By Richard Thomas
The name of William Larue Weller adorns so many bourbons these days that a little guide is necessary to sort out which is which. The brand as a whole consists of a line of wheated bourbons from Buffalo Trace, and to my knowledge three expressions bearing the Larue name are in regular production. However, those are usually titled “W.L. Weller,” whereas the full name “William Larue Weller” is reserved for the unfiltered, cask strength release that comes out every year as part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.
The 2012 William Larue Weller was a renowned affair, one that Jim Murray labeled the second best whiskey in the world for that year. I adored the 2012 William Larue Weller too, and generally tend to think of the line as the pinnacle of what wheated bourbons can do. Yet at 136.2 proof (68.1% abv), this year’s installment is the strongest Weller yet, with the previous contender being the 2009, 134.8 proof Weller. Even for something dubbed “barrel proof,” pushing 140 is strong indeed. With something so potent in my glass, it was with a mix of eagerness and just a slight sense of reserve that I tackled this year’s Weller.
In the glass, the 2013 Weller has the deep orange-meets-maple syrup amber that I’ve come to expect from the cask strength bourbons of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Color like that speaks directly to the age and potency of what lies within, and is a real pleasure just to look at.
The nose is sweet, complex, and almost subdued. The corn and caramel sweetness is there, but mingled with a floral plum scent, and tinged with the aroma of a particularly delightful plug of pipe tobacco. The smell is lovely, but most of all it’s mellow. You really need to dig in and sniff deep with the stuff to get any alcohol burn in your nose, and given how strong this year’s Weller is, that is mellow indeed.
Taken neat, the palate is nothing like the nose. As the abv climbs higher than 60%, I sometimes find myself thinking a whiskey needs a little water to bring the best out in it. Last year’s Weller didn’t, but it had a proof of 123.4. This year’s is more than 11 proof higher, and it definitely needed a few drops of water. Without it, there was just too much bite to get the bourbon’s measure.
The flavor has a dry, hoary, leathery quality to it, balancing out the deep, dark vanilla and dried fruits sweetness. The dry side of the woody agedness has the side effect of enhancing the dash of pepper I found in there, and that pepper carries into the long, intensely warm finish.
This year’s William Larue Weller is great stuff, but not quite as good as the 2012 expression. When you consider that many pundits put the 2012 Weller on their lists for best whiskey in the world, and some ranked it almost at the top, that ought not to surprise anyone. It hasn’t topped or equaled last year’s classic, but the 2013 William Larue Weller is still the stuff gold medals are made of.
The 2013 William Larue Weller should go for $70, making it a huge bang for your buck bourbon, assuming you can find it.