|11 Years of Old Weller Antique from 1998 (left) to 2008 (right).|
The invitation came a couple of months ago. Mike Jasinski - master dusty hunter and a great lover of old bourbons - had assembled a flight of Old Weller Antique paper labels bottles from 1998 to 2008: a full 11 years that chart the brands movement from Stitzel-Weller to Buffalo Trace. These dusty bottles have become extremely popular these days and hard to find. In the past few years the 7 year old age statement was dropped and the bottle design was changed from a stock cylinder with an antique looking paper label to a rounded ball shaped bottle with the ink printed right on the bottle (pictures of the current bottle are at the bottom). Mike wanted a group of whiskey people to come out and taste them all blind - reporting our findings with numerical scores on the 100 point scale.
|We, however, tasted them blind - self poured from these flasks marked only by a number.|
(photo from Bonham's)
|Ad from 1979 talks about the gold veining.|
The word "Antique", however, is absent.
Chuck Cowdery lauds Old Weller Antique as a great value at $16 for a 7 year old in the back of his essential book Straight Bourbon (highly recommended) without reference to the brand's history. Sally Van Winkle Campbell doesn't mention the "Old W.L. Weller" or "Old Weller Antique" brands by name in "But Always Fine Bourbon". Although she relates a story that "the reason that the distillery came out with 107 proof was because Pap's doctor said he could only have two drinks a day!" If that's true then the Old Weller Antique expression dates to the mid-1960s (Pappy died in 1966), which jibes pretty well with the fact that I can't find a bottle or mention until 1970 or so. That said, the expression existed through some very solid glory years of Stitzel-Weller (S-W) and then through a transition to production at Ancient Age / Buffalo Trace. Experience tasting the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bottlings from 2009-2013 have shown me that Buffalo Trace has a good handle on the Stitzel-Weller wheated mash bill flavor component. The first in the series we'd be tasting at Mike's house would be a 1998 Stitzel-Weller Old Weller Antique (abbreviated "OWA" henceforth) - labeled "Louisville". The rest would be labelled "Frankfort" but, presumably there would be a transition period where Stitzel-Weller stocks would still be used until Buffalo Trace's Frankfort stocks took over. The Old Weller brand was sold by United Distillers to Sazerac in 1999 (which renamed the Frankfort, KY Ancient Age distillery Buffalo Trace (BT) in that same year, 1999).
|Mike (right center) and Claire Doorden,|
(left center), welcome guests
Could we pick out the S-W 1998 stuff blind? Could we taste a clear demarcation to BT? Because Mike asked everyone to use a 100 point numerical scale I will be using that grading system for these. Mike could swear he could identify BT by an aroma that I was classifying as "linseed oil" but which Mike called "cardboard". Once he used that word I couldn't help but use it myself. Cardboard - like sniffing the inside of a brown cardboard box is a good description of the aroma. You'll see it mentioned in my nosing notes quite a bit below. It's not as bad as it sounds. It's earthy and woody and sits among the floral and deep sugar notes. As you can see by the scores below, all this stuff ranges from very good to excellent.
|Josh Camerote pours himself a blind.|
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 1998 Stitzel-Weller. Blind #4Color: medium amber
Nose: Honeyed, fruity, oily, mossy, flinty. Hint of tobacco.
Palate: Sweet, fruity honeyed. Maple, treacle shoo fly pie. Cherry, citrus.
My score: 87 Mike's composite score: 87.
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 1999 Buffalo Trace. Blind #9Color: dark medium amber
Nose: honey toffee, cherry, cola, juicyfruit, oil, sandalwood.
Palate: Intense sweet sandalwood and rancio. Chewy mouth feel and long sweet oaky finish
My score: 91 Mike's composite Score: 92
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2000 Buffalo Trace. Blind #1Color: Dark amber
Nose: maple syrup juicyfruit. Brown sugar toffee
Palate: honey, malty toffee. Cornflower, apricot bark. Cherry, root beer
My score: 92 Mike's composite score: 92
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2001 Buffalo Trace. Blind #8Color: dark amber (darkest yet)
Nose: Beautiful nose, floral cardboard
Palate: Honey, ripe cantaloupe, Turkish delight. Candy oak perfume
My score: 89 Mike's composite score: 88
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2002 Buffalo Trace. Blind #2Color: dark amber (a shade darker than blind #1).
