I remember when I was first getting into bourbon, a good friend of mine, lets call him “Big John” had popped by my garage bar with a bottle of Weller Special Reserve. I recall seeing it at several local liquor stores for a fairly cheap price here in Texas and honestly really did not think it was probably that good. It was a hidden gem as it turns out. Being a bourbon prepper, Big John has a stash of Weller Special Reserve in his garage that would rival some large liquor stores back rooms and for good measure, it has become harder and harder to find, even in states like Ohio or Texas that see the lion’s share of the allocations of this particular product. What used to be a regularly seen bottle has largely disappeared from shelves as the gig is up, secret is out, and folks are buying up Weller Special Reserve (and any other Weller products) as soon as they see them. Weller Special Reserve is however, just the start of the lineup which I explore in depth below.
Who was William Larue Weller
William Larue Weller was a liquor wholesaler operating his business, W.L. Weller & Sons, out of Louisville Kentucky from the mid- to late 1800’s. Weller is given credit for the first commercial production of a wheated bourbon, now available through Buffalo Trace Distillery under the name W.L. Weller. Later in William Larue Weller’s life, he hired on Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle who served as a sales representative. I'd hope that's a somewhat familiar name!
Weller Bourbon Lineup
Within the Weller family there are seven distinctly different products offered which range in value and rarity. I’ve been fortunate to have put together the entire lineup in my garage bar and completing the Weller Vertical is certainly a feat that deserves special recognition (insert virtual pat on the back here). Of note, the Weller line is rumored to be the same mashbill as that used in Pappy and other Van Winkle related bottlings. Below we dive into each one and provide some thoughts on the intricacies of the brands under the name. Secondary prices were obtained from the regularly updated Bourbon Blue Book.
Weller Special Reserve
Secondary Price: $55
Marketed as “the original wheated bourbon” Weller Special Reserve is above all else, an easy drinker. At only 90 proof it is a smooth pour with relatively nuanced flavor notes that do not overpower the dram. For being the entry point to the brand, you immediately think…if this twenty some dollar bottle is THIS good, then the others must be amazing! As a matter of fact, that line of logic is entirely true.
Secondary Price: $105
Believed to be in the six to eight year age range, Weller's Antique botting comes in at 107 proof. At this proof point there's a nice balance between drinkability - not too hot - and flavor. Admittedly, it's probably my least favorite of the lineup, but it's bound to be some folks go-to drinker being full-flavored, spicy and a decent price ---- IF you can find it that is.
Secondary Price: $255
Weller 12 is one of the most common and yet uncommon bottles that exist. It along with the Antique 107 and Special Reserve are part of the routine ongoing releases from Buffalo Trace. It's fairly uncommon that this bottle ever makes it to a shelf, so if you happen to see one and buy it, you may want to consider a lottery ticket as well as it's obviously your lucky day! It's not just hype why everyone is buying this up; it is truly a quality bourbon that will impress; you'll know it when you taste it.
Weller Full Proof
Secondary Price: $280
What a beautiful high-proof wheater. Admittedly, and I hate to say this, but the MSRP on this bottle is cheap and is such a great pour that it is nearly (nearly...as in I could stretch there) worth paying the secondary price for. This bottling is still relatively new as a part of the brand, debuting in 2019. I recall a huge surge of demand and a rumor that we'd start seeing more of this product as production ramped...here we are in 2022 and I'm still waiting. With an exceptionally long finish this solid and well balanced bourbon deserves a spot on your top shelf and will certainly have you pouring an extra finger or two...just for good measure.
Secondary Price: $630
Reaching market in the summer of 2018, Weller CYPB or "Create Your Perfect Bourbon" is a truly interesting story that started with the launch of the CYPB website in November of 2015. The interactive website guided users through a process to learn about and create the "perfect" bourbon. Users would choose a recipe, a spot in the warehouse for aging, select the years in which the bourbon would age and the proof point of bottling. In two years time somewhere around 100,000 people had visited and crafted their perfect dram. The vast majority unsurprisingly chose a wheated recipe, with this bourbon joining the Weller lineup as a perfect fit. Other choices included aging for eight years, placement on the top floor of the rickhouse and bottling just under 100 proof. Releasing only one batch of CYPB per year, the CYPB bottling is one of of the more balanced bourbons in the lineup.
Weller Single Barrel
Secondary Price: $720
Weller Single Barrel was one of the most difficult bottles for me to personally procure, with significant demand and very limited supply, and yes, I overpaid...by a lot. It's a bit of an interesting add to the lineup given Weller already produces single barrel offerings for their special reserve, antique 107 and full proof lines - which are oversubscribed. These Weller barrels are all coming from the same stock...same mashbill, same age...being separated by proof they're bottled at, chill filtering and most notably the color of the label. Many won't open this 97 proof bottle because of the price point or what they may be able to score in trade, but not this guy, it was open the day I got it as I like to "pour em' and score em'" It's a great sipper but for the price point, there are a LOT of other really great sippers that I could have for much less. It is still however a damn good pour.
William Larue Weller
Secondary Price: $1660
Showing up originally on the market in 2005, this is the top of the house as it relates to what a barrel proof wheated bourbon that is long in the tooth should taste like. No one can argue against calling William Larue Weller the best barrel proof wheated bourbon on the market, period. The barrels that this bottling are pulled from given the age have lost around sixty five percent of the original whiskey to the angels. Yearly bottlings differ in flavor profile, with this past years having a bit more "oak funk" than years prior, which to me was probably a nice nuance as I like to have the age come through on the taste. If you're lucky enough to score a pour, expect a long spicy finish that you may want to tame with a drop or two of distilled water.
As I went through reviewing Buffalo Traces W.L. Weller lineup, it was very difficult to find much negative to say about the brand or individual bottlings. In general they're great pours and always a solid choice in any setting. If you enjoyed the conversation today, I'd suggest you become a Bourboneur and join us on Instagram, Facebook, and yes, even TikTok.