The William Larue Weller family of bourbons are a brand first produced by the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company in Louisville8 Kentucky. The bourbon itself was named after distiller William Larue Weller, who was supposedly the first distiller to use wheat instead of rye as a flavouring grain in his bourbon. Using wheat instead of rye is what W.L. Weller claimed made his whiskies mild, gentle and smooth. Today the W.L. Weller brands are distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery and their connection to the Pappy Van Winkle brand has made them some of the most sought after bourbons on the market. The range includes Weller Special Reserve, Weller Antique 107, Weller 12 year old, and the very limited William Larue Weller bourbon which forms part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
Old Weller Antique, commonly referred to as ‘OWA’ or ‘Weller 107’, is 107 proof wheated bourbon produced on a limited basis by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. With a long standing connection to the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Co., and the legendary brands they produced, this high proof bourbon is for many the strong favourite of the W.L. Weller core range. It’s difficult to truly know why this bourbon was originally bottled at 107 proof but many claim that as barrel-entry proof was not allowed exceed 110 proof before 1962, many distillers barrelled at 100 proof and with ageing of 4-7 years this rose to around 107 proof – so essentially 107 proof was barrel proof back in the day. Originally a 7 year old bourbon, consumer demand drove Old Weller Antique to first become NAS, before recently being rebranded as simply Weller Antique 107 and dropping the ‘Old’ reference altogether. Although not as limited as its 12 year old age-stated cousin, Weller 107 is still highly sought after and occasionally liquor stores are allocated a single barrel of Weller Antique to sell to eager customers.
The bottle I’ll be reviewing today is the recent Weller Antique 107 store pick from Cork ‘N Bottle liquor store in Crescent Springs, KY. Nicknamed ‘Sweet Harmony’, this whiskey is a blend of barrels that was put together by the genius behind Old Baldy batch 1 and 2, CnB spirit manager Mr. Ed Bley. Instead of giving customers 3 different single barrels of Weller Antique 107, Ed asked if he could blend his allocated barrels together and was given the green light. After blending samples from 6 different barrels over a number of weeks Ed decided on a blend of 3 barrels that worked well regardless of what ratios they were blended at. The result was a non-chill filtered small batch blend of Weller Antique that’s release day attracted over 300 people and sold all 400+ bottles in a couple of hours. To review this whiskey I will be using a sample of the regular Weller Antique 107 as a benchmark.
Name: Weller Antique 107
Proof: 107 Proof (53.5% ABV)
Type: Straight Kentucky Bourbon
Mashbill: Undisclosed but uses wheat as a flavouring grain
Producer: Buffalo Trace Distillery
Standard Weller 107: The standard expression opens with a kick of pepper, followed by vanilla, caramel, and wheat. As it opens, hints of baking spice and a lot of dry oak also emerge and these all come together in a well balanced sweet oaky nose.
CnB Weller 107: Wow, ok this is something else. The nose is fuller and rounder with less dry oak and spicy pepper for a start. There’s also a lot more deep caramel and baking spice – especially cinnamon, sweet ripe red fruit, and herbaceous smoky oak.
Standard Weller 107: Initially the palate is a bit thin and light, however, then a wave of spice and flavour rolls in and coats the tongue and cheeks. There’s bitter charred oak, burnt caramel, a touch of orange peel oil, baking spices, and a hefty alcohol kick carrying it all. It’s hot and packed with flavour.
CnB Weller 107: The store pick on the other hand is thick and viscous on the palate. As soon as it meets your tongue it coats it with herbaceous oak and sweet buttery cinnamon. This is followed by a wave of spice and more cinnamon that packs a kick of heat. As the heat quickly dissipates you get deep caramel, vanilla, and smokey oak as the spice still tingles on your tongue.
Standard Weller 107: The standard expression finishes with a wave of oak spice that fades to a buttery sweet caramel, baking spices, and leaves the mouth coated in dry oak.
CnB Weller 107: The store pick finishes smooth with some residual spice from the palate, dark fruit, cinnamon, and warm buttery toasted oak that leaves an aftertaste of cinnamon, caramel, and dry oak on the cheeks.
I’m going to open this by restating a fact we’re all well aware of at this stage: Weller Antique 107 remains one of the best low-priced bourbons on the market. Apart from the annual release of William Larue Weller it sits at the top of the Weller range for me. However, what I found with this store pick is that it outperformed the regular release on every level (no surprise there!). Whereas the standard Weller 107 has those classic wheated bourbon flavours of vanilla, caramel, a touch of pepper, baking spices and wheat grain on the nose, this blend only adds further complexity with fuller, more rounded out notes. This blend is a flavour beast and put next to it the regular Weller Antique release is almost disappointing. Drinking this store pick you can taste that you’re still drinking Weller Antique but the level of balance, complexity and flavour makes it seem like you’re drinking Weller 12 at 107 proof instead. The standard Weller Antique, although a fantastic wheated bourbon when enjoyed on its own, comparatively has flavours that seem a lot muted which is odd considering they’re both the same proof. I put this down to the NCF that was used for this pick. In fact it would seem that not using chill filtering has added so much more to this pick that drinking this I can’t help but wonder why Buffalo Trace don’t just release Old Weller as a NCF whiskey. Yes, some people don’t like haze but I’ve seen many whiskies either address this issue on the label or just not care to mention it, because in the grand scheme it makes no difference. I know there are those that claim chill filtering doesn’t change the flavour profile but even if it doesn’t the mouthfeel and the interaction of those fats with the spice from the oak is also a vital part of the whiskey drinking experience and this pick has that thick buttery mouthfeel for days. The recent popularity and crazy rush for any NCF Weller Antique store picks I hope is making the powers that be at Buffalo Trace take notice of what the drinkers want. Everyone from discerning drinkers to bar people that are looking to add a flavourful edge or complexity to their cocktails are digging deeper into what they want from their whiskies. I for one am delighted that Buffalo Trace have started allowing barrel picks to be bottled NCF and also hope that this is an indication of where they’re heading with the brand in the future.
In terms of the blend itself this is another triumphant victory for the man behind it. At this stage Ed has nothing left to prove and with his imminent expansion into the world of blending and releasing his own whiskey with no constraints people are starting to get excited. If he can create something like this whiskey with one hand tied behind his back (figuratively of course) imagine what he’ll do when the brakes are off and he has total control over every aspect of the blend, proof, and filtering used.
Thanks to fellow bourbon lover @profitt_bourbon who sorted me out with a sample of the regular release of Weller Antique 107 to use as a benchmark in this review. If you’re not already following Tom on Instagram you should be!
Try or Buy?
If you see a NCF Weller Antique 107 pick on a shelf you would be doing yourself a disservice by not buying it.