The Original Wheated Bourbon Whiskey
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The Weller brand has seen a lot of changes throughout the years, but since about 2014, it’s really taken off. It’s is a great bourbon, don’t get me wrong, but it owes almost all of its current hype to another bourbon that shares the same recipe: Pappy Van Winkle.
Weller’s Wheated Bourbon Recipe
Both labels start off as the same thing: a barrel of standard Buffalo Trace Wheated Bourbon Mash Bill. Buffalo Trace Distillery does not disclose what that mash bill is, but a good guess would be that it contains 10-14% wheat. The remainder is probably around 75+% corn and 10% malted barley.
Pappy Van Winkle vs WL Weller
As the barrels age, a team of tasters employed by the Van Winkle family sample through the barrels and identify ones that they feel have the potential to wear their name. The rest of the barrels are relegated to the Weller line of bourbon.
Don’t confuse this to mean that Weller barrels are the reject barrels. Plenty of enthusiasts have found the Weller family of products to be just as good and a whole lot easier to find at a local liquor store.
Not all Weller labels are created equal though. There are seven of them and each one carries a different proof and years of age(or assumed age). This results in a broad range of flavors and complexity. Read on to see our take on each one.
Before we begin, it must be noted that I will be comparing the standard batched offering of each, not their single barrel versions.
#7 Weller Special Reserve
I don’t think this one will be too controversial. Weller Special Reserve is the entry-level bourbon for the Weller line – and it shows.
It’s pleasant enough for a sipper, but remember this bourbon was basically made to compete with Maker’s Mark entry-level 90 proof bourbon as a cheap, wheated bourbon. The only reason why people rush to this one is because of the “Pappy Effect.”
Sometime around 2013, Pappy Van Winkle started to disappear off everyone’s shelves. The interest and enthusiasm of the brand was increasing every year since the 2000s and it has yet to slow down.
When enthusiasts couldn’t find any more Pappy on their shelves, they started to grab up all of the Weller 12 followed by Weller Antique.
And by 2017 or so, the only one left on the shelf was Special Reserve. Weller SR is perfectly serviceable to friends and acquaintances neat or mixed, but don’t mistake it for its siblings. It’s not even in the same conversation.
#6 Weller Single Barrel
Weller Single Barrel is a mistake. Let me clarify; Buffalo Trace didn’t need to create Weller Single Barrel, they already had 3 other versions of Weller that could be selected in their single barrel program (Special Reserve, Antique and Full Proof).
But in the interest of pursuing profits, they did it anyway. Only this time, Buffalo Trace wanted to take the fun out of having stores select their own barrels and just do it themselves.
Maybe I can understand their reasoning, but they fumbled the idea in a major way. When you do a barrel pick at Buffalo Trace, you get all of the barrel stats like which warehouse it was aged in, what the exact age statement is and even the option to skip the chill-filtering process.
But with Weller Single Barrel there is no identifiable barrel information and the proof is an unremarkable 97 proof. The fact that this even exists has left me angry and confused. There is already a demand for Weller that can’t be met by the other six labels, so why create a seventh?
Regardless, Buffalo Trace does generally select good barrels for the single barrel line, but we have to assume they’re still 6 to 7 years old and have been chill filtered. To add insult to injury, this is an extremely limited supply and higher prices on the secondary market reflect that.
Weller Single Barrel goes for around $650-700 second-hand. Please don’t ever pay that amount for this unremarkable bottle.
#5 Weller Antique 107
Previously called “Old Weller Antique,” or OWA for short, the people at Buffalo Trace dropped the “Old” part of the label in the 2010s because the age of the barrels was rapidly decreasing.
It is assumed that modern-day W.L. Weller antique is around 6 to 7 years old – just like Single Barrel and Full Proof. It still retains its old 107 proof bottling point though.
It is also chill-filtered, something that enthusiasts would like to see changed (you can elect to have this step skipped if you’re selecting a single barrel of it). Weller Antique has a great mix of cherries, chocolate and sweet notes of caramel and is very appealing to a wide range of palates.
