W. L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

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”.

W. L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon
45% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $15 - $40
Acquired: 750ml bottle, K&L Wines, Redwood City, CA, $22

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  • I’ve never tried this one, but I have the Weller 12 Year and I have to say: “Don’t buy the hype.”
    I only paid $45 Canadian for it, but that’s about $45 more than it’s worth. I’ve had the Weller 12 since March or April of this year and the bottle is still over 3/4 full. It starts out fine, underwhelming but fine, but there’s an off-putting “Buckley’s cough syrup” (you know, the stuff they advertise by TELLING you “it tastes awful, and it works!”) note on the finish that ruins everything. I have a Weller Antique 107 that’s unopened, but I don’t know if I should open it or trade it to someone who knows they like the stuff. Is my bottle of Weller 12 “tainted”? Is the 107 better? Thoughts?

    • I haven’t experienced that with the 12, but every whisky can be subject to bad bottles. Also, everyone is subject to unexpected tastes… there are whiskies that everyone else loves that I think taste like rotting bananas. I definitely don’t think you’re missing anything – all of the Wellers I’ve had (including the 107) qualifies as solid, unexceptional bourbon that fits its suggested retail price (but NOT the inflated prices due to Pappy-influenced demand). Also, the 107 is unlikely to be better than the 12… it’s only slightly better (due to proof) than the Special Reserve.

  • I’ve had all three; Weller SR, OWA 107, and Weller 12 yr. The 107 is definitely my favorite, and even more so with a little bit of water added moments before smelling/drinking. I’ve paid anywhere from $23 to $45 for it and feel that it’s a worthwhile bourbon up to $50 or so, especially if you like wheaters. For me, Weller SR is a good value for $25-30 or less as I prefer it to Maker’s Mark. Weller 12 is tasty but the 90 proof leaves it a bit too mild and timid for me, especially considering how hard it is to find ($$$). I’ve only had it once or twice, though, and only at Mammy’s Kitchen in Bardstown. Never a whole bottle which is needed, I think, in order to fully familiarize oneself.

    For comparison, I would place OWA 107 slightly ahead of Maker’s Mark Cask Stength. I will admit, though, I do like the flavor profile of Buffalo Trace’s wheated bourbon family. Biased opinion, I guess.

    Keep up the good work, Noob. 👍

    • Nice review…when I had the Weller reserve I felt like it wasn’t finished yet. It tasted a bit medicinal to me. I prefer Larceny over the reserve and it’s easy to find compared to the 107 which has become like the search for the Holy Grail.

    • I’ll echo Charlie, largely. The 107 is a robust, complex wheater which I miss very much as it’s impossible to find here the last year. We bought a couple cases three years ago around the holidays to give as gifts, keeping only 4-5 for ourselves… it’s all gone! I PAID LESS THAN $20 EACH with the two case discount, and yes, today I want to cry! BT SR is fine but really young and the stores here pricing it at $40 can keep it. Years ago, but not all the long ago, we could find 1.75 bottles of original Stizel-Weller SR with the 7 year age statement for something like $25… and it was outstanding. Bourbon wasn’t yet cool again and we did not know how good we had it. Pappy was plentiful, and we thought it was overpriced then!

  • Stumbled on to a bottle of this on a recent Henry McKenna Single Barrel hunt. By time we had been turned on to the Wellers it was already impossible to find. Was telling the guy at the liquor store about the McKenna win (he’s not a whiskey guy and was curious why I bought 4 bottles in two days). Told me he had a regular request the Special and the Antique but never came in to get them. At $40 here now and I think it’s worthy of that price point. I’ve had much worse that cost more than that.