*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
This wheated bourbon is perennially one of my favorites from the Antique Collection. According to the brand literature, this year’s William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon seems to have a bit in common with the 2014 edition in terms of where the barrels came from in the Buffalo Trace warehouses, but there are a couple of notable differences as well. This years version is 4 months older than the previous two…granted, that seems pretty minor, but still, four months is four months. The most important difference between this year’s and years past is the size of the bottling. The 2016 Weller was bottled from a selection of 145 barrels, which is up 40 barrels from 2015 and a whopping 106 barrels from 2014. And yet it’s still a difficult bottle to find, go figure…
The Nose: Even at such high proof, this is lush and approachable – Autumn dessert in a glass. Rich, sweet notes of butterscotch, caramel apples, juicy, pulpy orange slices, and cherry cola. There’s an almost vin santo-like caramel-y, raisin-y aspect to this that’s incredibly damn pleasant. Behind that there’s almond cake, and stone-ground wheat crackers. The oak is sturdy, and a little leathery and dusty, filled with vanilla, cinnamon, dried citrus peel, a little bit of clove and a hint of wintergreen. Not that it is necessary, but water integrates everything a little more, calms the sugar and oak and coaxes out more fruit and grain notes.
The Palate: Again, very manageable despite its high ABV. The sweetness from the nose carries over; Muscovado sugar, flat cola, and more juicy, tangy-sweet orange. It has a wonderfully complex mid-palate with salted almonds, toasted bread, French butter cookies, sticky vanilla bean, and bittersweet chocolate. The wood is quite grippy and tannic, but comes on slowly, giving all the previous elements space. Polished oak, strong cinnamon, clove, vanilla, and a bit of barrel char or burnt sugar towards the end. Just a bit of water takes an already wonderful palate and makes it more languid, giving all the complexity more room.
The Finish: Long and warming, full of oak and peppery spice with lingering hints of citrus, cinnamon candied almonds, those butter cookies, and a fading whiff of that wintergreen.
Thoughts: Fairly spectacular. From start to finish, a fantastic bourbon. This was a little different from the last one I tried, the 2014. It relied more on the sweeter notes and the bread-y, dessert notes rather than the slightly more rugged “old library” notes of that earlier one. This is wonderfully complex and balanced throughout. Despite the high proof, this manages to take its time and progress in expertly made fashion. It’s not often that I find myself liking a bourbon’s palate as much if not more than the nose, but this is one of those times. Possibly the best Weller I’ve had yet, and my favorite of this years Antique Collection. Highly, highly recommended.
As a bit of a wrap-up, I’d have to say overall, this year’s Antique Collection was a bit of a letdown…mostly because of that misguided George T. Stagg. The Handy was the Handy, solid, but a bit out of its depth. The Eagle Rare 17 was very, very nice, and the Weller was positively terrific. The wildcard for me this year was the Sazerac 18. I knew it wouldn’t live up to the Sazerac 18 of old, but I was hoping it would still be very good, and it was. It will be interesting to see how that particular expression evolves. Though I thought this year’s was a small step down from past releases, the Antique Collection remains an impressive and iconic group of whiskeys. A true whiskey privilege to have the chance to try.