Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company, Inc.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Release Date: Ongoing
Mashbill: Undisclosed (Buffalo Trace “Wheated” Mashbill - Corn, Wheat, Malted Barley)
Color: Dark Copper
Price: $50 (2019)
W.L. Weller is a wheated bourbon originally created by the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company. The brand is named after William Larue Weller, a distiller who is credited by some as being the first to use wheat as the secondary grain in straight bourbon as opposed to the more commonly used rye.
Notably, William Larue Weller hired the famous Julian Van Winkle, who would later be known as “Pappy.” Van Winkle began his career working for Weller. Weller passed in 1899, and coincidentally his company, W.L. Weller & Sons, later merged with the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery which was owned by his former employee, Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. The companies worked together through Prohibition operating under a medicinal license, and eventually became the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company in 1935.
Weller Antique 107, sometimes just referred to as Old Weller Antique, Antique 107, or even simply abbreviated as OWA, is one of the three bottles that were, at one time, released on an ongoing basis and commonly seen on liquor store shelves - this also included W.L. Weller Special Reserve and W.L. Weller 12 Year. They were joined by the less common William Larue Weller, which is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and released annually each year. In December 2016 the three ongoing releases underwent a label redesign. The lineup expanded in 2018 with the addition of W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. (short for Craft Your Perfect Bourbon), and then again in 2019 with the addition of W.L. Weller Full Proof. A label for W.L. Weller Single Barrel was recently approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
The bottle in review was purchased in 2019.
Aromas of lush dark fruit burst forth from the glass and combine with vanilla and caramel. There’s a healthy dose of seasoned oak which provides dimension. Finally, it’s punctuated with a pop of cinnamon bark spice and traces of black licorice. It’s balanced, complex, and well-developed.
The first thing I notice is how full-bodied and oily the bourbon feels rolling around in my mouth. Cinnamon spice grips the taste buds, followed by cherries, dark fruits, raw sugar, and aged oak. The proof is quite manageable, and arguably a bit understated as the flavors really take charge versus any sign of heat. This combination of a rich, heavy mouthfeel and cinnamon against dark fruit and oak is as pleasing as it is delicious.
A crescendo of cinnamon spice introduces the finish. Sweeter notes of caramel and vanilla follow. A flavor akin to tobacco hints in the background though it's subtle and hard to pinpoint. An undercurrent of cinnamon remains throughout, and then lingers. Quite pleasant.
The list of bourbons with wheat as the secondary grain is still much less than rye, however it is growing. In addition to the Weller line, the most notable are Maker’s Mark and Larceny, two widespread ongoing releases from large Kentucky distilleries much like Antique. Higher proof versions of each are also available, with Maker’s having released Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and Larceny Barrel Proof coming to market. Weller Antique 107 is believed to be in the 6-8 year range, which is also the same range as Maker’s and Larceny. With that being said, Weller is arguably the more balanced sip of the bunch. Its 107 proof allows for a nice interplay between robust flavors and drinkability quite well.
Notably, the Weller lineup is distilled using what is believed to be the same mashbill as the Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon lineup, commonly referred to as “Pappy.” Buffalo Trace began distilling the Old Rip Van Winkle lineup as a joint venture in 2002. Their youngest bourbon in the lineup, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year, clocks in at the same 107 proof as Weller Antique 107. Given the fact that Antique does not have an age statement, it’s not unrealistic to assume the two might be similar in makeup, even if Antique is a bit younger overall. Moreover, bourbon geeks are all too familiar with a phrase called “Poor Man’s Pappy,” which involves mixing Weller Antique 107, W.L. Weller Special Reserve, and even W.L. Weller 12 Year at varying percentages in an effort to mimic the proofs, and ideally flavor profiles, of certain bottles in the Van Winkle lineup.
This combination of distiller, mashbill, and in some cases age and proof, has helped the Weller bourbons gain quite a bit of favor as compared to other wheated bourbon rivals, placing them very close to the highly revered Van Winkle lineup. Weller Antique 107 is of course included in this mix, and while it is a great bourbon, I would argue it’s in the same wheelhouse as Maker’s Mark Cask Strength and Larceny Barrel Proof.
At one time the ongoing release Weller bourbons, typically found for $20-$30 depending on which bottle and the particular store, were exemplary of high value available bourbons. They made our Best of Bourbon lists in their respective price range each year, and few would argue they weren’t top of their class in that price range.
Not surprisingly, the market has caught up. While the MSRP stayed in the $30 range for quite some time, retailers often charged quite a bit more for any bottle with the Weller name on it, and consumers were often willing to pay it. While Weller Antique 107 distribution is widespread, demand now outstrips supply causing bottles to be held back and not put on shelves along with fairly steep markup over the MSRP. So while Antique 107 may have had a suggested retail price of around $30, finding it at that price became a whole different animal. Due to this scarcity, we removed all Weller bottles from our Best of lists.
Since our initial review, the MSRP for Weller Antique 107 was officially raised to $50. Taking it at face value and at the stated MSRP, Weller Antique 107 is a fair value. Its 107 proof hits the spot, and even within the ever-expanding Weller lineup it wouldn’t be surprising if someone crowned it their favorite. It does, however, remain to be seen whether this price increase will reduce some of the demand in the coming years.
Weller Antique 107 is a crowd pleaser - full-flavored, balanced, and a fair deal if you happen to get lucky and find it at its new MSRP.
Eric reviewed Old Weller Antique 107 nearly six years ago and called it “A full spicy flavor at a nice proof and price.” While I still agree with that comment today, the market has caught up and is much different than it was when he reviewed it. Finding a Weller Antique 107, let alone at or near its MSRP, has become quite difficult. While this unprecedented demand is due in part to the quality of the bourbon, the fact that Buffalo Trace also distills the Old Rip Van Winkle lineup (or “Pappy” as it’s commonly referred to) using what is believed that the same wheated mashbill that’s used for the Weller bourbons, has certainly contributed to the insanity. Not surprisingly, the MSRP for Weller Antique 107 has officially risen to $50.
With all the hype around Weller Antique 107, it’s all too easy to write it off entirely as overblown enthusiasm. In fact, this is the first new design Weller bottle I’ve opened, and more specifically the first Weller Antique 107 bottle I’ve opened in quite a few years simply because it’s been so hard to find I went quite a while without buying any. I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. But at the same time I don’t feel as if it’s nearly as mind-blowing as some may have you believe, instead it’s a bourbon whose asking price is now commensurate with its value.
Editor’s Note: When this review was originally published, the MSRP was stated at its previous amount. The review was updated on 12/19/2019, along with applicable ratings, to reflect the now current MSRP of $50.