I finally have a little break from work travels to New Orleans, Lafayette and Monroe over the past two weeks. Have spent a fairly lazy Saturday mostly at home while my wife was at our niece’s wedding shower. When she got back, she agreed to help me with this blog piece-which was for us to do a blind taste test of Van Winkle 12 year old and Weller 12. All because Hudson hooked me up with another bottle of Weller 12 this week.
Keep in mind these are both wheat recipe bourbons made at Buffalo Trace by the same master distiller. They are simply aged in different warehouses or different parts of warehouses, but aged for at least 12 years. They are close to the same proof, with Van Winkle having an extra .2 percent abv which really shouldn’t be noticeable.
So, Catherine and I took turns pouring each other’s glasses while the other was out of the room (yes, my wife puts up with a lot of my shenanigans) and then we tasted both bourbons blind. Both bottles have just been opened and both will improve with a little air. But here is what we found.
Looking at the Bourbons in the glass, there is zero difference in color or legs. The noses are slightly different, one being slightly more floral than the other, one having slightly more oak. I was dumbfounded. Until we sipped them we didn’t know which was which. Catherine thought the oakier one would be Van Winkle. It wasn’t.
The Weller 12 is really good. But Catherine found it had that oakey bite she doesn’t like in Pappy 23. The Van Winkle 12 is noticeably smoother and more floral. The Van Winkle also has that velvety mouthfeel you expect from Van Winkle bourbon. The Weller 12 mouthfeel was a little thinner but it has those oak notes I love.
Van Winkle 12 was the clear winner for Catherine. For me, it was different. I would taste one and say, boy this is great but I wish it had the oak or the velvety mouthfeel the other one had.
The big difference I think is that the Weller 12 was aged hotter. More sunlight and heat thinned the mouthfeel and added more oak in the barrel. The Weller was a higher proof when it came out of the barrel.
The Weller is around $35 when you can get it and the Van Winkle is $150 or more when you can get it. So you buy either one when you can get it, but Weller 12 really holds its own against Van Winkle.
Damn, I miss the days when I could just walk into a liquor store and get a bottle of Weller 12 just on a whim. It used to be just available. On the other hand, the market is right. Weller 12 is just really good wheat recipe bourbon. When I talk to the folks at Buffalo Trace about product shortages, they uniformity say y’all keep drinking everything we make. Sort of like how my wife gets frustrated when we make a big mess of food so we have leftovers and THEN IT IS ALL GONE. Because the kids ate it all. 12 years ago they gauged their production on demand at that time. What any smart business person would do. But now demand has soared beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
So I am personally looking forward to a few years from now when I can just buy Weller 12 any old time I feel like it. As opposed to the six bottles Hudson had to hustle to get at Hokus Pokus. But, when I checked out with that bottle the clerk remarked how cheap it was even though it has to come out of the back of the store.
One thing I will give Sazerac credit for that they have done differently than most distillers. They haven’t dropped age statements to put younger whiskey in the bottles nor dramatically raised prices even though they absolutely could and the market would pay it. The reason why is they are thinking long term as they ramp up production and warehouse space. They want the market to be there waiting for the increased production, not ticked off that their favorite whiskies were comprised like Knob Creek or Elijah Craig Small Batch. Knob Creek used to be nine years old and Elijah Craig used to be twelve. Now they are any one’s guess as to how old. Weller 12 is Weller 12. Eagle Rare 10 is Eagle Rare 10. Yes, Buffalo Trace is phasing our Old Charter. But there isn’t an Old Charter Red Label masquerading as the old 12.
The verdict for me is Weller 12 is the best $35 bottle of whiskey you can buy.