By Kurt Maitland
Weller bourbons are named after one William Larue Weller, a famed Kentucky whiskey-maker. He is rumored to have been the first to make a point of making straight bourbon using wheat instead of rye in the mashbill.
The Weller brand was originally part of Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company, but is currently owned by the Sazerac Company, who produce it at their Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The standard releases of this spirt are the 90-proof W. L. Weller Special Reserve, the 107-proof Old Weller Antique, 107 proof, and the much sought after 90-proof W. L. Weller 12 Year Old. The Weller releases are coveted as “baby Pappy” due to their similar mashbills, and the slightly lower level of difficulty in procuring one of these releases from the liquor store of your choice.
The William Larue Weller release is a different animal all together. It is still wheated, it is still named after Mr. Weller, but the similarities end there. William Larue Weller is part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (often known by the acronym of BTAC), and are almost as hard to find as the coveted Pappy Van Winkle.
What makes the BTAC William Larue Weller release stand out from its brethren is the proof. Generally they have run between 120 to close to 140 proof, easily blowing past the Old Antique’s 107. This year’s bad boy comes in at 134.6 proof (67.3% abv), which is only bested in this year’s Antique Collection by the George T. Stagg’s 138.2, making this is a rocket of a whiskey. The 2015 installment dates to 2003, and was aged on the 2nd and 6th floors of Warehouses I, K, and L.
Nose: Baked cinnamon, vanilla, and hints of orange citrus notes. In comparing the Weller 12 to this year’s BTAC release, the Weller 12 has a lighter, fruitier nose.
Taste: Earthy and rich with less fruit in than the nose would indicate. A quick flash of hard candy sweetness then a hint of fruits like cherries and orange citrus mix with the vanilla. The mouthfeel on this Weller is full and slightly oily for a second, until the candied sweet heat kicks in.
At 134.6 proof, this is not a release to be trifled with, so water is a must, especially if you plan on drinking anything else or tasting for the rest of the day. You will probably need to keep adding water progressively until you have dialed the rocket thrust down to a level you are comfortable with.
Finish: Slow, spicy, heat that comes on after the hard candy sweetness starts to fade. A bit of corn husk appears as the spicy heat fades.
If you want a Weller you can just pour and drink, go any of the standard Weller releases, especially the 12 (if you can find it, of course). This isn’t that Weller. This Weller is more like a vintage car that you need to tinker with, appreciate it for what it is, and let it reward you with its spectacle.
Although George T. Stagg is usually considered the flagship of the BTAC whiskeys, it’s William Larue Weller that commands the top dollar these days. After last year’s craze for anything and everything named Weller, the average market price for William Larue Weller has gone up to $775, a far cry from its modest official price of $80.