By the fall release season of 2013, Bourbon’s popularity had already been surging for a decade. While it had legitimately developed into a “craze” about two years earlier, 2013 was just about the time that truly limited edition Bourbon became nearly impossible to find in Kentucky. The market hadn’t yet been flooded with 50 new “super-premium” brands or previously “lost” barrels, and brands like W. L. Weller 12-year were still four deep on shelves. Unfortunately, Weller 12 was just being discovered by a new breed of Pappy histrionics who were hearing that Weller 12 “was the same thing as Pappy.”
Demand was skyrocketing for Buffalo Trace’s wheated Bourbon mash bill – which Buffalo Trace desperately needed to succeed since it was just about out of its Stitzel-Weller stock used for Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23-year. Apparently, however, Buffalo Trace had underestimated demand for longer-aged wheated Bourbon, so it had sacrificed the seven-year age statements on Old Weller Antique and W. L. Weller Special Reserve. Weller 12 was also rumored to be discontinued or dropping its age statement, presumptively because more needed to be held back for more profitable brands.
While fans are now dealing with Weller 12 allocations, instant cleaning of shelves when it or Old Weller Antique are released, and a high secondary market, at least Weller 12 didn’t lose its age statement then (or since). The other member of the Weller line that continued to receive high acclaim was the wheated member of its popular Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (“BTAC”), William Larue Weller.
In 2013, Buffalo Trace set aside 39 barrels for William Larue Weller. At 12 years old, these barrels could have been used for Weller 12 (90 proof) or Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-year (90.4 proof), and gone a lot further. On average, about 55% of each barrel had been lost to evaporation (meaning just about 23.7 gallons per barrel), but I suppose that BTAC pricing for barrel proof Bourbon makes up for fewer bottles. Here are my thoughts:
William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013
Distillery: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky
Age: NAS label, but 12 years, 1 month
Barrel: Independent Stave #4 Char
Barrel Entry Proof: 114
Bottle Proof: 136.2
Warehouses: M and P, 3rd and 4th Floors
Cost: MSRP $80.00
Dark, luscious amber.
This is a sweet nose with the expected caramel notes, and other sweet notes of brown sugar and butterscotch, but with depth added with aromas of raisins, espresso, and tobacco. Despite the high proof, I didn’t really get any alcohol burn.
I tried to find similarities in the taste alongside Weller 12, and while there are some (like butterscotch, caramel, and fresh bread), even without considering the distractingly high proof of Weller BTAC, they seem barely related. I did not particularly enjoy this Weller BTAC neat, and I struggled to find the correct ratio of water, but found that a single ice globe worked magic, retaining complexity and opening up new flavors. The sweet caramel and butterscotch flavors were heightened, along with other rich sweetness like dried dark fruits. There’s also a nutty quality, along with cinnamon with a blast of oak and tobacco. With right amount of water and chill, it’s a rich and robust powerhouse.
The warmth outlasted the flavors on the finish, which was overall dry with more leather, pepper spice, and really dark chocolate as it faded.
Although we’re hardly removed from it, I think that we’ll look back at the summer of 2013 as the point when the Bourbon craze turned into Bourbon pandemonium. Since then, Buffalo Trace has pumped out press releases of doom and gloom for the shortages of its premium brands, age statements have dropped like flies (but sometimes numerals remain on the bottle), and old over-filtered stocks have flooded the market in an attempt to capitalize on the resurgence of Bourbon.
Value-wise, though I really enjoyed it, this isn’t worthy of the hype or worth the trouble to hunt because there are plenty of cask-strength alternatives now. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, for example, is readily available, and while it is a little younger, it will satisfy your need for a wheated high-proof Bourbon. Either way, you can count me as one more person who is done hunting for the Antique Collection. Just let me reserve the right to change my mind.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 4.0
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill. I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings. Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon. Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws. I’m lucky to have this.5 – Bourbon perfection. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.