Weller requires either no introduction or an expository essay to explain. Although its reputation is anything other than muted, it’s effectively a unicorn to more recent bourbon-curious consumers. Stores and bars alike have struggled to acquire bottles for a few years now, and when they do, they’re often upcharged to obscene levels. And if you live in a control state, your chances of seeing it will have less to do with the asking price and more to do with time.
But most of us already know this. I’m not interested in adding more to an already-festering pile of columns asking why Buffalo Trace products are hyped. Instead, let’s give a quick background to today’s review before taking a quick dive into the whiskey itself.
The Weller name comes from 19th century businessman William Larue Weller and, subsequently, the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company. Although W.L. Weller lived and worked through most of the 19th century, the Stitzel-Weller distillery opened shortly after Prohibition in 1935, only to close in 1992. Somewhat ironically, this is around the time bourbon began gaining its second wind that continues to this day. Weller 12-Year, the bottle I’ll be looking at today, first hit the market in 2001 as a $20 bottle. A wheated bourbon with an undisclosed mash bill, it’s produced at the ever-popular Buffalo Trace distillery and is bottled at 45% ABV. Although the MSRP is around $40, actual sightings of a bottle more commonly come with price tags hovering around the $250-$300 range. Sometimes more.
I’ve already touched on how extra-silly Weller distribution is in Florida, so I was only able to try it through a sample swap. Let’s get into it.
Nose: Buttery and fruity. Generous dose of caramel and light brown sugar with some vaguely floral-vanilla notes. Honey wheat toast utterly smothered in butter. Crème brulee, apple pie, and vanilla ice cream. There’s just a touch of sweet, faintly musty barrel essence buried beneath the sweet exterior that adds a welcome dimension to the overall aroma.
Palate: Candy-sweet to the point of being saccharine, especially after a few sips. Vanilla, honey candy, and an underpinning of light brown sugar. A by-the-books, sweet bourbon profile. Cherry lozenge becomes more apparent, entering cough syrup territory while the brown sugar note turns darker, revealing a slightly more molasses-like personality.
Finish: Not particularly long or striking. As the darker brown sugar note peaks, it gives way to hints of tobacco amidst overtones of caramel and vanilla extract, just to remind you what kind of pour this is.
Have you gathered that I find this incredibly sweet? Like, sickly sweet? My experience with Weller products, though limited, has been decidedly mixed. Weller 12-Year continues the trend by smelling great and tasting good, but soon slips into a less endearing realm. The more I sip it, the more cough syrupy it becomes, progressing into a borderline-unpleasant experience. I’d even go so far as to say this treads one-dimensional territory.
Weller 12-Year doesn’t taste like other similarly aged bourbons I’ve tried, partly because of its mash bill, but also because they’ve become more difficult to obtain. They tend to be bottled at higher strengths as well, a benefit this bourbon could stand to benefit from. One might then point to William Larue Weller, barring how coveted it is. Yet I wouldn’t say it’s a guaranteed fix, considering how sweet and hot a product like Old Forester Single Barrel Barrel Strength can drink.
The best case I could then make for Weller 12-Year is one that it previously occupied, one that many suspect it’ll never return to. Everything about it as a product lines up until we factor in the reality of the crazed market: 12 years old, 45% ABV, $45 MSRP, and an ultimately decent pour that won’t scratch everyone’s itch. For the crowd chasing those sweet and “smooth” sippers, there’s clear appeal to a bottle like this. Even a more discerning and critical drinker could easily sip this and be won over, potentially justifying a fraction of the hype surrounding it.
As for me, I doubt Weller 12-Year would see regular status in my home if it were available for its intended price. It’d be a good option to have for earnest newcomers or fans of low proof bourbons with little to no bite. Otherwise? I’d have little reason to indulge.