Tuesday, May 17, 2011

William Larue Weller

stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 125.3 proof, no age statement, $60

Buffalo Trace is the largest, most progressive bourbon distiller in the U.S. The company sells whiskey under countless brands, many of which have been acquired through the company's history. Some of the brands are a joint venture, where Buffalo Trace has a partial ownership, and some of the brands may be distilled under contract. Since 2000, the company has put out an annual release of a series of whiskeys called the Antique Collection. William Larue Weller is the barrel proof, wheated bourbon of the lineup (which has changed a bit over the years), along with the Sazerac 18 yr Rye and Thomas H. Handy Rye reviewed below, and the Eagle Rare 17 yr and George T. Stagg bourbons.

In the 1970's, the bourbon industry essentially collapsed, and while it has made a tremendous comeback in recent years, worldwide demand is still somewhat weak relative to supply. Which is good, because it means bourbon is a tremendous value (unlike Scotch, which has seen prices skyrocket over the last five years). But there has also been an effort in the bourbon industry to keep prices from rising too much, which will certainly help maintain a steady future growth of the brand. The downside is that some products are released on an allotment, or only to certain core markets. The Antique Collection is a prime example of this situation, being released in limited quantities mid October every year, in most locations it is sold out in a matter of weeks. These are special whiskeys, aged many years in the finest oak barrels - they can't really just crank up production. Sure, they could make these available year round (and make a lot more money), if they jacked the price up to $250 a bottle, but that is not the business model they have chosen. And my wallet thanks them. So, my point is, if you happen to come across one of these bottles, snap it up while you can!

Now, on to the tasting. The color is a fairly dark amber. The nose is big and concentrated, with notes of leather, cocoa and fossil fuels, it is quite masculine. Even though "wheated" bourbons are typically softer and sweeter than their more common "ryed" counterparts, at this high proof, the flavors are densely packed and intense. Medium in body and seemingly mild up front, the intensity builds quickly and can sneak up on you. Be weary, this is a slow sipper. Spice notes (the back of the bottle says vanilla, teaberry and cinnamon, I concur) and a slight alcohol burn push the sweet grain core into the background. It has an exceptionally long finish, which transforms as it advances along and eventually fades out. Big and powerful, but still graceful and balanced, one of my favorite bourbons.

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