Do you believe in love at first sight? Yeah, me neither. But I believe in love at first kiss and I just had that experience with tasting William Larue Weller from the 2011 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. For some tragic reason I skipped the hype and mania surrounding the annual Autumn releases of these limited edition bourbons. How could I have been so foolish?
I can't do a better job of telling the story of Weller than this paragraph from the excellent whisky blog "The Casks":
"The name Weller is as intertwined and as important a name as you will find in the history of American whiskey. Daniel Weller was operating a still near Bardstown, KY as early as 1800. His son Samuel followed in his father’s footsteps, and his son, William LaRue Weller started making and selling whiskey in 1849. W.L.Weller is generally credited for being the father of wheated whisky, that is, substituting wheat for rye in the mashbill, and was a strong proponent of aging whisky for longer periods of time. He was both a salesman and an educator, and whiskey with his name on it was always of reliably high quality. Weller’s company was eventually purchased by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle under whose guidance the relationship with the Stitzel Brothers and their distillery began. After weathering the doldrums of Prohibition, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery officially opened in 1935. Today, the Weller name lives on with the brand being owned by Buffalo Trace. Their range includes the 90 proof W.L. Weller Special Reserve, the 107 proof “Antique”, the 12 Year Old, and this eponymous release which is part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection."
"The 2011 William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon was distilled from a mashbill of Kentucky corn, North Dakota wheat, and North Dakota malted barley and matured in new American oak (of course) for 12 years and 11 months. It was bottled un-cut and un-filtered from a selection of 45 barrels."
Data source for these specs from the distiller:
Color: dark amber bronze with copper orange glints
Nose: Startlingly, chocolate. Then deep dank rich black prunes, stewed peach and black raisin compote with fragrant sawn oak incense.
A dazzling rich explosion of flavor with a dense syrupy mouth feel: sandalwood perfumed oak and rich orange citrus peach toffee sweet literally explode onto the palate at opening then immediately get huge and mouth filling at mid-palate joined by sweet rich pipe tobacco. Cowboy saddle leather appears at the turn, and a distinct note of freshly ground dark roasted coffee beans. Huge tannic walnut skin bitterness emerges at the finish. Dark as a brother's war, rich as the Kentucky bluegrass and as august and tough as an aged Civil War general. This Bourbon owns its hype. This is just astounding bourbon. Over oaked to be sure, but I wouldn't change a thing.
In discussions with serious bourbon people I have learned that this 2011 version is less oaked than a number of other years. Tim Read, the whisky blogger who writes the superb meditations known as www.scotchandicecream.com, tweeted "WLW is all about big oak. 2010 is a lumberyard. 2011 was relaxed in comparison. 09 more so.". These observations are also reflected in Tim's blog post on the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. (Tim also provided the sample. Thanks, Tim!) I'll endeavor to get a hold of samples of the earlier expressions, if possible - and definitely get the new expressions as they come out. Meanwhile, this first experience was a dazzling and mind opening experience. Not only was this 2011 WLW bigger and more densely flavored than any other bourbon I have ever tried. It is bigger and more densely flavored than just about any other spirit of any kind that I have ever tried. The flavor signature isn't the last word in balance - but it is so magnificently BIG that I fairly swoon with love. Love at first kiss.
The very definition of five stars.