Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company, Inc.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Release Date: Ongoing
Mashbill: Undisclosed (Buffalo Trace “Wheated” Mashbill - Corn, Wheat, Malted Barley)
Color: Medium Copper
Price: $24 (2020)
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.
W.L. Weller Special Reserve is considered the most “common” of the W.L. Weller lineup, and 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 Antique 107 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. They were most recently joined by W.L. Weller Single Barrel.
The bottle in review was purchased in 2020.
Classic aromas of vanilla, caramel, and honey gently waft up from the glass. This is punctuated by a light trace of oak along with a floral note, which require a strong inhale to pull forth. Altogether it’s characteristically sweet, and notably quite soft in its delivery.
The bourbon maintains its abundant sweetness on the palate, delivering a tasty yet classic mix of honey, caramel, vanilla, and light fruit. A very slight amount of oak rounds things out. Spice fails to make an appearance, likely a result of the wheated mashbill and relatively low proof, but in doing so, allows the sweet flavors to really come forth. The resulting experience is a nice one, leaving little to complain about aside from its characteristically gentle delivery.
The slightest amount of heat appears, followed by a more intense oak note than what came forth in the nose or palate. Honey and caramel reappear, turning a general oaky warmth back to sweeter notes to cap things off. Delicate overall, the finish bestows a well-rounded and quite pleasant ending to the sip.
Years ago when I first started drinking Weller Special Reserve it was one of only a few bourbons with wheat as the secondary grain in the mashbill. At the time Maker’s Mark was the most notable competition, but since then Larceny, a re-branded and more prominent version of Old Fitzgerald, Wilderness Trail, Wyoming Whiskey, and a handful of others have been added to that list.
Moreover, Buffalo Trace has continued to expand the core Weller lineup, and as a result Special Reserve, the most basic bourbon with the least uniquely identifying characteristics in the Weller lineup, appears less and less special...no pun intended. This isn’t to say it’s a bad bourbon by any means, in fact it’s anything but. Before it became hard to find, it was among the first bourbons I reached for to share with guests, and being such a crowd pleaser with its very sweet and agreeable flavor profile, everyone liked it. When it comes to overall uniqueness however, Weller Special Reserve just doesn’t stand out the way it used to.
There’s no question Weller Special Reserve is a quality bourbon, but its quality is in its value as an “everyday” drinker, one that you might lean on as a staple in your standard rotation. For a time, it was a sleeper on the shelves, only about $20, and readily available. However, the demand for anything with the Weller name on it has increased dramatically since that time, and the whirlwind of bourbon fever has all but pulled any bottle of Weller from even seeing store shelves. But our value rating is about what you get and the MSRP stated by the company. Weller Special Reserve is a solid bourbon, but certainly not one to overpay for. At $24 MSRP it remains underpriced, plain and simple. Don't misinterpret that though. The bottle isn't worth the overly-inflated prices many ask for nowadays.
Time and competition have caught up with Weller Special Reserve, making it less special and harder to find, though it maintains its rock-solid posture as a sweet, easy-to-enjoy, everyday pour.
When evaluating bourbons, I always make it a point to step as far back as possible and explore every angle. This is especially tricky with a bourbon like Weller Special Reserve. I have been drinking this bourbon for quite a long time, and watched it transition from a bargain that was always plentiful and always on the shelves to a ghost - one that newcomers to the bourbon hobby go crazy for, which ultimately translates to overpaying. Considering the overwhelming number of bourbons with the name “Weller” on the label, it is easy to see how someone just getting acquainted with bourbon could easily confuse one bottle in the lineup for another.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s very important that I give Weller Special Reserve the credit it deserves, but ground it to what it really is. The fact that retailers don’t put it on shelves, charge more than MSRP, and ultimately that consumers pay it does not change what’s inside the bottle. Plain and simple, Weller Special Reserve is a pleasant, above average bourbon with a sweet flavor profile that is distributed with a reasonable MSRP.