WILLIAM LARUE WELLER
MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace wheated mash bill (rumored 72% corn, 18% wheat, 10% barley)
PROOF – 135.4
AGE – 12 years 7 months
DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace Distillery
PRICE – $200
BUY AGAIN? – At that price? Very likely. (Oh who am I kidding? Yes!) More than that, no.
I uncorked this bottle for my birthday in June 2020. It served as the third leg of a Buffalo Trace wheated flight, starting with the 107-proof Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year, then a Weller Full Proof store pick bottled at 114 proof, and finally the William Larue at its fiery 135.4 proof.
To my surprise and disappointment, out of the gate, the fabled William Larue Weller was not my favorite experience. The familiar Weller apple, caramel and cherry flavors were all there, but encased within a harsh edge. I couldn’t discern whether that was the result of the scorching proof or that slightly abrasive quality wheat bourbons can sometimes have, but which I associate with much younger releases.
A few weeks later I tried it again. And a few months later, again. It remained admirably consistent, as I’ve come to expect from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection line. Unfortunately that harsh edge also remained consistent. I even contemplated trading the open bottle to someone for other things. But that was a fleeting thought. Given the chances of my ever coming into another bottle at a price I’m willing to pay, I figured I’d stick to the journey and see this bottle through.
As of this writing, the bottle has now been open for a full seven months. Today’s pour puts me at about a third of the way into the bottle. Given the hefty proof, a used a bit of Pappy 15, followed by a bit of Weller Full Proof, to ready my palate for the cinders to come…
Palate prepped, here are some brief notes on the William Larue, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – a beautiful burnt orange, with russet cherry glints and some toasty ambers at the edges
NOSE – classic Weller: cherry, caramel, stewed and baked apple, baked Autumn fruit pies, a hint of mint
TASTE – tart cherry pie flambé, the fire flaring and settling pretty quickly, some very nicely refined oak, only a slight tannic edge, the other flavors from the nose taking a backseat to the overwhelming cherry note
FINISH – cherry, oak, now the caramel returns a bit with some chocolate too, a dash of bitter wood notes adding texture rather than distracting, the heat now simmering warmly
OVERALL – Much better now than I remember it; still not the be all end all, but nevertheless oh so good…
Well I’m glad I didn’t trade this away! Immediately on the nose, it’s more classic Weller than it once was. The notes seemed distinct yet well integrated with one another, nothing dominating. Then on the taste, the cherry notes really took off. That initial fiery burn dissipated, of course, after further sipping. But I am glad I took my time to ramp up from the 107-proof Pappy 15 Year to the 114-proof Weller Full Proof prior to tasting this beast.
The harsh, bitter edge that played a key role in my disappointment at uncorking and subsequent tastings is still present, but a bit more in check now. I found it most noticeable in the finish. Now it seems to serve the role of aromatic bitters in cocktails—providing a dash of flavor and adding complexity.
I wondered how this bourbon would come across without the intense focus provided by the Glencairn. I poured a shot into a wide-bottomed tumbler I often used when drinking Booker’s, itself famous for its flaming proofs!
In the tumbler, the nose showed more caramel to balance the cherry. Also more oak, still refined and not yet tannic. On the taste, things went deliciously syrupy, and, like the nose, struck a nice balance between the fruit and caramel, with a very elegant and sweet oak note running down the middle. The finish was all caramel-glazed oak serving up syrupy cherries and chocolate.
Overall, the wide tumbler seems to mitigate the tannic bitterness, whereas the Glencairn still allows for that note to poke through, even after seven months of the bottle airing out.
I passed the tumbler on to my partner. She has a great nose, and always hones in on the central notes of her experience. “Chocolate, cherries, and caramel,” she said. Boom.
Okay. So I absolutely understand why William Larue Weller is so sought after. Just like I understand why the standard Weller line is so sought after. It’s good, sweet, charismatic bourbon. The storm of FOMO that perpetually engulfs all things Weller remains as annoying—sometimes as disheartening—as the bourbon is good. But at least the emperor indeed has clothes in this instance. Drinking this 2016 edition on a chilly Winter day, I don’t need a roaring fire to keep me warm and cozy. The bourbon has it covered!
I’m thinking again about Wright Thompson’s book, Pappyland, and the anecdotes he shares about Julian Van Winkle III getting accosted at whiskey festivals by angry men who want easier access to the Weller / Van Winkle line. They fail to understand it is they themselves who turned these bourbons into “unicorns.” If people could exercise a democratic sense of restraint, then I do believe the Weller and Van Winkle bottles released each year would end up in more people’s hands than currently. If individuals didn’t hoard multiple bottles, lining them up unopened as trophies, more people could have one to drink and enjoy, and for cheaper than the current average price.
But I don’t have faith that enough of us in the whiskey community will suddenly resist the pirate prices regularly asked for this stuff. Nothing suggests to me this is possible. Price your bottle of WLW at $800 and there’s someone who’s going to pay you for it, plus shipping.
When it comes to whiskey, FOMO is a privileged problem to have. I consider myself very privileged to “suffer” from this “problem.” And I’ll admit it’s not without a certain embarrassment that I reflect on what I’ve paid for some bottles over the years. A few have been very worth it. But others… Oy!
There are much more important things in life.
So if this bottle I have is the only William Larue Weller I ever own, fine. It’s not like I’m going to be deprived of other good bourbons—not even of the Weller variants, which seem to be constantly coming out!
I don’t have any other consumer advice here, except to suggest patience in hunting for William Larue Weller. If I found a bottle at the “low” price of $200, anyone else might too. Or even for less! Patience is indeed the key. In the meantime, there are innumerable other spectacular bourbons to be enjoyed.
I look forward to enjoying what remains of this bottle, and sharing it with friends. It’s great bourbon. It’s also a great conversation starter. And that’s good whiskey doing what whiskey does so well.