William Larue Weller – 2011 release
Color in glencairn glass: Rich, toffee caramel brown
Nose: Caramel banana bread, vanilla cookie dough, red berries, wet wood shavings, orange sherbet
Taste: earlier tasting – no water: drying texture, sweet burn, roasted chestnuts, jelly lemon peel. Later tasting – no water: when it hits the tongue, it turns to warm, buttery caramel and vanilla goop. Put some water in, shake the glass, and I have a veritable snow globe of barrel chunks.
Earlier tasting – water to ~115 proof: nose becomes a little sweeter and richer; lemon shortcake, more vanilla. The palate sees dry, clinging, sweet oaky caramel. Slight, nutty bitterness anchors the heat well.
Later tasting – water to ~115 proof: a sweet, stinging entry leads to a hot, creamy vanilla pudding center and a long, dry, slightly stinging finish. White chocolate barrel flavors. Brought down a bit further to ~105 proof, the jammy fruits finally emerge and make for a delicious raspberry finish.
The first thing I noticed with this release was that it had a bit of a rough, scraping texture to it. It leaves behind a stickiness in the mouth that I find kind of cloddish. This whiskey carries no age statement, but Buffalo Trace (BT) makes no qualms about publishing very specific information about each release in their Antique Collection, so according to their spec sheet, it was distilled in 1998 and spent 12 years and 11 months in barrel.
All Weller bourbons are wheated bourbons, different from most ‘ryed’ bourbons on the market in that the second major grain used in production next to the lawfully mandated minimum of 51% corn is wheat rather than the more generally used rye. In my experience, wheated bourbons, and in particular BT-made wheaters go through dramatic transformations with exposure to air. I know I have written about other bourbons needing time to open up, but I find that this is especially true with wheaters.
Another factor that affects the way the juice changes in the bottle after being open and drank down is the terrific amount of barrel char you find in the unfiltered, barrel-proof offerings released in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC): the Thomas H. Handy straight rye and the George T. Stagg straight bourbon along with the William Larue. Unless you shake your bottle around, this sediment spends most of its time at the bottom, waiting for an opportunity to frolic in the shallow reserves.
Last year I strained the end of a bottle of George T. Stagg through a coffee filter and was left with this black dust. Light glints off its surface…
Anyway, if you drink the end of a bottle of this stuff without filtering, you can be sure that your tongue will be stained a dark shade of purple for a week.
I very much appreciate this yearly barrel-strength release of a wheated bourbon, and I was in love with last year’s version. I can’t tell for certain if I should attribute my less impressed verdict on the 2011 to an inferior product or simply an evolved palate, but this bottle has left me wanting more. It’s sweet and warming, with a pleasant nuttiness and a brief, jammy fruit flash, but in the end I find it to be somewhat inelegant and lacking complexity for its price tag.