WELLER FULL PROOF
Barrel 225, picked by K&L (2019)
MASH BILL – Undisclosed mash of corn, wheat, and barley
PROOF – 114
AGE – NAS (~9 years according to the K&L spirits buyer)
DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace Distillery
PRICE – $66
BUY AGAIN? – Priced reasonably near msrp? Absolutely! Hiked? No.
This post—the third of three focused on Weller store picks—deals with what is arguably among the most sought-after unicorns of 2019, the new Weller Full Proof. I managed to get this particular bottle by sheer luck of timing. I had the K&L website up on my laptop but was working on other things. A fellow whiskey hunting friend texted me a simple “Go!” and without skipping a beat I went. I don’t think I’d ever clicked my way through an online ordering process so fast and efficiently in all my life. And within seconds of my completing the order, the full lot was already sold out.
It helps to hunt in packs.
The Full Proof’s age is supposedly the same as the Special Reserve and Antique 107, around 7 years on average—although the K&L spirits buyer has indicated this single barrel runs closer to 9 years. The proof, however, has only been watered back down to the original barrel entry proof of 114. That’s 7 proof points higher than the Antique 107, and 24 higher than the Special Reserve. Also, whether sold as a store pick single barrel or the standard blend, Weller Full Proof is always non-chill filtered, allowing all the natural flavor congeners to remain.
I uncorked this bottle about a week before this tasting. It was good right out of the gate. The nose that first night was dark caramel coated in dark chocolate, with faint buttery crusty apple pie behind it. The taste opened with rich mouthwatering caramel, followed by an utterly lovely peppery chocolate. The chocolate also had a fruitiness to it. The finish was a remarkable combination of drying oak and succulent peppery caramel, followed by gentle oak tannins.
I’ve been curious to try it again, now after a week of it airing out. Here are some notes in brief:
COLOR – a deep, vibrant copper-orange
NOSE – thick caramel, dusty thick oak, cooked cherry, a bit of lemon, salty, strong and yet restrained enough to keep me coming back eagerly for more
TASTE – thick and mouth coating, rich caramels, that bit of lemon bringing some tang to it
FINISH – warm, lingering, those caramels, that dusty thick oak wafting back in
OVERALL – just a really good, smooth, flavorful, caramel-centric bourbon
Less chocolatey this time than at the uncorking, but just as rich. After a week the trademark Weller caramels have taken over fully. I didn’t even think about the chocolate’s absence until I looked back at my uncorking notes. Of course, I wouldn’t at all mind the chocolate coming back. We’ll see what else comes and goes as the bottle continues to air out over time.
The lemon zing is new. What had come across as a fruitiness in the former chocolate aspects now comes forward with more edge to it, brightening the caramels substantially without thinning them out. And the oak tastes especially thick, solid, with a fine dust on it to compliment the lemon’s zing.
At the uncorking I immediately thought this Full Proof bested the Antique 107, which has always been my favorite among the Wellers—even more so than the frantically hunted Weller 12 Year, the ripe old age of which gets watered down to 90 proof. That’s a shame. This mash bill at 12 years and 107 or 114 proof? Oh man!
But those specs are likely too close to Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year and the annual William Larue Weller release (both of which share the same wheated mash bill as Weller) for Buffalo Trace Distillery to have any incentive for adding a higher proofed Weller 12 to the lineup. Between the various Wellers and Van Winkles, The Buffalo Trace wheated mash bill already comes in eleven variations—fourteen if one includes stores picks as a basic variant. That said, Buffalo Trace recently submitted these label designs to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau:
It would appear the proof will be either 93 or 97, and one can guess the age will remain 6 to 7 years. So it’s like a Weller Special Reserve store pick with a handful more proof points on it. Weller fans will complain about the increasingly minute differences between one bottling and another. And still they’ll buy it. Not gonna lie, I’d be among the crowd saying “Take my money!” if a higher-proofed Weller 12 Year ever came out, and I’ll be picking up the first Weller Single Barrel I come across.
Naturally I could not end this trio of Weller store-pick posts without trying them side by side. Here are some impressions:
COMPARISON OF ALL THREE:
ALL – Tilting them each at various angles in the light, they are virtually indistinguishable, all sharing that rich autumnal copper-orange, with only the Full Proof coming across slightly darker.
