As I noted recently, it’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection season, which means that the utter insanity surrounding a few great bourbons and ryes (and Eagle Rare 17) is in full swing. Friday morning I received an email from K&L letting me know my pick in their raffle had arrived. Yes, this is how sad and over the top the mania is: they have to raffle off spots for whiskey. I told you this was impossibly nerdy.
Having found by chance the George T. Stagg, I had one other high in my sights: The 2011 release of William Larue Weller. More people seem to prefer the completely massive, totally over the top profile of the George T. Stagg, but I have a definite preference for the William Larue Weller. It’s a wheat recipe bourbon (versus the rye recipe of Stagg) and it’s everything I like about wheaters.
The 2010 release is still high on my list of favorite whiskeys around; it’s just totally stunning. I’d also done a trade recently and got a sample of the 2009, which is great but definitely different from the 2010. I was looking forward to the 2011 release.
Now that it’s here, I decided to take the opportunity to taste it against the last two years’ releases to see how they stack up and to provide some context. William Larue Weller happens to be one of my absolute favorite whiskeys ever, so this had a very lofty heritage to live up to.
The 2010 Weller was actually the first I’d tasted and remains one of my absolutely favorite whiskeys, despite its somewhat extreme profile. The 2009 was acquired via a sample swap with Sku and the ’11′s provenance has been discussed.
The 2010 Weller is an absolutely ridiculous whiskey. It’s one of the most woody bourbons I’ve ever had, but surprisingly it doesn’t go over the line into being too bitter. It’s not like sucking on a cheap pencil… it’s more like being in an old wood-paneled study where the wood and furniture polish smell just permeates the room. It’s rather warm on the nose, which is to be expected given its strength. The wood and furniture polish are rounded out by a slight hint of toffee and just the faintest hint of apples. The palate continues with the warmth, but it’s not overpowering. It’s spiced with cinnamon and star anise; grain and corn are also predominant as well as the wood notes. It’s syrupy and rich and has just a hint of molasses. The finish is grainy and warm and dries ever so slightly. There’s some corn sweetness as things taper off as well.
While the 2010 is all about wood, I found the 2009 to be a showcase of grain. The nose has corn, caramel and toffee in abundance. There are light hints of cinnamon and clove and it seems less hot on the nose. However, the palate is where things heat up quickly. Wood is noticeable, as you’d expect on a Weller, and there are dark fruits – plums, black cherries – as well. There’s some corn sweetness as well. The palate is a little lighter and not as syrupy, with some general grainy notes (no doubt the wheat). The finish is long, rich, full, and lasting, but slightly dry. It’s a great whiskey overall and I think it’s a little more lively than the ’10.
Which brings us to 2011′s entry. This year is notable for the increased ABV – Weller is now 66% ABV which puts it ever closer to George T. Stagg territory. The nose immediately presents huge toffee notes with some caramel; it’s buttery and has a definite pecan note. Maple syrup is in abundance; wood is present but not overbearing. There’s some white pepper and cinnamon as well as some black cherries at the edges of this one. The palate continues the rich, buttery experience of the nose – it’s sweet as well with toffee in abundance again, some wood and some vanilla. There’s molasses, oranges and pepper to be found as well. As it finishes, the cherry moves center stage initially, and there’s wood at the forefront for the first time as well. There’s vanilla, a faint hint of corn sweetness and some slight hints of marshmallow.
Another way the 2011 Weller shines is with water. It simplifies its character – much more caramel and corn on the nose; on the palate it’s all caramel and toffee with a buttery mouthfeel and a hint of cherries. With water it’s insanely smooth.
To be honest, I think the 2011 Weller is superior to 2010 and 2009. 2009 is good but is a bit fiery and hot. 2010 can be overly bitter and a little closed off. The 2011 is warm, open and inviting, very balanced in flavor and with a lot more going on in the nose. It is extremely enjoyable neat; it’s also phenomenal with a bit of water. Really, you can’t go wrong with it unless you decide to mix it with Coke.
These bourbons can be costly and an extreme style exercise. However, they stand up to the price tag in my opinion. It’s not an everyday sipper, it’s a great one for a special occasion – just don’t let those occasions be too far apart!
At a glance:
Comment: This is much, much livelier and does not have the deep hints of age that I think the 2010 had. Very heavy, pleasant and notable grain and corn notes. Really solid and a heavy hitter. Pleasant nose.
Nose: Quite hot on the nose. Less corn evident, more wheat. A smoothly integrated wood note with kind of a dusty, polished furniture note. Smells like an old study. A somewhat bright sweetness that brings some toffee notes with it.
Palate: Warm but not overpowering. Lightly spicy – some cinnamon, hints of star anise, some grain and some corn, medium wood notes, syrupy with the slightest hint of molasses. Ever so slightly salty.
Finish: Grain and warmth which give way to wood, which dries slightly on the palate. It also has a slight corn sweetness to it.
Comment: This is really good. Less grainy than the ’09, more woody and dusty, it’s old and sedate. Of the two this wins by a whisker but I wouldn’t turn either down.
Nose: Big toffee notes initially with some caramel beneath. Slightly buttery; hints of pecan. Maple syrup in abundance; wood is present but not overbearing. Some cherry notes hanging out in the background as well. White pepper and cinnamon. Water opens up more of the caramel notes and brings some corn and grain to the front.
Palate: Warm and rich; slightly buttery. Sweet with toffee; some wood present; maple syrup; some vanilla. Light molasses and a hint of oranges. A light dusting of pepper. Water makes this ridiculously smooth and buttery, there are some cherry notes but it’s dominated by toffee and caramel. Insanely smooth.
Finish: Black cherry and wood in abundance, some vanilla at the edges; slightly bitter; the slightest trace of corn sweetness. Some slight hints of marshmallow.
Comment: This is easily the best Weller of the last three, in my opinion; balanced and clean. However, where that would make it an A based on the previous years, it just feels slightly restrained. Water makes this an absurdly syrupy, buttery, rich whiskey – I don’t know if I prefer it more with or without the water. Dealer’s choice.