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Two new developments for Weller have me wondering about cask finishes and reduced age statements

Two new developments for Weller have me wondering about cask finishes and reduced age statements

The people have spoken – they demand more Weller variety

Buffalo Trace wasted practically no time between submitting the label for Daniel Weller bourbon (the beginning of May) to the TTB and holding a soft-launch party in NYC for it (the beginning of June). Now that we finally see it popping up for sale on auction sites and secondary sites, it’s obvious how quickly they can move when they have a new product to launch.

This brings me to one of the topics at hand – what is Buffalo Trace planning next? Specifically, what are they planning for the Weller line? I know they are constantly working on new products but they rarely give sneak peaks until it’s ready for release. However, every now and then, a clue surfaces in an unexpected place that might give us a hint. Take 1840 Brewing in Milwaukee for example. One of their barrels that they are aging beer in was photographed with some rather interesting handwriting:

The WG59 likely denotes that this is a 59 gallon wine barrel

What we can deduce is that this barrel is not a former bourbon barrel, it’s a wine barrel. How can we tell? A few features give it away such as the woodgrain looking like it is higher quality and the exterior being too clean. If you’ve ever seen wine barrels compared to bourbon barrels, the difference in their physical appearance is unmistakable. However, the most curious part is the “15 YR Weller Abed (sic – “Aged”) 7 Mo in Cabernet” wrote on the outside.

While one could argue that any chump with a Sharpie could have wrote that as a joke, there is precedence for Buffalo Trace experimenting with wine-finished bourbon. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I wouldn’t blame you. It was a long time ago – 2007 to be exact – when Buffalo Trace released a wine finished bourbon as part of their Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (BTEC). That year saw the release of a Chardonnay Aged Bourbon and a Zinfandel Aged Bourbon. The ages on those ranged from 14 to 18 years old! Then in 2008, they released two barrels of bourbon finished in Cabernet Franc barrels. The total age statement on them were 14 and 16 years, respectively.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (BTEC) 2007
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (BTEC) 2008

Since the barrel is so new looking and the picture was recent, I believe it shows us that Buffalo Trace hasn’t abandoned experimenting with wine finishes. In fact, the timeline matches up to when the first wine-finished BTECs were released (2007 and 2008) and a barrel claiming to have held 15 year old Weller in it was spied. My speculation is that after those original wine-finished BTEC’s came out, somebody at Buffalo Trace liked them enough to green-light making more. This is all a really big coincidence if nothing comes of it.

The image that launched Wellergate 2020

Back in 2020, shortly before the release of Weller Single Barrel, there was a leaked photo that was supposedly from a meeting at Buffalo Trace that looked like it was showing 5 new labels of Weller. In the picture we can see a Weller Wheat Whiskey, Cognac Cask, Single Barrel, Non-Chill Filtered and Bottled in Bond. Only one of those ended up on the shelves and the rest seemed to vanish into the ether. But what if Buffalo Trace had all of those whiskies ready to roll out before somebody gave them the axe? After all, Buffalo Trace had already experimented with finished bourbons in the Experimental Collection, so who is saying they wouldn’t try a Cognac cask finish?

If these ideas sound ridiculous, remember that so did a new Weller release using Emmer Wheat until a few months ago

Before you disagree with what I just said, remember that a few months ago nobody was tracking that a new Weller label would be launched. Especially one that would use a different wheat varietal and would be priced at $500. The simple truth is that companies like Buffalo Trace are starting to test the market of just how much money they can charge for limited releases. A good example is Woodford Reserve’s Baccarat Edition. It sells for $2,000 not because the cognac-finished bourbon inside is mind-blowing, but because of its exclusivity.

Daniel Weller is at best a mediocre bourbon. But it carries exclusivity that will make it sell instantly. That means that Buffalo Trace is probably working overtime to find the next product they can slap a name like Weller on and sell it for big money too. And a Cabernet finished bourbon suddenly doesn’t sound so far off.

At worst, if the wine-finishing experiments end up not being up to Weller standards, they could just put it in the BTEC collection. That’s where the Emmer Wheat bourbon that eventually made it into Daniel Weller was going to go. Eventually, all of these experiments will result in one or two being deemed worthy of the Weller name and when they do, everyone is going to go crazy for it.

Is Weller getting younger?

I’ll be the first person to stick up for all the bourbon distilleries when I agree with the sentiment that the whiskey – not a calendar – says when it’s mature. They can’t just sock away large amounts of barrels and expect them all to age at the same rate (even though they wish they could). This is why they have a team of master tasters whose job it is to sample each barrel every 12 months or so to decide how its coming along and when to pull it.

A Weller Barrel (destined to be a single barrel of Weller Full Proof) in the spring of 2023 with a fill date of 08-30-18

The harsh reality is that many times, a younger barrel will present itself as mature enough and the master tasters must decide to pull it so that it won’t change to become worse (i.e. over-oaked) and so that fresh new barrels can take its spot.

Most people might not realize that Buffalo Trace products have become increasingly younger over the last decade. Blanton’s is the perfect example with barrels being aged anywhere from 8 to 10 years in the good ol’ days but are now rarely aged over 6 years old today. Now the same thing is going on with Weller. It’s common knowledge that Weller Antique 107 and Full Proof are typically aged around 6.5 years old. I know this because I’ve seen a handful of spec sheets that show the age. The oldest one I’ve seen in the last four years has been 7.5 years old.

But now with the pictures leaked like the one I posted above, I’m becoming more worried that Weller ages will continue to drop. Honestly, one of the top reasons I love Weller 12 is that it’s one of the few Weller labels other than William Larue Weller where you can taste a good amount of oak. All Weller labels would benefit from additional aging. But it feels like we’re just getting a mediocre product if they decide to keep pulling these barrels at younger and younger ages.

So the next time you’re considering dropping some big money on a Weller store pick, check the spec sheet (the people who picked it should have access to it) and see how old it is. The results might surprise you. And make sure you don’t overpay for a younger product!

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Saturday 4th of November 2023

This makes me sad. I grew up in Louisville, and Old Weller (7 year old, 107 proof) was, for my money, the finest bourbon available (even then, Pappy was a little thin on the ground). Remarkably smooth and it packed a wallop. I remember thinking "Hey this stuff's getting a little pricey" after paying $25 for a bottle. I moved to NY many moons ago, and I would occasionally find a bottle (there was a liquor store in Chelsea that carried it regularly) but it wasn't widely distributed up here. Then, alas, it pretty much disappeared when Stitzl Weller went under. I was pleased to see that Buffalo Trace had revived it, but I noticed that the phrase "7 summers old" no longer appeared on the bottle, which made me wonder about how long they were aging it. My local liquor store here in the Hudson Valley gets a few bottles every now and then, so when they call to let me know they have some, I'll usually shell out the 70 bucks for old times sake. The last bottle I got was fine, but seemed a bit off somehow. It's a pity that they can't just leave well enough alone.


Tuesday 29th of August 2023

I noticed that all of the BTEC labels show barrel entry proof higher than 125. By law, the liquid can not be labeled bourbon and the label does say whiskey, instead of being more specifically bourbon. But why would they not just add a tiny bit of water to bring it down to the legal 125 proof from 125.1? The 125.1 proof seems very intentional. I wonder why. And by the way, the sharpie note I think was “AGed” because the b in “cAbernet” looked different.

Mike & Mike

Thursday 31st of August 2023

Are you sure you're not reading the number for the "Still Proof?" As long as it's not distilled above 160, it's all good. Barrel Entry Proof is where they can't go over 125