WSR – eager, bright, tangy caramel, some dusty oak in sunlight, a dash of coarsely ground black pepper
WA107 – similarly forthcoming, with darker caramel and less dusty oak
WFP – slightly restrained by comparison, the caramels as dark as the 107 but thicker, with just a bit of that black pepper dusting the oak
WSR – nice, soft, easy, sweet gentle caramels, thinner texture comparatively but viscous enough to feel thicker than water
WA107 – Oh nice, a good notch thicker and richer, with that dash of black pepper now also coming through, a bit of lemon helping the caramels make my mouth water
WFP – Mmmm dark, thick, still juicy and mouthwatering, a nice tingly pepperiness from the proof
WSR – casual, congenial, not one for extended goodbyes, and to my surprise a cooked cherry note lingers longest with the caramels stepping back for it
WA107 – here I’m noticing the oak more, glazed in those Weller caramels, and taking its time to linger and fade slowly
WFP – the proof’s tingly pepperiness lingers among those dark, toasty caramels, with gentle oak tannins adding some edge
WSR – a good ol’ solid standby
WA107 – life of the party
WFP – great for when the party gets into some lively and philosophical chat
A logical impulse at this juncture would be to declare which is “best.” But I don’t wish to choose between these three. They are variations on a theme. It would also be interesting to throw the Weller 12 Year and William Larue Weller into the mix. (I’m so tempted… Maybe that’s for next year!) And of course there is the easily forgotten Weller CYPB, a crowd-sourcing experiment by which Buffalo Trace Distillery asked its fans to vote for their ideal bourbon. The people said they wanted Weller, aged 8 years, at 95 proof, matured at the top of the warehouse. Buffalo Trace obliged, and those bottles go for $600+ regularly. I don’t expect to ever taste that stuff.
By contrast, bottles of Weller Special Reserve and Antique 107 are common enough that I can trust I’ll find at least one each year. The Full Proof is a new addition, so, time will tell how easily found it eventually settles into being. I thought the price of this K&L pick was fair for the experience the bottle offers. I’d gladly pay it again. But if in time the Full Proof proves as elusive as Weller 12 Year, fine. Weller Antique 107 will always be around to keep the party upbeat.
It’s nice to have options.
Of course, I can say that because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has grown into a pretty big bourbon town. An employee at one local shop who moved here from Kentucky told me it’s easier to find certain bottles here than in the state they were made! Kentucky sends a lot of bourbon this way.
It’s easy to understand why. San Francisco was the main stop on the Gold Rush trail in 1850 and today it’s the main stop on the Tech Rush trail. In 2018 it was widely reported how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had calculated that an annual salary of $117,000 is now considered “low income” in the Bay Area. Yep. There are a lot of people here making a lot of money and they can afford a lot of bourbon.
As a theater artist and teacher, by definition I don’t make that kind of money. If $117k is “low income,” my typical annual salary must qualify as “poverty.” Literally, of course, that’s not at all the case. And I have no complaints. I am both lucky and privileged to have remarkably low overhead. The money I’m not spending on a car, or home internet and cable TV, or some non-rent-controlled apartment, I can put toward enjoyable extras like a bottle of Weller Full Proof.
It’s totally possible to enjoy a unique whiskey journey without a neo-San Franciscan paycheck. The Weller Special Reserve store pick from Bourbon County / Fred’s Liquor was only $27, for example. That’s right on par with regular lower-shelf stalwarts like Larceny, Wild Turkey 101, Old Forester Rye, or Elijah Craig Small Batch—all enjoyable, affordable, and readily available.
I do indeed consider myself both lucky and privileged to be able to enjoy this whiskey journey. Comparing three related bourbons like these Wellers is a game that exercises the senses. The conversation that comes of it can veer into things like economic values, comfort values, what we choose to give our attention and why. Or, these tasty Weller bourbons can just as easily serve as background to a good party, a good book, a good game on TV, or a good round of cards or chess. Whatever one prefers.
I’ve enjoyed this extended comparison of Weller Special Reserve, Antique 107, and Full Proof store picks. I’ll always mourn the collateral damage done unto the Weller line by the Van Winkle craze. Ever since it was realized that Weller shares the same DNA as that ultimate unicorn herd, the Van Winkles, the bottom-shelf Wellers often get locked behind glass or propped up too high on the shelf to reach. And shops like Bourbon County and K&L, which seem to value making the experience of bourbon economically available over raking in hiked profits, are increasingly few and far between.
That is precisely why you’ll find a number of other notes on new wheated bourbons in this blog’s history. (Type “wheat” into the blogsite’s search engine for a tour of the wheat fields.) A growing number of distilleries are exploring wheated bourbons. None I’ve tried taste like Weller. But that’s not the point. Several new wheated bourbons have achieved their own exceptional flavor profiles, like Redemption Wheated or McKenzie Wheated Bottled-in-Bond. Link either of those to a bourbon on the level of Van Winkle and they’d go top-shelf just as fast as Weller did, I have no doubt.
In short, enjoy your wheated bourbon journey, wherever it takes you.