The single barrel versions are usually amazing and should be purchased immediately. But as bourbon mania continues to grow, Weller Antique continues to be almost impossible to find without connections. Even Ohio seems to have run out.
#4 Weller Full Proof
This one is going to get some people upset, but it’s true. Weller Full Proof is pretty darn good. However, when it comes to the store pick versions of it, it’s been less well-received (there are lots of enthusiasts who say that Weller Antique is better in single barrel form than Weller Full Proof).
Weller Full Proof has a lot going for it. The proof is the second-highest of the entire lineup, it’s non-chill filtered and its age is still right around the mark of almost all the other Weller products with the exception of 3.
This has produced a very tasty wheated bourbon that only comes inches away from edging out Weller CYPB. Considering the secondary price point, this may look more attractive than ever at around $250 or $275. It’s a really great bottle that everyone should try at least once.
#3 Weller Craft Your Perfect Barrel (CYPB)
Weller CYPB, as it’s known to enthusiasts, was the result of a internet survey campaign to have customers choose which kind of bourbon they wanted Buffalo Trace to make next. The internet survey was set up in a way that it basically guided the participants to choose a bourbon with the specs that CYPB uses: wheated bourbon, aged on the top floors of a rickhouse, aged for 8 years and bottled at 95 proof. Looks like they ignored my survey where I said I wanted a 23 year old bourbon that was bottled at 120 proof. Rats.
On the plus side, Weller CYPB is astonishingly tasty for a bourbon with such a low proof. This surely has to do with the fact that the barrels were comprised almost entirely of ones that were extra-aged at the top of a hot rickhouse.
The best part about CYPB and the reason why it ranks so high on this list is because it keeps getting better every year. I’ve had a CYPB from 2018, 2020 and 2021 and all of them continued to get better. The viscous mouthfeel, well-rounded oak notes and sweet candy fruit stand out just a little bit more than other Weller bottles at a higher proof. The secondary is still too high on these ($500), but I encourage you to not turn down a pour of this if you ever get the chance.
#2 Weller 12 Year Old
Officially known as Weller Aged 12 Years and unofficially known as “W12,” this bottle has been famous for years. But last year’s season premiere of Yellowstone showed the Dutton’s pouring a bottle of it in celebration.
Bourbon fanboys cheered, secondary prices increased and W12 entered the conversation again. But there’s another explanation behind W12’s resurgence: recent year’s have tasted increasingly better.
The W12 released in 2021 was a particularly good year and showcased just how magnificient the oak profile is – almost like they used barrels that were older than 12 years (which is certainly possible).
Granted, the proof is quite low and I think that they chill filter it still, but there is something so refined and polished about each sip that I have forgiven its stupid secondary price (about $250).
It has elegance and complexity all bottled up under one label. Many even wonder if certain years’ W12 might be better than Van Winkle Lot B. Of course the proof could be more, but if it were, then it might step on the toes of the best Weller label out of the whole lineup. Which label is the that? I’m talking about…
#1 William Larue Weller
The big dog itself, William Larue Weller or W. L. Weller as enthusiasts like to call it, was born special. It is one of the 5 bottles featured in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – arguably the most famous and well reviewed collection of American Whiskey today.
WLW is always aged at least 12 years and bottled at barrel proof. That proof has seen wild swings from year to year with it being as high as 140.2 and as low as 117.9 proof. This is even more impressive when you consider that the distillate goes into the barrel at 114 proof.
Drinking WLW is like a blend of professional wrestling and ballet. The sheer power in its delivery of flavors is held back by exquisite refinement and precision. To most enthusiasts, this is the best bottle out of the entire BTAC lineup… and it shows.
They’ll also have their favorite years while saying other years are just okay. But it’s WLW we’re talking about here – the cream of the crop.
I guarantee nobody is going to pass up a chance to buy one or have a pour. Bourbon novices can keep dreaming about their lackluster Pappy… because the true enthusiasts know that William Larue Weller is where it’s at. And I think if you’ve had a sip, you’d agree too.
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