By Richard Thomas
In my mind, nothing has ever quite encapsulated the hot house absurdities of the ongoing Bourbon Boom quite so much as W.L. Weller 12 Year Old. I think of it that way because of how it went from being a largely overlooked bourbon to a chimera overnight, and all because the late Josh Ozersky wrote a piece in 2014 labeling it baby Pappy Van Winkle.
That wasn’t quite true, because even at that time everything in the 12 Year Old and 15 Year Old Van Winkle bourbons would have had both tanked Stitzel Weller and Bernheim whiskeys incorporated into the blend. Still, the growing obsession for everything Pappy guaranteed that other writers, who had heretofore not made the Buffalo Trace, wheated bourbon connection between Weller and Van Winkle, would repeat the claim. Within months, Weller 12 had joined Van Winkle bourbons in rarity. The obsession has no grown to the point that the other, cheaper Weller expressions have also become hard to get.
Even though the 2014 run on Weller had the air of hysteria about it, there was something inevitable about the thing becoming a chimera. At a time when Michter’s 10 Year Old has a MSRP of $150, and is hard to get even at that price, it’s inevitable that something as good as Weller 12 would be hunted into rarity.
The liquid has a bronzed look in the glass, not really copper but not actually full-on amber either. The coat dropped a few tears, not really viscous but not running with them either.
The scent combines thick vanilla and caramel with a blackberry jam fruitness, accented by leathery, hoary oak. The aroma would really come across as rather older than the age statement suggests, actually, were it not for the berry current, which is an oddity in and of itself. Usually the fruit in a wheated bourbon comes across as citrusy, but with Weller 12 it has always struck me as being berries.
The flavor profile runs along exactly the same lines as the scent, with just the one exception. Once it’s off your nostrils and on your tongue, the woody side turns a bit dry. That dryness runs into a soft-but-spicy finish.
Overall, it’s balanced, flavorful and somewhat sophisticated. It’s an outstanding example of how much you can get out of a middle aged wheated bourbon. It is still over-hunted and over-hyped (see below), but perhaps not actually overrated.
Officially, W.L. Weller 12 is supposed to cost $30. I have never seen it listed for less than $65 in recent years, and the average market price is $190.