By Richard Thomas
Buffalo Trace made quite a splash with its 2012 Antique Collection, when two of the 2011 whiskeys in that collection scored the top two slots in the 2013 edition of Jim Murray’s The Whisky Bible. The top whiskey of 2012 in Murray’s book was the Thomas Handy Rye, reviewed for us by S.D. Peters within days of its release. Now The Whiskey Reviewer turns its attention to this year’s version of Murray’s #2 whiskey, the 2012 William Larue Weller Wheated Bourbon. Murray gave both whiskeys a score of 97.5, with the wheated bourbon edging the rye “by the smallest of fractions.” * The 2012 installment of Weller bourbon could very easily be the top whiskey of the next edition of the Whisky Bible.
Given the outstanding quality of the 2012 Weller, a word about the man it is named after is in order. Born in 1825, Weller was a Kentucky distiller who made one key innovation in bourbon-making: he hit upon the idea of substituting wheat for rye, introducing the very first wheated bourbon in 1849. Why it took so long for someone in Kentucky to hit upon this idea I cannot say, as wheat is hardly a strange grain for whiskey-making, and none other than George Washington was making wheat whiskey as early as 1797.
This version of William Larue Weller is an uncut, unfiltered 12 year old whiskey, aged on the 2nd and 4th floors in Buffalo Trace’s warehouses I and P, and bottled at 123.4 proof (61.7% abv). This is a bit lower on alcohol content than some previous Weller limited editions, already a much-laureled and heavily decorated series.
In the glass, the bourbon has a mid-bodied, dark and coppery amber coloring. It’s a pleasure just to look at it, as the liquid catches the light in a particularly crisp way. Taking in the nose, I found it to be syrupy with a hefty slug of vanilla, albeit with a slight bite from the high alcohol content. The scent is pleasant, but deceptively unremarkable.
The flavor is much more complex, with the strong, dark vanilla and moderately caramel sweetness balanced very evenly by oak and leather notes. There is also a slight, tart fruitiness there, and an even slighter presence of pepper. Despite the delicate nature of the lighter notes, none of the aspects of this bourbon need to be chased. Everything is right there, making the taste of this wheated bourbon as complex as it is balanced and mellow. The finish is long and quite warm, starting with on a soft oaky note and trailing off into a mild alcoholic burn, enhancing the warming effect.
The high alcohol content comes across in places, but never so much that it gives an unpleasant bite. For a cask strength bourbon, the William Larue Weller 2012 is surprisingly mellow, so much so that you might never know the alcohol content was so high. With its natural complexity and balance, and generally pleasant and friendly nature, this bourbon is just fine without water, and I recommend taking it neat.
The recommended price for the William Larue Weller 2012 is $70. I have seen it marked up to as high as double that, however, and in Europe one can expect to pay as much as €140.
* Update: In November, The Whisky Advocate ranked the William Larue Weller as its #3 whiskey for 2012.