Monday, March 11, 2013

Wheaters Part 5: William Larue Weller Review

Barrel-proof Wheater from the BTAC
So, I got a few heated responses both here and on Reddit to my suggestion that BTAC should simplify their wheater lineup. Let me clarify for a moment before I begin this review. I either very much like or totally love every bourbon from the last post. However, I think there is some redundancy and unless BT ramps up their production of wheated bourbon, I would rather make Sophie's choices than never be able to find what I want.

One of the bourbons whose role I found unclear was the Willam Larue Weller. Willy occupies one of the coveted spots in BT's Antique Collection, which has three extra aged whiskies: Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17 and George T. Stagg (NAS but usually around 17 years old). The collection also has 3 barrel proof offerings: Thomas Handy Sazerac, George T. Stagg (serving double duty here) and William Larue Weller. Why the 6 year old Handy is in the "antique" collection I am not sure. The Willy Larue is itself usually only 11-12 years old, so it's not exactly long in the tooth either. The reason that I found the WLW potentially redundant is that it appears to be Weller 12 at barrel proof: that's  18.3% more alcohol for 2.4 times the price, which seems poor QPR, unless you really like to drink your bourbon at it's full 126.6 proof (some do). The question really, is whether Willy can offer something more than Weller 12 at drinkable proof. The answer, of course, will depend on what proof you find drinkable. I don't like to drink barrel proof very often: the intensity of flavor is great but I find drinking responsible amounts to go too quickly, and I just can't imagine it's healthy. So here's some tasting:

Full Proof 126.6 proof 2010 release William Larue Weller
  • Deep orange-amber color with a hint of cloudiness suggesting that it is unfiltered.
  • The nose is unsurprisingly alcoholic and very woody. It has prominent acetone aroma and smells like it came from a high floor in the warehouse. The nose also reveals dry wheat, maple syrup, oranges and caramel. This is a very nice nose. Perhaps a bit woody, but it competes well with Pappy and Jeff 18.
  • The palate entry is aggressive and I admit it's clearly too alcoholic to be comfortable, unless I'm trying to impress you with my drinking prowess. There is maple again, caramel, vanilla and cinnamon. I remember this being better when first opened (I thought it tasted like concentrated Pappy then, 3 months ago), but now it's hard to get past the alcohol.
  • The finish is initially anesthetic from the alcohol, but this fades into a lasting, warm pleasant finish of dark fruit, caramel, vanilla and maple.
This is really great, but the alcohol is just too much; Maybe the 2012 will fare better.

Watered to 100 proof
Using a digital scale, I watered the Willy down to 100 proof with highly filtered water. After it settled down:
  • The nose has improved. The woodiness has faded and there is more caramel, vanilla and fruit. Some of the acetone has faded as well, which is good because it was too much.
  • This time around, the palate entry is not as shocking and traditional wheated bourbons are evident immeditately: white bread, pastries, butter, caramel, vanilla. There is more cinnamon here. The alcohol burn is still not the smoothest I've encountered, however.
  • The finish is no longer numbing, but is otherwise nearly the same. The only detriment I can find is a slight bitterness (that I also find in the Lot B, to which I did not add water), but this is faint and hardly significant.
Overall I really like the 100 proof WLW; It could stand a bit of rounding out, however, as I still find it surprisingly harsh compared to the similarly aged, but higher proof Old Rip.

Watered to 90 proof
As a final test, I watered this down to Weller 12's 90 proof.
At this proof the nose suffers, if only by becoming less intense. The palate actually becomes sweeter and feels fuller bodied, but otherwise is just a less intense, but still nice, version of the 100. The finish again is similar, if milder.

By way of comparison, I brought out the Weller 12 to compare to the 90 proof WLW (see my prior post for a full review of the Weller 12).
  •  The nose has more butter and caramel.
  • The palate is rounder and seemingly heavier, but with more corn flavor and less complexity.
  • The finish is smooth and without bitterness, but again simpler
Verdict
This is a very singular barrel-proof wheater. It is very complex and well-made but unfortuately a bit too much to take straight as the complexity and pleasing flavors are overwhelmed by alcohol (in a way that is not the case with Stagg, which I will drink straight). Watered to 100 proof it is, I think, my favorite expression of Weller and is significantly better than the Weller 12. Watering it down to 90 does it no favors. At 90, however, it is not identical to the Weller 12 however, and I can think of a few reasons:
  • WLW is unchillfiltered, leaving a number of fatty acids and other flavorful compounds that are removed in Weller 12.
  • I would bet money, based on the woodiness, that the WLW is from higher floors of the warehouse where more dramatic temperature shifts impart more oak compounds to the spirit.
  • WLW is a limited barrel-selection, so the profile is likely chosen to be different
Overall, I like this and will continue to enjoy the bottles of these I have. I am still not sure that when I can get bourbons like Stagg that do barrel-proof better, and Pappy 15/107 that does wheater better, that I will buy much more of this. Maybe the 2012's I have will be better, but for now if I want to spend close to $100 (after taxes and the inevitable gouging) on a bottle of bourbon, I will have PVW or GTS.  If I want to drink a 12 year old wheater, I'll have Weller 12 for $25. For now, I have a not unlimited budget for this stuff and I will spend it as wisely as possible, which means no high-end whiskey that I don't absolutely love. If they were to age WLW a few more years, on the other hand, I think I might be able to get into some trouble.

2 comments:

  1. Would be nice to see you cut this to 107 proof and see how it compares to Pappy 15? Curious how the 3 year age difference effects the profile. I personally think the the WLW are all honey barrels compared to the large dumps with minimal to no QC for the Weller 12 (my house bourbon).

    I think Pappy 15 has one of the best noses in the business (with a little air and swirl in the glass) and if there was a substitute (i.e. WLW @107), I would be open to give that a try...

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    1. Don't have any open or I'd do a mini review right now, though the 100 proof is close. I have to say that while the nose her is very nice, it is a bit plain, while I agree that the PVW is just fantastic. Having experienced the nose on the 17 year Bernheim-distilled Vintage 17 and the 17 year-old Jefferson's from S-W, I think that the latter 2 bring a complexity to the nose that the all BT WLW can't quite match.

      I also agree that the WLW is much more consistently good than the W12. I think the Weller 107 you are looking for is actually Old Rip 10/107...

      Thanks for reading.

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