BUFFALO TRACE KOSHER WHEAT RECIPE
MASH BILL – 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% barley
PROOF – 94 proof
AGE – 7 years
DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace
PRICE – $53
WORTH BUYING? – Yes, at this price, not any higher.
I’ve been skeptical of the Buffalo Trace Kosher line, which includes this Wheat Recipe as well as a Rye and a High Rye Bourbon. But it is the Wheat Recipe release that compelled my eyebrow to arch. Yet another variation on Weller? Sigh… Weller is the Marvel movie franchise of bourbons.
I’m quite glad they did not label it as Kosher Weller. In that Weller bottle with that Weller label, this same whiskey would likely fetch $500+ like the orange-labelled Single Barrel Weller release or the white-labelled CYPB Weller. I’ve even seen standard release Weller Full Proof priced north of $500. It’s so stupid.
But regardless of the different name, label design, and bottle shape, when I uncorked the Kosher Wheat and tried a pour, it was as I thought: Weller. Those familiar apple, cherry, cream, edgy wheat, and caramel notes. Something a little else going on in there too, warranting a formal tasting to suss it out. But good ol’ familiar Weller, through and through.
So let’s get straight to it. Here we are, a week and a half after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. I’m tasting the whiskey on a sunny afternoon after a morning’s heavy rain. The air and light are crisp, bright, and clean—perfect whiskey weather, kosher or otherwise. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – a nice, syrupy looking spectrum of oranges, ambers and brass
NOSE – cherry syrup from a cherry pie, baked apple, sweet dry oak, doughy cinnamon pastry, crisp lemon zest, fresh roughly sawn oak sawdust
TASTE – the cherry and oak share the main event, a light vanilla-caramel note runs down the center with bitter oak tannins outlining the edges, everything with a wonderful syrupy texture
FINISH – short, with a fine peppery prickle, the sweet and edgy oak tannins lingering longest
OVERALL – an elevated Weller Special Reserve
It’s a solid Weller bourbon. And the more I sip it, the more its excellence shows itself. All the expected notes are there. The texture is notably more syrupy than the average Weller Special Reserve, though the flavors are perhaps a touch less vibrant than my sense memory of various Antique 107 or Full Proof single barrels.
Given the price, when I’m in a Weller mood I’d be much more apt to pay for another bottle of this than the typical mark-ups for Weller-labelled products. The primary distinguishing feature is the knowledge that it’s kosher. But the actual impact on flavor the kosher process has, if any, is not discernible to me. Then again I’m not Jewish, my palate is not familiar with kosher foods, and the kosher tradition has no direct personal resonance for me. There may very well be elements I’m unable to pick up on.
So I looked into it a bit. For those like me who aren’t familiar with Jewish traditions, in very brief:
The major rules around kosher food preparation pertain to meat and dairy products, particularly that the two must be kept separate, with most everything else considered pareve, meaning neutral. Kosher preparation and cleanliness guidelines are very strict. So for Buffalo Trace’s kosher whiskeys, oak barrels certified as kosher by the Chicago Rabbinical Council are used for aging. The bottling pipes are thoroughly cleaned out from previous runs to ensure the whiskey is uncontaminated by any other. (No mention is made in this regard about the fermenting and distilling equipment, which would also seem likely contaminant zones.)
In a way, kosher whiskey seems to be an even more thorough variation on “sweet mash” whiskey, where each mash is made anew, rather than holding over a bit from the previous mash to jumpstart and help regulate fermentation of the next, as with “sour mash” whiskeys. That said, it’s not clear whether this bourbon is made from a sweet or sour mash. The label doesn’t state it either way.
Also, the processes of sour versus sweet mash are not connected to any religious practice, and are more a matter of taste, not culture. Maintaining the kosher kashrut (dietary laws) is a way for Jewish people to recognize and reflect upon their history, to recommit to high standards of living and of behavior, celebrating not only bodily health but spiritual and cultural health. As a historical reflection, it’s also a way to honor those martyred Jews who chose death in the face of adversaries attempting to force-feed them non-kosher food as a denigrating punishment, or denying them other of their unique traditions. All of this elevates the simple act of eating or drinking to an active gesture of deeper appreciation.
The fine print on the bottle reiterates a detail from up above:
Even though Buffalo Trace releases this whiskey every year around Passover, it’s not kosher for Passover. My still very limited understanding of “kosher” versus “kosher for Passover” is that the latter is stricter than the former. Curious choice to release a kosher bourbon that’s not kosher for Passover around the time of Passover. They do release it after Passover, they say, so, something to look forward to…?
It does start to seem like marketing—just another spin around the Wellerverse.
But hey, it tastes great. And it prompted me to learn something about an aspect of Jewish culture I hadn’t been aware of before. Learning about cultures other than my own is something I greatly value. It’s a very simple way to tend to peace.
And as noted, given Buffalo Trace didn’t wrap it in the Weller flag, even in 2022 I was able to pick up a bottle for a better price than I could ever hope to find an Antique 107 single barrel or even standard release Weller Full Proof. I might occasionally find a Weller Special Reserve for $40 still. But as a tasting experience, WSR is not worth $40 to me. Plus the proof is 4 degrees lower than this kosher bourbon. Frankly I’d rather pay a little bit more for this vibrant, more syrupy 94-proof outing, and pay less for this than I would an Antique 107. Such is the bourbon boom.
A few days before publishing this post, I had cause to open a bunkered bottle of Weller Antique 107 at a holiday party. Naturally I then tried it next to the Kosher Wheat.
Despite the Weller Antique being 107 proof, versus the Kosher Wheat’s 94, their color appears identical. Often higher proof bourbons are darker given they are less diluted. But not here. On the nose these whiskeys are likewise similar, showing the same sweet fruit and caramel notes at comparable intensities, with the Kosher Wheat coming across with slightly but discernibly greater depth and richness.
Then on the taste comes the real surprise. The Kosher Wheat offers a nice syrupy texture, rich caramel, and perfectly balanced oak tannins, finishing with a prominent dark caramel note that lingers for a decent length of time. The Weller Antique 107 offers a thinner texture by comparison, brighter caramel, slightly more tannic oak, finishing with an unsurprisingly stronger peppery heat given the proof, yet not lingering quite as long…
Very. Interesting. This particular Weller is a single barrel store pick. The Kosher Wheat is a blend, though one can guess a smaller batch blend than the average standard Weller Antique 107 release. Their ages are comparable at 7 years, though their proofs differ significantly by 13 degrees. Given the Kosher Wheat’s proof is 94, just 4 degrees hotter than Weller Special Reserve, I’d been thinking about it in relation to that release, the Weller line’s most basic entry point. To find it holding its own—and even surpassing in its overall qualities—a Weller Antique 107 single barrel store pick, is quite a surprise!
All the more reason going forward for me to pick up the Kosher Wheat over any Weller, so long as I continue to come across it in the $50 to $60 range.