much clearer from the regular bottlings. It’s the caramels and big butterscotch though, that take the absolute spotlight on this finish and that which fundamentally distinguish this single barrel apart from your standard OW107. Prob the most pleasant nuance of any Buffalo Trace Barrel Select I’ve ever tasted, your mouth feels like its doused in liquid butterscotch which definitely sets this apart as sweeter and possessing a far more enjoyable finish. Traces of paper and the signature Buffalo Trace corn are intertwined through the molten butterscotch sweetness as wisps of black cracked peppers say farewell. Finish is medium-long in length.
Bourbon and House Rating: 88.5
I felt the classic, special qualities of the standard OW107 were emphasized through the nuances that one could only get through careful single barrel selection. Yes, there def is still the bitter alcoholic astringency that is signature for this expression and that I was somehow hoping would be missing from this barrel. But had that been the case, this just wouldn’t be OW107 at all, now would it. This single barrel is much sweeter, just as chewy if not slightly more oily and at $29.99 was more than worth it. Healthy Spirits should have nicknamed this pick “Butterscotch Bomb”. Weller 107, to me, is still one of if not the best wheaters on the market and as a single barrel expression with little to no price bump, this has to be one of the all around best value bourbons I’ve purchased all year. I feel its safe to recommend that if you find yourself in front of a Barrel Select of OW107 on the shelf just pull the trigger. Chances are, you’ll get a great barrel that differs enough from the standard OW107 to give you a little something extra, and worst case scenario, well…you have another bottle of OW107 for your home bar for those annoying guests who always ask for a glass of your bottle of Pappy but wouldn’t know the difference between that and a jug of Old Crow. If possible head over to Healthy Spirits soon and grab a bottle – this one’s special and they won’t last long.