Tag Archives: Weller

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon

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).

weller-12Definitely 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.

Old Weller Antique Original 107 Bourbon

The Weller line of wheated bourbons are extremely popular these days, thanks in part to their close relation to the infamous Van Winkle family of bourbons.

Bourbon is mandated by law to be at least 51% corn in the mashbill. Rye grain is the most common secondary ingredient in most bourbons, for flavouring. But Weller and the Van Winkles are examples of “wheaters”, where wheat is used as the main flavouring component. This tends to bring in a softer, more creamy sweetness and fruitness, compared to the “spicier” rye flavours.

Both the Weller and Van Winkle brands were originally owned by Stitzel-Weller, and both are currently owned Sazerac (produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery). There are four varieties of Weller: Special Reserve, Antique 107, 12 Year Old, and William Larue Weller. I’ll talk more about the Van Winkles in an upcoming review, but I thought I would start off this series with a review of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof.

Old Weller Antique (OWA) is essentially the same thing as their entry-level Special Reserve – except that it is bottled at a higher proof (107, or 53.5% ABV). Both of these bourbons used to carry an age statement – they no longer do, but they are still believed to be ~6-7 years old. OWA is not quite as widely available as Special Reserve, but it is not as hard to find as the rest of the line (a discussion for another review).

While on the topic, OWA should be pretty comparable in style to the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo. The only difference is the age and barrel selection – otherwise, it is the same mashbill, distilled and aged in the same manner (and location), and cut to the same 107 proof. I’ll be reviewing that Van Winkle in an upcoming review.

Let’s see how OWA compares to other Wellers (and younger Van Winkles) in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.49 0.36 10 reviews ($)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.04 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.16 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)

It gets a respectable score for this family, intermediate to the Weller Special Reserve and 12 yo, as you might expect.

Now, let’s see how OWA compares to other entry-level bourbons:

Ancient Age: 7.64 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.15 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam White Label: 7.62 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
Rebel Yell: 7.44 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
Very Old Barton: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 81: 8.12 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.74 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)

OWA gets one of the best scores for its price class. If you can find it at the standard price, it would seem to be an excellent choice.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, like vanilla icing on a caramel cake.  Light honey with hints of marzipan and whipped cream. Cherry. A bit of nutmeg. Unfortunately, it also has a general solvent smell which detracts for me. This likely reflects its young age.

Palate: Caramel comes first, followed by an extreme honey sweetness, which then fades back to that caramel after a few seconds. Fruits come next, mainly dark berries and some prunes and plums. Oak is in the background here. Has a silky texture (I’d say almost velvety). This is a hot one (ethanol heat), consistent with its 53.5% ABV – although it can still be drunk neat easily enough.

Finish: Medium. Oak comes through now, as well as some slow, lingering fruit. Brown sugar sweetness shows up now too.

owa-107Consistent with its reported 6-7 years, this is not a particularly complex bourbon. You are not getting a lot of oak here (beyond the usual caramel/vanilla), nor are you getting much in the way of the typical rye baking spices (as expected).

But for a fairly standard profile, it is done well. I often find wheaters a bit too sweet for me, with an almost artificial tinge. But there is at least none of that here – the sweetness is like all-natural honey, sprinkled with brown sugar.

It seems like an excellent value for the price. And given the higher proof, would likely be great in mixed drinks. For me personally, the solvent aromas bring it down a peg, and so I would score it just a bit lower than the Meta-Critic average.

For reviews of this bourbon, Josh of the Whiskey Jug is a big fan, as is Jim Murray. Most of the bourbon reviewers on the Reddit Whisky Network are similarly very positive (see for example Texacer and LetThereBeR0ck). There is also Eric of Breaking Bourbon. You don’t come across many negative reviews of this bourbon, but guys at Quebec Whisky are bit more moderate than those above.