By Richard Thomas
The William Larue Weller line has always been a bit special among Buffalo Trace’s offerings. Weller himself is often credited as the bottler who invented wheated bourbon (yes, you read that right: a bottler invented wheated bourbon), so it is appropriate that Weller is Buffalo Trace’s signature wheated line. Add to that the notoriety Weller bourbons received last year when first Esquire and then numerous copycats declared it the accessible substitute for the elusive Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys, notoriety that caused a run on the liquor stores and a short-term shortage.
If you follow that logic, that should make the Antique Collection’s William Larue Weller the closest thing you can get to Pappy Van Winkle, right? This year’s Weller is an extra special installment, being the strongest version yet. After spending 12 years on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th floors of Warehouses D, K and L, this whiskey was bottled uncut and unfiltered at a staggering 140.2 proof (70.1% abv).
Even people who like their bourbon strong usually blanch at the idea of a 140 proof whiskey. That leads to the question, if all other things about a William Larue Weller being equal, is the 2014 expression just too hot to handle?
In the glass, the liquid is as solid amber as it gets, mirroring the brilliant red-brown of that precious substance perfectly. On the nose the bourbon is surprisingly mild. One might expect a snifter or Glencairn glass to concentrate the vapors coming from any fluid that is 70% alcohol to such a point that burnt nostrils is guaranteed, but not in this instance.
The scent is thick and powerful, though, dominated by surging currents of floral citrus and vanilla, and a column of leathery wood and barrel char. It reminds me of nothing quite so much as some of the rustic cabins I’ve been in, the sort with no running water or electricity. I think of stepping in to the smells of that musty place with a wood fire going on an iron range, with some kind of fruit cobbler coming out of the oven.
On the palate the Weller 2014 reverts to exactly what I would expect from 140.2 proof: it is simply too hot to drink neat and straight, for me at any rate. I had to put water in, and not just a couple of drops either, but more like seven or eight. This really is the kind of bourbon that every drinker will need to find their personal, appropriate amount of water for, putting in the category of “self-cut whiskey.”
That said, once you get it there it’s very enjoyable, if still big, bold and potent. Baking spice and syrupy vanilla join a dry, toasty wood in a big bourbon rush. The mouthfeel is thick without being creamy, rich or oily. Instead, it is simply dense. The finish is very long and very warm, as one might expect from a hot bourbon like this, but the light oak and spice aftertaste isn’t washed away in the heat.
My recommendation is if you pick up this year’s Weller, open it after the first frost of winter comes. This stuff is exactly what you want from your cold weather bourbon.
All expressions in this year’s Antique Collection have a recommended retail price of $80, but beware of a mark-up from stores and online retailers.