W.L. Weller is “The Original Wheated Bourbon.” The history of the brand goes back to William Larue Weller and his inclusion of wheat in his bourbon back in 1849. The recipe and bourbon’s heritage was carried into the 20th century by Julian Van Winkle, Sr. at his Stitzel–Weller Distillery. Eventually, that distillery closed and the brands were sold off. Both Weller and Pappy ended up at Sazerac, which moved the production to Buffalo Trace’s distillery in the 1990s.
Today, Weller is one of those bourbons that has reached ridiculous heights of popularity and pricing. Part of this is due to the small yearly runs of the brand’s core and specialty expressions. Another part is due to the relentlessness of the bourbon hype machine. Weller is a quality wheated bourbon that’s also the progenitor of the bourbon most folks consider the best bourbon ever, Pappy Van Winkle — naturally the frenetic bourbon fanbase was going to geek out over it and drive prices up.
Since this is a whiskey that requires serious investment, we’re going to give you our take on each bottle and rank them according to their taste alone. Retail price is… sort of considered in the ranking below, in that we take price-vs-flavor into account to some degree, but it’s a secondary factor. This is really all about how each expression dances across the senses, first and foremost.
If you want to try one of these bottles yourself, click on the price links to see if you can find an expression or two in your area.
7. Weller Antique 107
Average Price: $100 ($50 MSRP)
Buffalo Trace doesn’t publish any of their mash bills. Educated guesses put the wheat percentage of these mash bills at around 16 to 18 percent, which is average. The age of the barrels on this blend is also unknown. The point of this juice is the proof (which is pretty high, all things considered) and the blending skill on display.
Vanilla. Vanilla. Vanilla. That could sum up this sip aptly from top to bottom. There’s a sense of vanilla blossoms on the nose with a hint of old wood and maybe a hit of wet leather. The palate leans into the … you guessed it, vanilla. The taste is slightly cream soda-esque with a lightness that’s nice while sweet apples stewed with cinnamon sticks arrive late. The end is short and warm and leaves you with a vanilla tobacco chewiness and buzz.
Something has to be last in these rankings, so here we are. This is a perfectly fine whiskey that should cost you fifty bucks. It only falls down by being a little too hot and a little too vanilla dominant. The higher proof doesn’t really feel like it’s adding much besides covering up more vanilla maybe?
This really feels like it was specifically crafted to be a mixing bourbon for bold cocktails.
6. Weller Special Reserve
Average Price: $55 ($25 MSRP)
This is the same bourbon as above but cut down with more of that soft Kentucky limestone water. The juice is bottled at a very approachable 90 proof.
There’s a nice sense of a slightly salted caramel over a soft-yet-tart apple with a hint of kettle corn lurking on the backend. The taste starts with soft floral honey that peaks with a rich butterscotch candy still in its wrapper before falling away towards a cedar box full of vanilla tobacco leaves. The end of this one is silky with that floral honey circling back around and leaving you with a sweet sensation.
If this was actually $25 on the shelf, it’d easily be the best in class on every single bourbon list for that price point. It lives up to the hype but doesn’t overdo anything. It’s subtle yet direct. In the end, though, this is a great mixer and only a solid on the rocks sipper in a pinch.
Still, this beats out the 107 because it just makes more sense and has more accessible textures and flavors.
5. Weller Single Barrel
Average Price: $750 ($50 MSRP)
This Weller is pulled from one barrel at a time. The masters at Buffalo Trace know their warehouses and hand-pick these barrels for their standalone perfection. The tastes and textures are then dailed in through the judicious addition of the soft water, bringing this down to an incredibly approachable 86 proof.
The dram opens with a mix of fresh mint next to ripe red cherries with a vanilla backbone and a shaving of dry wood. The taste holds onto that vanilla while building towards eggnog spiciness with hits of dark chocolate, salted caramel corn, espresso bean bitterness, and this small flourish of white pepper. That powdery pepper lingers and warms as the sip slowly fades away, leaving you with those creamy eggnog spices, woody vanilla husks, and a mild tobacco buzz and warmth by way of a pine humidor.
This is a departure and I can’t figure out if it’s genius or just okay. The thing is, this isn’t Buffalo Trace’s best single barrel expression by any stretch but it’s so unique that it’s really hard to know where to put it. In a blind taste test, it’d be really hard not to peg this as a very high-rye bourbon. So, it’s here — number five out of seven.
