Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wheaters part 4: The Great Wheater Night

Wheater Night
It was ambitious
We might have gone a bit overboard with this one. My friend Greg and I finally got to have a whiskey night after a long interval. Reviews of the Pappy Van Winkle 15, Jefferson's Presidential Reserve 18, Vintage 17, William Larue Weller, Old Weller Antique and Old Rip Van Winkle will follow.

The point of this evening was to take a broad survey of high-end wheaterdom and  compare in a few cases  to more standard offerings to get a feel for the actual value added by the more expensive and harder to get bottles. We also tried or hand at a couple vattings (not so insane when you remember that PVW and lot B have often been vattings of different bourbons). It's really great to be able to try everything together to allow comparisons and really bring perspective. Here are our most notable thoughts:

Buffalo Trace

  • Pappy 15 is an awesome, just incredible, perfect wheated bourbon. It roundly beat everything else here and we both agree we like it better than the Pappy 20 (which we did not open last night). I don't have a clear enough memory of the Pappy 23 from my one tasting, but I think I would always pick 3 15's over a 23. At $100 this is not inexpensive but may be the best bourbon currently made and certainly ranks among the best $100 whiskeys of any kind. The only thing I can say to temper this is that I'm not sure that the best wheater really beats the best straight ryes, but that is personal preference.
  • Buffalo Trace makes too many wheaters. We think they should consider discontinuing Lot B. The best bottles of Weller 12 are as good, and less stellar examples are still well worth the $25. Lot B is too expensive and too hard to find. If we got rid of it, Weller 12 could be more available. 
  • Along similar lines, we think that Old Weller Antique should go. Screaming OWA fans hear me out: OWA is a very nice value bourbon, but if we had more access to either Weller 12, or ORVW 10/107 (which these OWA barrels grow up to be) I think we could live without the OWA. We need to stop tapping these barrels in the flower of their youth and wait until they are the far superior 10-12 year-old versions. I guess we could keep the WSR as an incredible value alternative to Maker's.
  • WLW can also go: obviously a well-selected barrel-proof Weller 12, we could stop fooling around with this and make more W12 available. While we are at it, why not put the Weller 12 in a nicer bottle at 100 proof, charge a touch more and split the difference.
  • Because of all of the above, our dream lineup BT wheaters would be a pared-down roster of WSR, ORVW 10/107, Weller 12/100 and PVW15. This would maximize all that is good and right about BT wheaters while perhaps helping availability. The PVW 20 and 23 should obviously live on as limited editions.

Other Wheaters

  • The Vintage 17 wheater was really, really nice. A KBD-bottled wheater made at Bernheim with KBD's usual flair for creative names. Too bad this stuff is no longer made.
  • The JPS18 was not as good as the JPS17. The extra year seems to have done it no favors.


  • The 50:50 blend of OWA and W12 made popular on Straight Bourbon remains a great thing, though the nose is better than the palate. 
  • A step-up version of the above with ORVW and W12 was incredible, and was the inspiration for our plea for W12/100.

DIY Hirsch 16- The best nose of any American Whiskey we have ever encountered!
  • The best, and perhaps most heretical vatting was one I conceived during my only experience with Hirsch 16. I enjoyed it after some JPS 18 and at the time thought that they were similar but that the H16 brought much more enjoyable rye complexity to the midpalate as well as more of the acetone notes I enjoy in PVW and George T. Stagg. So we did the obvious: added GTS drop by drop to JPS18 until the grassiness faded from the midpalate and was replaced by all of the intense rye-bourbon notes we love about the Stagg. The nose on this stuff was staggering. I'm not going to compare it to the Hirsch, but I would encourage any of you whiskey nerd with both of these open to try it. As Greg put it, "Stagg might be the white truffle of the bourbon world - an expensive, exotic, wonderful flavoring ingredient that is best not consumed by itself."


  1. Couldn't disagree more. If Buffalo Trace needed to get rid of Weller Special Reserve or Old Weller Antique, why would anyone want to lose the higher proof option? Also, I would gladly kick Weller 12 to the curb for greater access to William Larue Weller. I will pay the difference in cost, because I feel strongly that WLW is that much better.

    Also, Vintage 17 was not distilled by Heaven Hill. Yes, it was distilled at Bernheim, but likely by United Distillers. Anything distilled by Heaven Hill there would just now be reaching 17 years old.

    1. Thanks for commenting, and for helping out with the Bernheim info: I could not find the exact info anywhere. I will update (I'd acknowledge you, but the post was anonymous)

      As for getting rid of BT expressions, I think it's fun to discuss, even if we disagree. I think that the current OWA is just a bit too young. As for WLW and Weller 12, I just don't find the extra 15% alcohol to be worth 2.4x the cost.

      Lucky for you, no one is really asking my opinion about getting rid of anything. Though with wheated bourbon stocks as they are, you have to wonder.

  2. I would be interested to know what Batch of JPS 18 you were working from? They vary some (not that any I have tried are bad per se), but I have tasted them against Pappy 15, 20, Lot B, ORVW 90, Vintage 17, in a similar set up and thought it more than held its own with Pappy 15 (I believe I had some batch 14). I have always preferred 20, which I think is a little more similar to JPS. Thinner mouthfeel, more rock candy, less creme brulee than the 15. Either way I bet this tasting was a blast.

    1. I'll get the batch # for you this evening. I agree that they vary. This one had a more prominent, grassy note on the midpalate than I remember, and it was certainly drier than the JPS 18, which I felt held its own better with the Pappy 15. Overall, I agree with the assessment that the JPS 18 is more similar to the Pappy 20; I just like the 15 better than both.

      As you say, it was a total blast.

  3. Wow, what a lineup for one evening! I have also created a vatting of age stated OWA with Weller 12. To me it is the perfect comboination of age and proof.

    I think that removing WLW from the BT Antique collection would be a bad idea. They only pull about 40 barrels per year for this bottling. What I would like to see is that BT would pull from older stocks (15-18 years) To keep in more in line with the age of Stagg, ER17, and Saz 18. What I like best about the WLW is that it is the only available uncut, unfiltered wheater at this time. You mention several times in your post that you would remove several BT wheaters in exchange for more Weller 12. Is there a shortage of Weller 12 in your neck of the woods? In Texas, I can get just as much Wellee 12 as I can Jim Beam or Jack Daniels!

    Your Idea of a DIY Hirsch 16 sounds intriguing since I have never been lucky enough to sample a true pour of Hirsch 16. I do not have any JPS18, but would you recommend substituting Pappy 15 or 20 to accompany the Stagg to try and hit the Hirsch 16 flavor profile? Also what proportion of Stagg/Pappy would you suggest?


    1. Good point on both counts about the WLW; it's really not a large amount. Though I really like it, I think my dissatisfaction comes form it offering only proof over the 12 (as such a terrible price per proof differential); if they'd make it a 17-18 year old like Stagg, I think it would be incredible.

      As for availability, Weller 12 is not available in PA or NJ; I have to order from NY or CA. I may have to visit Texas!

      We were actually going to try the Pappy/Stagg vatting and I think it would likely be awesome. I just added drops of Stagg into a glass of JPS until the flavor was there, but not overpowering (probably 10-15% Stagg). Look forward to hearing how it turns out.

  4. Could you tell me the difference in palate between the WLReserve and the WL 12? Is one sweeter than the other?

    1. I've always found the WSR sweeter but much more boring and watery. The 12 is more complex, nuttier and drier to me.

    2. and yet wouldn't you say the 12 is smoother even though it's drier? Thanks for the reply by the way.