Nose light dusty musty oaky malt cherry cocoa. Trace of iodine.
Palate, sweet cherry cola, char, tannin bitterness.
My score: 87 Mike's composite score: 87
Nose: Cardboard, malt toffee rancio brown sugar
Palate: Candied, toffeed, sandalwood perfumed glory.
My score: 91 Mike's composite score: 91
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2004 Buffalo Trace. Blind #6Color: dark amber like 3
Nose: floral sandalwood, cherry, cardboard
Palate: Sweet, cherry, toffee, char and oak tannin. Longer oaky maple finish with a bitter edge.
My score 86 (bitter finish knocked it down) Mike's composite score: 87
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2005 Buffalo Trace. Blind #3Color: dark amber, shade darker than 2 and 1
Nose: Oily, char. A little meaty
Palate: Fruity. Tiny bit sour
My score: 88 Mike's Composite score: 88
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2006 Buffalo Trace. Blind #7Color: dark medium amber
Nose: Cardboard cherry juicyfruit
Palate: honey, cherry toffee juicyfruit. Oak tannin
My score: 88 Mike's composite score: 87
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2007 Buffalo Trace. Blind #10Color: almost as dark as 8/3
Nose: Cardboard, dark, sweet toffee, char, a hint of mildew
Palate: Sweet, cherry, cocoa, dark malt, cocoa, root beer. Fruity, dark brown and delicious. Char & edge of bitter char on finish.
My score: 90 Mike's composite score: 89
Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2008 Buffalo Trace. Blind #5Color: light medium amber
Nose: Linseed nose, honey, yellow flowers
Palate: honey, treacle, mint notes, honeysuckle,
My score: 88 Mike's composite score 87
Conclusion: The Stitzel-Weller in the group wasn't the highest rated and it wasn't apparent to me at the time that it was the Stitzel-Weller one. I like to think I can see some of the tell tale signs in my tasting notes and that if I were really paying attention I might have caught it. Coulda Woulda Shoulda. The bottom line is that it's all delicious Bourbon - with some significant variation between a dark and malty rich variety and a lighter amber more floral and fruity variety. These varieties don't seem to correlate with year at all. I suspect it's about barrel variation and rickhouse location. While my 3 top rated ones were all dark and rich, the lighter ones were excellent drinking in their own right. And notice that the Stitzel-Weller one was one of the lightest ones.
It makes a lot of sense to compare these experiences of tasting an extensive group of dusty Old Weller Antiques against the stuff you can buy today. It's extremely popular and lauded. So popular, however, that it has gone on allocation (i.e. a rationed limited supply to distributes). It can still be readily found - particularly earlier in each month. It's the same Buffalo Trace stuff, just now without an age statement. Does that matter? I tasted the bottle of Old Weller Antique that I have open at the moment (purchased late 2013) the following day at home - in the open (i.e. not blind). This was a completely different tasting. But just one day later the flavors of the paper label OWAs were fresh in my mind.
New Old Weller Antique 107 - no age statement. 53.5% abv. Bottle purchased 2013
Color: Medium light amber
Nose: Vanilla, floral, hints of mint and lilac. Light linseed oil/cardboard note.
Palate: Opening is hotter and less malty than any of the examples tasted at Mike's. It is grassy sweet with corn and apricot-citrus and cherry fruity notes along with some acetone notes. The mid palate turns to oak and char, but with a more bitter presentation.
My score: 82
Conclusion. It's still a wonderful Bourbon for the money, but it has lost a measure of depth of flavor, malty richness, and candied intensity. With youth it has gained floral, herbal, and fruity notes - but the overall balance is thinner and less lush.
|Phil Simon checks Mike's treasures|
|Phil Simon brought treasures|
of his own too.
The after party to this event was epic. Major events included Phil Simon bringing a bottle of the legendary Hirsch Rye 13. This epic bottle will be the topic of it's own post soon, but for the moment here are quick tasting notes taken at the event (when my palate was, admittedly, a bit toasted):
Hirsch 13 rye 47.8 % Medley bottled for Priess by Julian Van WinkleColor: Dark coppery amber
Nose: caramel toffee, soft lanolin, cut daisy, cilantro flower
Palate; Gentle, effervescent, malty, caramel, brown sugar, rum rancio, herbal, cinnamon. Complex, rich, and superb.
|Mike then opened a Louisville bottling of W. L Weller Centennial|
Then people started getting goofy.