Weller bourbon occupies a relatively small niche in the American whiskey universe, being one of the few wheated bourbons along with the ubiquitous Maker's Mark, lesser known Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell and the lauded Van Winkle bourbons. Wheated bourbons take the usual bourbon formula of corn, rye and malted barley and replace the rye flavoring grain with wheat. This makes for a less spicy but generally sweeter bourbon, because rye tends to mask the underlying corn sweetness in the whisky. Wheat lets the sweetness shine, which makes them very approachable spirits.
Weller bourbons are owned and made by Buffalo Trace. BT acquired the brand during the breakup of the old Stitzel-Weller distillery and has been producing wheated bourbon in the same mold ever since. As best I can gather from a bit of research, all of the wheated bourbons I mentioned above except for Maker's Mark are made with the same 75% corn, 20% wheat, 5% malt mash bill, which is also a legacy of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. There are four different bottlings of Weller bourbon - a 90-proof, No Age Statement (previously 7 year old) Special Reserve, a 107-proof NAS Antique 107 (also previously 7 year old), a 90-proof 12 year old, and a barrel proof NAS (but roughly 11 year old) William Larue Weller that's part of the yearly Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Here I'll be reviewing the middle two, the 107 and the 12 Year.
Nose: caramel, corn, wheat, a bit of vanilla and oak, cinnamon brown sugar, which becomes sweeter and creamier with more prominent corn and vanilla after adding a couple of drops of water
Taste: sugary sweetness up front, transitioning into sweet cinnamon and spice, then pepper, oak and wheat further back, which becomes smoother with more pronounced pepper after dilution
Finish: good length, pepper and oak, somewhat drying and astringent
If you want to try a wheated whisky, this is what I'd direct you towards. It's usually in the mid-$20 range, which is a very reasonable price given the bottling proof and the intensity of flavors. I was rather surprised by how much pepper shows up in the palette and finish, given that there's no rye in the mash bill, but it does lean more towards black pepper, rather than the chili pepper that I tend to get out of rye-recipe bourbons.
Nose: sweet wood, caramel, toffee, slightly fruity bubblegum candy, vanilla, a whiff of corn and wheat, which becomes grainier, with fresher toffee, baked apples and brown sugar after adding a few drops of water
Taste: not too sweet, toffee and caramel, softer than the Antique, slight pepper, transitory oak, a touch of wheat, which becomes sweeter and smoother, but with less pepper and reduced complexity after dilution
Finish: medium, pepper and oak
The 12 year old Weller is unsurprisingly more barrel-driven, with heavier toffee/caramel and oak flavors. The lower bottling proof also means that it has a bit less punch than the 107, though this can also be seen positively as increased smoothness over its younger sibling. Given that there's only about $5 between the two whiskies, I'd say that it's going to come down to personal preference rather than value when deciding between the two. I lean towards the 107 because I like bolder whiskies, but for a nice evening sipper, the 12 Year is going to be a good companion. Either way, don't let the somewhat low-rent packaging turn you off of these fine bourbons. While I'm usually wary of plastic screw caps, in this case they hide some really well-made American spirits.
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