4. Weller C.Y.P.B.
Average Price: $550 ($50 MSRP)
This is the most interesting expression from the brand. A few years back, Buffalo Trace asked hardcore Weller fans to “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon.” C.Y.P.B. was born according to those fans choosing their favorite bourbon recipe, proof, warehouse location, and age. A consensus shook out that pinned the ideal whiskey to a wheated bourbon aged on the highest warehouse floors for eight years that’s then bottled at 95 proof. Today, that manifests yearly as a very limited release that’s part fan service and part special limited edition bourbon for all of us to enjoy.
Based on last year’s release, there’s a nose of dried orange peels that have been loaded into an old cedar box and left in the back of a cupboard for years. Then this creaminess arrives that’s kind of like the halfway point between a vanilla flan with caramel sauce and spicy sasparilla. As the taste rolls towards the back of your mouth and settles in, you get this warming sense of eggnog spice next to soft tobacco leaves and dark chocolate-covered marzipan.
This is silky smooth and a definite winner, if you can find it. Full disclosure, from here on out, this ranking is splitting hairs. Hit me on a day with a different mood, and maybe this is number one or three.
3. Weller Full Proof
Average Price: $460 ($50 MSRP)
This expression is Weller in its purest form. There’s no water added. There’s no filtration. There’s no single barrel supplying the juice in the bottle. This is a marrying of the best barrels wherein the whiskey stayed at 114 proof from going into the barrel to coming out of it.
Imagine red Bing cherries soaked in vanilla syrup then dipped in caramel and allowed to harden then sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt and dusted with mild, powdery cinnamon on the nose. The palate holds onto that mild cinnamon and vanilla but then builds this big, layered vanilla cake with a buttery frosting full of caramel and baking spices with a hint of cherry tobacco and soft, dry cedar in the background … kind of like smoked stained wood paneling in an old bakery. The finish lingers and really leans into the buttery vanilla notes and, eventually, you’re left with this velvet warmth and a distant echo of dark chocolate.
This is what Weller can do when they don’t play with the proof and just let the barrels shine. It’s pretty damn fine and very versatile. You can sip it neat or on the rocks and it’ll shine. Put it in a cocktail, and you’ll one of the best damn cocktails you’ve ever made.
2. Weller Aged 12 Years
Average Price: $200 ($40 MSRP)
This expression of Weller rests in the warehouse for 12 long years. A fair amount of juice is lost to the angels during that stretch. In the end, the whiskey is vatted from the barrels that survived and then proofed down to a soft 90 proof.
There’s a deep, creamy sweet corn note on the nose that gives way to old wool sweaters and vanilla pancakes rolled around soft marzipan. The palate has a warm biscuit vibe with hints of buttery toffee syrup and old cutting boards that still smell of dark spices and dried fruit. The end takes its time and touches back on the cakey vanilla, buttery syrups, soft marzipan, and old, fruit-stained wood as it gently fades away.
This just hits all the right marks. It’s a super easy yet refined sipper that has no rough edges. It’s versatile while being approachable. It’s just … nice. It’s also still kind of findable and buyable by the average whiskey drinker, which doesn’t really count for much in this ranking but is a sweet side benefit.
1. William Larue Weller (Antique Collection)
Average Price: $800 ($99 MSRP)
This wheated whiskey from 2008 eschews the more common rye and adds in North Dakota wheat. The juice is then barreled and stored in two warehouses where 73 percent of the whiskey is lost to the air and elements. The juice is then bottled untouched and unfiltered.
There’s soft bourbon vanilla that leads towards almond-encrusted toffees inside a pine box with a dark chocolate bonbon hidden somewhere inside all that nutty toffee. The sip leans into a cherry and dark chocolate bespeckled ice cream with a solid vanilla bean base and a dusting of crushed-up walnuts and maybe even peanut. The end is slightly dry and leans more towards cedar and straw with spicy cherry tobacco buzz.
Looking back at this whole line, this 12-year-old special limited edition of Weller really hits all the brand’s high points in one bottle. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite bourbons. So… there’s that.
The beauty of this dram, though, is that it’s a crazy high-proof — seriously, this is above absinthe levels of alcohol — that’s so refined and easy-to-drink that it’s damn near a magic trick. This is the whiskey that’ll take you to a new level of bourbon appreciation. It’s just a phenomenal example of what great aging can do to create a remarkable one-off whiskey for the ages.
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive commission pursuant to some entries on this list.