Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tasting: W.L. Weller 12

W.L. Weller 12 Year
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Age: 12 Years
Proof/ABV: 90 Proof/45%
Release: Ongoing
DK Price: $56USD/350dkk

Points: 90/100

I have absolutely no idea of, how we have been able to avoid writing a review of a bourbon as classic as the W.L.Weller 12? Maybe it’s because we all felt that more than enough has already been said about the Weller 12, or maybe it’s simply because none of us has it in our collection anymore, since the bourbon boom kicked in, and Weller all the sudden became a highly sought after bottle. Then again, if I know the guys right, I bet a couple of them are still holding a bottle or two; at least I do, though it’s not going to last much longer. But luckily samples of this bottle have made it as far as Sweden and Bulgarian, to share with other bourbon loving nuts who couldn’t find a bottle themselves, which makes me happy, because in the end, whiskey is all about sharing isn’t it?

So, why did Weller 12 become so sought after? Well, besides the point that it’s a great wheated bourbon or wheater as many likes to call it, the most important reason is that Weller 12 shares the same mash-bill as one of the most cult, sought after and legendary whiskeys in history; The Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. Like that wasn’t already enough reason to make Weller fly off the shelves, Blake from Bourbor blog wrote an article back in 2013 explaining why and how you can “create” a substitute for Van Winkle Lot B or Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year, by mixing Old Weller Antique and WL Weller 12, and that cleaned out whatever bottles there was left out there.

Once a bourbon for whatever reason has made a name for itself, it’s going to stick, and the next generation bourbon hunters will continue to hunt the same bottles, without even knowing what they are really hunting for.

The 12 year old Weller got two NAS brothers; the Weller Special Reserve (which we have revived) and The Old Weller Antique Original 107 who wasn’t as sought after when the bourbon madness began, but as the 12 year old grew increasingly harder to find, the hunters turned their rifles against those two, which resulted in, that the secondary prices also went sky high on those. The William Larue Weller, who also belongs to the Weller family is a part of Buffalo Trace’s yearly limited release of their Antique Collection, which it became a stable of back in 2005.

Here in Europe, where I am located, The Old Weller Antique original 107 has always been pretty hard to find, but the Weller 12 & the Special Reserve used to be widely available. The retail price was around $56USD for the 12 and $33USD for the special reserve. Nowadays the special reserve is all gone, and the few stores still holding the 12, demand around $187USD for it. Last year Buffalo Trace re-launched the Weller line, with a new bottle and label design, but we are still waiting for those to arrive here.

William Larue Weller was born in 1824. Around 1850 William and his brother Charles opened their whiskey bottling and trading company in Louisville, Kentucky, selling their own brand of whiskey under the slogan “honest whiskey at an honest price".
Some believe that William Larue Weller is the father of, and did invent the Wheated Bourbon (where wheat replaces rye in the mash bill). But the truth is, that the Weller brothers didn’t own and operated their own distillery, but bought their whiskey elsewhere, which means, that they were what we nowadays call NDPs. So their wheated Bourbon was actually made by unknown distillers.

William’s Brother Charles where robbed and murdered in Clarksville in 1862, while on a business trip to Tennessee. After Charles death, William’s brother John and his sons came into the company, which had moved into Louisville’s main street. and was now known as William Larue Weller & Sons. In 1893 W.L. Weller hired Julian Van Winkle as a salesman, nowadays better known as “Pappy”. W.L. Weller passed away in 1899. Ten years after his death, his company merges with A. Ph. Stitzel Distiller in 1909 owned by Julian Van Winkle.

Alex T. Farnsley, Arthur Phillip Stitzel and Julian Van Winkle opened the new Stitzel-Weller Distillery - popularly known as the Old Fitzgerald Distillery - on Derby day in 1935. Stitzel-Weller produced brands such as Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell and Old Weller.

Farnsley passed away in 41, Stitzel in 47 and Van Winkel in 65 leaving the company to his son Julian Van Winkle Jr. but as bourbon began to lose it popularity to other spirits, the distillery was sold in 1972 to Norton-Simon Inc. Later on, a number of their brands were sold off to other companies, such as Heaven Hill and Ancient Age (now Buffalo Trace). Buffalo Trace is still producing the W.L Weller 12.

Before we get down to business and the actual tasting, let’s have a quick look at the wheated mash bill. Usually, a bourbons mash bill contains three ingredients: Corn (51%), rye and barley. To produce a wheated bourbon the distillers replace the Rye portion with wheat. Wheated bourbons are often sweeter than high-rye versions. Examples include Maker's Mark, Heaven Hill’s Larceny and Old Fitzgerald’s.

That classic "wheat bread with honey" profile jumps right at you, as soon as you put your nose to the glass, followed by deep layers of orange zest, candied mandarines, dark chocolate, blackberry and almond.   

I give this one a real good Kentucky chew, letting it coat my mouth. Nicely creamy and very well rounded. The palate is one of those "what you see is what you get" kinds of palates, which are very similar to the notes that your nose just revealed, only this time around, with some whipped vanilla frosting and caramel coming through.

Dry medium finish with leather, gentle pipe tobacco and some dry oak at the tail end.

Overall Impression:
Extremely well balanced. It's sweet, but the sweetness never overpowers the palate. It's got a very nice dryness to it, that keeps the sweet wheat flavours in check. I previously battered the Special reserve for being too sweet for my taste, with a strong ethanol taste overpowering the finish, but the Weller 12 is in a totally other league. Worth all the hype? Well, I’m not a wheated Bourbon guy per se, but I really enjoy the Weller 12. If it’s worth the crazy secondary market prices? I guess that’s up to you, and your wallet to decide. But if you do happen to find yourself a bottle, please do yourself the favour and pop the cork and enjoy it, or in this case break the screw cap, instead of having it sitting on your shelf to look pretty. Because Whisk(e)y was meant to be enjoyed. Cheers 

Photos & Review By: Hasse Berg