Among enthusiasts, W.L. Weller 12 Years has long been considered the “poor man’s Pappy”. That is, until the general public also started seeing it that way. Here’s a recent depressing chart from Diving for Pearls, showing how the U.S. after-market price of W.L. Weller 12 has increased almost 10-fold in the last two years.
It’s pretty wild to see a $26 USD bourbon climb into the stratosphere so quickly. But keep in mind, the after-market price of Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B is more than 3 times higher than W.L. Weller 12 yo, at current levels.
As discussed in my Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old review, the Weller and Van Winkle brands share the same basic DNA. They are produced by the same distiller, share the exact same “wheated” mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof. And in this particular case, they are also aged the same amount of time – to a minimum of 12 years.
So the difference here comes down to just barrel selection – the premium barrels from the best parts of the warehouse get blended into Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B each year, and the rest becomes Weller 12. You would therefore naturally assume that these are not very different (and hence, the incredible run-up in Weller 12 prices in recent years given the current Pappy craze).
But keep in mind barrel selection can make quite a difference – just look at how single cask offerings compare to standard vatted products. Removing all those premium barrels could in theory impoverish the remaining “failed Pappy” vatting of Weller 12 significantly. Does it? Let’s take a look at the current Meta-Critic average scores for these whiskies in my Whisky Database:
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.66 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.86 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.19 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.05 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.76 ± 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.20 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Unlike the Old Rip 10 and OWA comparison (where the Van Winkle expression gets a higher average score), there doesn’t seem to be much of a score difference between W.L. Weller 12 yo and Van Winkle 12 yo. Indeed, the Weller 12 is actually scoring higher on average. But keep in mind there are still relatively few reviews of the hard-to-find Van Winkle 12 (and so, these numbers could change as more reviews come in).
Having recently reviewed the Old Weller Antique 107 Proof (OWA), I thought it would be useful to frame my Weller 12 tasting notes in that context. Again, while all these products share a common mashbill, OWA is much younger (estimated to be 6-7 years old), and bottled at 53.5% ABV – compared to Weller 12 yo at 45% ABV. As Weller 12 has spent about twice as long in oak barrels, it should pack a different flavour profile.
My sample was supplied Reddit member Lasidar. Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Not as sweet as Old Weller Antique 107 (OWA), with more caramel and less vanilla. More dark fruits, like cherry but also blackberry. Not quite as creamy, but it does have more wood spice and some definite leather now (which I like). These presumably reflect its extended time in contact with the oak. I’m not getting any solvent notes – that extra time in the barrel must also have helped those blow off.
Palate: Caramel of course, but more refined than the OWA (with less ethanol burn, naturally). Strong fruit presence coming through, along with wood spices and baking spices, plus a bit of pepper. Seems less like a dessert whisky now, with a richer range of woody flavours. A bit drying as well. Weller 12 definitely tastes its age – a sipper to ponder over.
Finish: Medium-Long. First up are the wood spices, then returning to the caramel, and finally the different fruit flavours (like above, but I’m also getting some pear now). These seem to come and go with time, often returning to the caramel backbone. Dryer than I would have expected (i.e., more astringent).
Definitely a more complex whisky than the Old Weller Antique 107. The Weller 12 is more drying than I expected, and with less sweetness than typical for a wheater. It is also a lot more oaky (as expected).
W.L. Weller 12 seems like a whisky for slow contemplation, compared to the instant gratification of the higher proof and younger OWA. I recommend you try the Weller 12 neat, and take your time to let it open up in the glass. Assuming you can still find it at a reasonable price somewhere, that is.
Interestingly, due to the differing profiles, some people like to blend Weller 12 and Old Weller Antique for the ultimate “poor man’s Pappy”. Specifically, a 60:40 blend of OWA:Weller 12 has been proposed online. Here’s what I find when I blended a portion of my samples at this ratio (left to marry in the bottle for several weeks before trying):
Nose: Closer to the OWA profile, but with only the faintest hint of the solvent. Seems like a good balance in-between the two, but I wish more of the Weller 12’s spicey notes would show through. Some extra brown sugar.
Palate: Sweet, with lots of honey and caramel. A bit hot, it seems more like the OWA initially. The Weller 12 helps bring up the spiciness at the mid-point (but without the astringency). If you are not a fan of the dry, oaky palate of the Weller 12, this may be your best choice of the three.
Finish: Not to sound like a broken record, but again this fits in-between. Doesn’t seem to have quite as much variety or complexity as the straight-up Weller 12, but it lacks its drying finish.
So, is the sum of the parts really greater than the individual components? The answer depends on how you feel about OWA compared to Weller 12.
For OWA fans who find Weller 12 too dry and oaky, this blend does indeed outperform each member individually. You get to keep a lot of the brasher in-your-face characteristics of OWA, but complimented with additional spicy flavour elements from the Weller 12 (especially mid-palate). I can see those who rate OWA higher than Weller 12 could well prefer this blend above either alone.
But for those who prefer the more complex Weller 12 over the youthful exuberance of OWA, the blend is likely to be seen as diluting the best aspects of Weller 12. As my tasting notes above show, the blend really is intermediate between the two. If (like me), you would rank Weller 12 above OWA, then the blend falls somewhere in-between.
I recommend you check out my OWA review for additional commentary. For the Weller 12, the highest-ranked review I’ve seen comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug. More typical reviews come from Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance/Whisky Won, and Jim Murray. The lowest score I’ve seen is probably from Michael of Diving for Pearls.