W. L. Weller Special Reserve
W. L. Weller Special Reserve
90 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Branded as “The original wheated bourbon,” W. L. Weller is named after William LaRue Weller, who was a Kentucky bourbon distiller in the 19th century, and who was supposedly the first to use wheat as the secondary ingredient in place of rye. Wheated bourbons are typically smoother, less aggressive than standard bourbons (ever had Maker’s Mark?–yup, that’s how smooth a wheated bourbon can be).
The Weller brand is owned by–guess who?–the Sazerac Company, and produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The name W. L. Weller graces the label of a few different bourbons, the “Special Reserve” being the least expensive and to be honest the least exciting, but still, it’s pretty good. Up until about three years ago, this whiskey was called the W.L. Weller 7 Year, but now they just call it Special Reserve, though I assume it’s still between 6-7 years old. You can also find a 12 Year Weller, a 107 proof called Old Weller Antique (around 8 years aged), and every year Buffalo Trace releases a short run of “William LaRue Weller” as part of their Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. I’ve yet to track a bottle of that stuff down, but I will, oh yes.
So I am going to let you in on a little secret now. It’s not really a secret, but you may not know this–W. L. Weller bourbons are all made with the same mash bill as Pappy Van Winkle. Yeah, the Pappy! As far as what else goes down before they stamp the label of PVW on a bottle, I’m not sure. Lots more aging, probably different barrel houses, different rotations, etc. But still, the juice is the same, and the proof is close to the same, so if you want to stretch your imagination, you could say that drinking W. L. Weller Special Reserve is like drinking Pappy Van Winkle 7 Year. Which they don’t make, but you see my point.
Let’s face it, most people in the world will never get a chance to try Pappy Van Winkle in any of its expressions. There’s just not enough of it made, and the bottles they do release are way too expensive for most people, even bourbon enthusiasts. I’ve never once seen it for sale in a store, and I’ve looked, trust me. A bar in Asheville had a bottle of 20 Year for about a week. At 75 bucks a pour, I just couldn’t do it, and when I finally decided I simply HAD to try it, it was already sold out! So anyway, I like to think with the Weller line you get an idea of what it might taste like, though I imagine Weller 12 Year is probably much closer to it than the Special Reserve. But anyway, let’s taste this guy.
It smells alright, mostly caramel and black pepper with a little banana and grain. I like all those things, but overall the nose feels kinda off. Medium bodied, nice color. The taste is interesting in that the finish is as smooth as expected, but before that (let’s call it the “attack!”) it is pretty hot for a 90 proof wheated bourbon, and black pepper comes through over the top of the sweet honey at the start which kinda blows your mouth away flavor-wise. It’s not very complex, which isn’t always a bad thing depending on what mood you’re in. When I think of this whiskey I think “black pepper candy”, for better or for worse. It’s not nearly as “easy drinkin” as you may expect a 90 proof wheated bourbon to be, but overall I like it. And I have yet to mention that this is one of the cheapest whiskeys on the market, plus they sell it in the half gallon (1.75 liter “handle”) bottles for 25 bucks which works out to about 80 cents per two ounce pour–I’ll take it. It’s a solid session whiskey. Makes a good mixer if you dabble in the cocktail arts. The bottle design is regrettably boring.
Rating: 7.4 / 10
Bought at J’s Bottle Shop in Athens, GA for $24.99 (1.75L bottle)