Weller has always had a particularly mysterious aura to me. Although Florida isn’t an ABC control state, it is home to a liquor chain called ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which exclusively carries the Weller line throughout most of the state. This arrangement is particularly annoying for bourbon lovers since all other Buffalo Trace products are already allocated on some level. Not to mention Weller is one of the few widely (I use that word lightly) distributed wheated bourbons out there, so having fewer options in that category only makes being a fan of said category that much less enjoyable.
Yet one doesn’t need to live in Florida to understand how bonkers the hype behind Weller is. Even the entry-level Special Reserve can easily fetch over $60 in certain markets while others see it collecting dust on shelves for around $20. The irony that tops off this scenario is the alleged slogan of William Larue Weller that Buffalo Trace slaps on the back of every bottle: “Honest whiskey at an honest price.” Perhaps we can boil it down to limited jurisdiction.
Buffalo Trace seem keenly aware of the demand their brands generate, since Weller Special Reserve is one of four bottles sold at their gift shop on a random, rotational basis. The other three commonly seen are Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor Small Batch, and Blanton’s. Hype and frustrations aside, Buffalo Trace tends to produce solid whiskey at the end of the day, so let’s see how their entry-level wheater fits into things.
Nose: Sweet and soft; leans on the young side. Cherry licorice candy and corn cupcakes with frosting. Sugary sweet cereal and a bit of an artificial, marginally dry vanilla note. Light charred oak undermined by a medicinal undercurrent. Caramel-flavored light roast coffee after sipping.
Palate: Quite sweet and on the young side. Vanilla and caramel cream upfront let down by the thin mouthfeel. Sweet, buttered dough and a mild, medicinal cherry note that, like the rest of the whiskey, doesn’t fully develop. Oak influence feels watered down to leave little more than a light, lingering bitterness.
Finish: Somewhat short. Hints of orange and a barely lingering vanilla. Bitter astringency and light pepper, but it’s ultimately nondescript. Mild oaky bitterness lingers in a flat, stale manner.
Prior to acquiring my own bottle, I’d enjoyed pours from a friend’s bottle of Weller Special Reserve. I want to emphasize the word “enjoyed” and the fact it’s in the past tense. I’ve revisited my own bottle quite a few times since purchasing it, which has gradually brought me from simple enjoyment to slight distaste. Some promising elements are certainly in place and the bourbon begins to deliver on some of them, but it either fails to stick the landing or goes too far in certain areas. The sweetness here feels light and sickly at the same time, which may have been why I had an initial fondness for the whiskey. However, it’s an experience that becomes less appealing over time, to the point that I start wincing at my bottle when I start thinking “maybe tonight it’ll taste better.”
And it bears repeating: This stuff can easily fetch over $60 in a number of markets. The thought of paying such a total for bourbon of this quality makes me want to bump the grades I’ve given to bottles that cost less than $30. Understanding why Weller is enjoyed and celebrated doesn’t require a vivid imagination, but understanding why it commands such widespread and intense desire, even for this entry-level bottling, is beyond perplexing.