The “Pappy Craze” has had an interesting side-effect. Since bottles of the venerable Pappy Van Winkle bourbons (and rye) are so impossibly hard to find in most areas, the cachet afforded these bottles has bled over into other products bearing any kind of resemblance. Since Pappy Van Winkle bourbons were originally distilled at the now-defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, and because the Pappy bourbons are wheated (as opposed to rye-flavored), it stands to reason that frustrated Pappy-seekers would decide to buy the next-best (or maybe fifth-best) thing: W.L. Weller wheated bourbons!
To be fair, these are wheat-recipe bourbons made by Buffalo Trace (where modern Pappy is also produced) and matured in the same warehouses. In my W. L. Weller 12-year review, I refer to Weller bottlings as “failed Pappy” which may or may not be blogger poetic license. There is no longer an age statement (it used to say “7 years” on the bottle), but the Special Reserve clocks in at $15 retail, which is hard to scoff at. Now, sensing the Pappy Fever, most retailers have jacked up the price on the Wellers, so you’re likely to see them retailing for $40 or more! I was happy to pay $22 each for a few bottles when my local store got some in recently.
Nose: Soft, cereal-forward bourbon. A ghost of cherry, a twist of black pepper, and a blanket of sweet corn kernels. A rest in the glass brings more cherry notes to the fore.
Palate: Full body, not quite syrupy. Soft, silky on the tongue. A mild tongue burn is followed by cherry cough syrup, mild oaky sweetness, and some mouth-drying tannins.
Finish: Medium long. Very consistent with the palate. A slight bitterness, and fades with a ghost of fresh cherry.
With Water: A few drops of water seem to have no effect on the nose. Ditto the palate. No need for water, but an ice cube isn’t going to kill it.
Overall: A solid wheated bourbon. This actually tastes the way I imagined that Maker’s Mark would taste until I got a mouthful of Maker’s Mark paint-thinner-in-oak. This doesn’t have quite the depth of flavor or developed oak flavors of the Weller 12-year, but is very economical and doesn’t compromise much in quality. If this were available all of the time on shelves, it would likely be my continuous “bottom shelfer”. Instead, I have to ration the damn stuff.
Recommended, because it’s good solid wheated bourbon for $22. Don’t go out of your way to find it (or pay much more than $30), though, this is not “Pappy in the rough”.