William Larue Weller is a name that you (should) know if you drink bourbon. Credited as one of the greatest bourbon innovators of the 19th century, Mr. Weller is attributed as the creator of wheated bourbon. Paying homage to this, the Weller line of wheated bourbons exists to this day, produced by Buffalo Trace. That being said no expression of the Weller line pays higher respect to the man himself than the bottle that exhibits his full name, William Larue Weller (WLW).
A Bugatti amongst bourbons, WLW is a vintage dated and venerable wheated bourbon, not so much for its appealing 12 year age statement, but more for its lack of chill-filtration and cask strength proofs. WLW is one of the five limited edition whiskies released annually in the Fall by Buffalo Trace under the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) umbrella and is arguably the most elusive and sought after of the five.
Scarcity, however hasn’t plagued just the BTAC – Weller bourbons in general have become almost impossible to find in recent years due to strict allocations and ravenous hording, and when you can find them they usually cost well above MSRP. It’s unfortunate as this is a result in part by their older cousin’s, the Van Winkles, popularity. Van Winkle and Weller juice share the same DNA, both coming from Buffalo Trace’s wheated mash bill and thus Weller bourbons (Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller ‘Antique’ 107 & Weller 12) have experienced an almost eradicated state from store shelves – and all because of “wheated family ties” if you will. Nonetheless, being bottled at cask strength and non-chill filtered, WLW is quite a different beast than any other wheated bourbon coming out of Buffalo Trace and is the epitome of a barrel proof bourbon, even exhibiting the slightest barrel sediment inside its syrup like viscosity.
2014 William Larue Weller
ABV: 70.1% // 140.2 proof
Age: 12 years and 3 months
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace Wheated Mash Bill (undisclosed)
Barrel Total: 39 Barrels
Location: Warehouses D, K & L // Floors 2, 3, 4 & 6
Color: Dark, dark russet, with textures of molasses syrup & pan reduced dark chocolate.
Nose: The most gorgeous of wheated noses I’ve witnessed to date; peaches, nectarines, blood oranges, strawberries, about to burst, soaked in caramel, interwoven with incredibly pronounced and crystal clear notes of wheat – rich, symphonic and in 4k resolution, not grainy at all. Pun intended. Rich caramel unfolds off the fruit as your glass opens up revealing cinnamon roll dough and caramel covered green apples freshly out of the oven…then some chocolate strawberry. Notes of cinnamon dusted rich oak and baking spices are perfectly balanced by the caramel and fruit notes. Old, well polished dark mahogany furniture. One could get lost in this nose for a good hour. Literally it just evolves and evolves…melted butter on freshly baked bread crust with granulated cane sugar sprinkled over it and their is a Cheerios cereal note. Drizzle all over that a healthy dose of honey. Sweet, wet cigar filled humidor scents find your nose towards the end with some horse saddle, polished no doubt with whatever was used for the mahogany furniture and the scent of an old, dry barn nearby is charming. Their is no way of escaping the alcohol vapors at 140.2 proof so navigate this carefully. You’ll find a slight but sweet layer of paint thinner towards the mid to back nose with splinters of vanilla shooting through, but all thats underneath a blueberry reduction. The sweet baking spices keep coming back around..ones my mom uses during the holidays for baking, the scents flood the whole house, just as they’re flooding my glass right now. These spices do compete however with those that you would find in the most richly scented old school confectionary shop. Chocolate apricots say a warm farewell.
Palate: From the second it hits your tongue, deep rich baking spices erupt: crushed cinnamon stick, BIG clove and red cedary, woody spices. More caramel from the nose with dark mocha and even darker chocolate, but less fruit up front. Wheat from the nose shows back up too, and in spades – the clearest wheat I’ve ever tasted in a bourbon. Their is a big, BIG alcohol kick that starts halfway through the sip but can be reduced by simply letting the glass sit for a while before diving in. Dense, thick crushed black peppercorns and molten, melting Demerara sugars fight for attention on your tongue while a lemon note brightly asserts itself. Their is a profound sense of oak wood, almost toasted oak with tannins exhibiting a flamboyant depth of dryness but is still kept in balance – not all in your face oak like an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. Savory swirls of hickory exhale off your palate and usher you into the finish. Incredibly oily mouthfeel, covering every square atom of your mouth leaving no taste bud untouched. Truly rich and almost beyond words.
Finish: Decadent and long. Unsalted, old fashioned popcorn (not from a microwaveable bag). Black coffee and bitter barrel char – the usual suspects of a “Hazmat” proof bourbon. Sweet pipe tobacco and some moist cigar as well. Unbelievable how long and rich this finish is…speaking of cigars, their is no question that this is the kind of bourbon Pappy Van Winkle would have been sipping along side his stogie. Hickory smoke, dry tannins and wood polish notes lead into the sweeter end of the finish which is all Pizzelle cookie dough, bubble gum fading to wintergreen gum, dark melted chocolate, finely grated crushed nuts, red smoked cedar wood, crushed cinnamon and BIG nutmeg. Smoky, again, on its final legs but not in the scotch sense….more from the previous dark chocolate melting for the fresh strawberry note that bids a final farewell.
Bourbon and House Rating: 98.5
At 70.1% abv, this is the highest proof WLW released to date, and trust me when I say this “Hazmat” bourbon speaks volumes in richness through that raw power. Held within the 140 proof is some of the most full flavored bourbon I’ve ever tasted. The baking spices, oak and polished wood notes are elegant almost surpasses description; the fruit, confectionary caramels and wheat are mouth watering. Although this years WLW is just over 12 years, it has a caliber of age that resonates beyond that. Not so much that it tastes that it spent more than 12 years in the cask but that it posses an air of reminiscence, an old-time sense of sophistication. I imagine this is what the an eloquently furnished room in the southern United State’s most luxurious plantation mansion would have smelled like, possessing a sense of romantic rusticism of the mid 19th century.
William Larue Weller has become the most coveted of the BTAC, that is, amongst the most faithful and devoted bourbon connoisseurs. Stagg is without doubt the most popular and holds a crown from its rightfully earned exaltation – at every lottery or allocation I’ve ever been part of its the first to be picked amongst the ravenous crowds. ER17 boasts considerable fame as well and, in my opinion, is mostly due to ER’s name recognition, age and for those who simply prefer to pass on the barrel proofers. But WLW’s prominence has somehow managed to linger, ever so slightly, in the shadow of Stagg and ER17. With the popularity of its cousins, the Van Winkles, and the spreading gospel of wheated bourbons though, WLW is quickly gaining more and more popularity with each passing year. Mash bill aside, WLW is every bit of a juggernaut as Stagg and posses the refinement and debonair of an aged ER17 – and the 2014 WLW is proof of this.
A very, very fond thanks goes out to John Reimer for helping me get this bottle. John and I worked together years back, and in fact, he taught me a lot about the world of wine, beer and spirits. John is without question one of the most knowledgable people I know when it comes to the world of alcohol. He is a wealth of knowledge and I raise my glass to him, for without his assistance in acquiring this bottle, I don’t know if i’d be here enjoying a glass of 2014’s WLW and writing this review. Thank you John.