The name Weller is as intertwined and as important a name as you will find in the history of American whiskey. Daniel Weller was operating a still near Bardstown, KY as early as 1800. His son Samuel followed in his father’s footsteps, and his son, William LaRue Weller started making and selling whiskey in 1849. W.L.Weller is generally credited for being the father of wheated whisky, that is, substituting wheat for rye in the mashbill, and was a strong proponent of aging whisky for longer periods of time. He was both a salesman and an educator, and whiskey with his name on it was always of reliably high quality. Weller’s company was eventually purchased by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle under whose guidance the relationship with the Stitzel Brothers and their distillery began. After weathering the doldrums of Prohibition, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery officially opened in 1935. Today, the Weller name lives on with the brand being owned by Buffalo Trace. Their range includes the 90 proof W.L. Weller Special Reserve, the 107 proof “Antique”, the 12 Year Old, and this eponymous release which is part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.
The 2011 William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon was distilled from a mashbill of Kentucky corn, North Dakota wheat, and North Dakota malted barley and matured in new American oak (of course) for 12 years and 11 months. It was bottled un-cut and un-filtered from a selection of 45 barrels.
The Nose: A stunning nose with upfront notes of chocolate covered cherries and strawberries, stewed raisins or even prunes, and believe it or not, coffee beans. A dry, crisp, stone-ground wheat cracker note emerges more as it opens up along with well-toasted walnuts and almonds. Subtler hints of unsweetened cocoa, worn leather, and polished oak balance things out nicely. Water brings out more char notes in the form of burnt popcorn, thin coffee, and a more earthy quality, quieting the fruit a bit and providing an antecedent to the herbaceous notes I found in the palate.
The Palate: This is mighty powerful stuff but surprisingly smooth at strength and almost mind-blowingly complex. Spirit-y fruit, cherry pie cherries, burnt sugar, burnt toast, a bit of coffee, dark unsweetened chocolate… and rich chocolate fudge all swirl around before a coarse vanilla bean-tinged swell of oak moves in with big, dusty tannins, clove and a faint green herb-y (no, not that kind, you dirty hippy) quality. Water makes this just terrific, coaxing out much more of that wheat cracker graininess and a bit of burnt popcorn while holding on to everything else except those big dusty tannins which are reigned in a bit.
The Finish: Without water, the finish is a high-octane rush of rich unsweetened chocolate, burnt toast and fermented fruit. With water, the finish retains that slightly sweet but burnt quality and loses a bit of the spirity fruit.
Thoughts: My god, this one nearly left me speechless, party because of the high alcohol (it accidentally set the curtains on fire which I didn’t notice for almost 2 minutes, so entranced was I by the stuff) and partly because of how damn good it is. At strength, barrel sediment and all, this will slap you around the room and you will like it. The nose is incredibly intriguing and well-balanced, segueing perfectly into a palate that despite it’s nearly overwhelming strength still manages to be hugely complex and impressive. To really sit and enjoy this, I do think it requires a good bit of water (though I think I almost prefer the nose neat). Water does nothing to lessen the complexity, adding deeper notes of the wheated mashbill and generally making it more safe for human consumption. The bottom of my Glencairn glass is layered with fine barrel char and I’m left shaking my head over this beauty. Highly, highly recommended.