Reviewer: Andrew Owen
Pappy and Weller. Are there two names more deified in the current bourbon boom? I would guess not. But interestingly, one could count on both hands the number of years its been since the Pappy Van Winkle (or Old Rip) and Weller bourbons sat on the shelves in stores for reasonable prices collecting dust. Sure, they were always quality bourbons. But bourbon was not "in", and social media was not creating hordes of whiskey drinkers with major FOMO (fear of missing out) like it is today. Alas, the Van Winkle line has been driven far from retail shelves into the mystical land of unicorns and the shady realm of secondary markets, and the Weller line seems to be not far behind.
So what has created the hype and hysteria associated with these bourbon brands? Like I said, you don't (usually) get to this exalted point without being a high-quality whiskey. But is the Van Winkle Lot B 12 Year being held for lottery at your local store or sold online for $400 really that much better than the $50 bottle of bourbon sitting on shelves year round? There was a time when Van Winkle was that bottle of $50 bourbon sitting on shelves year round.
Let's zoom in one step closer and get to the point of this review: Is Van Winkle Lot B 12 year, which is ultra-mega-allocated, has an MSRP of $70, and resells on secondary for $400+ any better than Weller 12 year, which is still highly allocated, but retails for $25 and resells for around $100?
You may be intrigued to know that despite their individual histories, all of the Weller and Van Winkle bourbons are currently distilled, aged, and bottled by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. They both contain the same wheated mash bill. They are the same proof. The only difference between them is barrel selection. So lets get into this wheater showdown and see not what hype says, but what actually opening the bottles (wait, you can do that?) and judging by taste says! For extra veracity, I tasted these blind, side by side, making sure to cleanse my palate in between.
Weller 12 Year (45% ABV)
Nose: Sweet, heavy caramel flecked with citrus peel. As it rests, it becomes more fruit-forward with additional notes of dried cherries and slightly bitter oak. Easy, balanced, and enjoyable.
Palate: Very sweet upon entry - sugary toffee and vanilla wafer. Things balance out mid-palate as heavy oak, orange oil, and stale chocolate (like tootsie roll) develop. Somewhat bland overall.
Finish: Bread pudding, vanilla, light brown sugar, and some dried cherry that comes in late. The finish is quite intense and long.
Van Winkle Lot B 12 Year 2014 Release (45.2% ABV)
Nose: Fresh orange, vanilla frosting, and sweet cream. Underneath are hints of tart cherry and raisin. Bold, fresh, and lively. Becomes more tart and fruit-forward as it rests.
Palate: Somewhat waxy, oddly enough. Lemon peel, vanilla cake batter, toffee, and oak sugars. Nice creamy mouthfeel. While not bad, the taste is a bit of a let down following a stellar aroma.
Finish: Bland and fairly short. Watery vanilla and slightly bitter oak.
- Both of these are "solid" bourbons, by my score chart. At the right price, both would be what I consider good "daily drinkers".
- There is very little that separates these two bourbons, both in flavor profile and overall quality. They excelled in different areas - the Weller was at its best at the finish, while the Lot B started out very strong on the aroma but became more disappointing as it progressed from palate to finish.
- Neither of these are worth buying at secondary price. That should be obvious by what you've read thus far. If you are buying to open and drink, rather than to display as a trophy to all your bourbon buddies on social media, then do not get conned into believing that taste is in line with secondary value.
- Weller 12 Year is worth it's retail price. The Weller line was never produced to be a premium bourbon, and it doesn't drink like one. But it does drink like a good $25-30 bourbon.
- Lot B is just not worth it. A whiskey needs to be better than solid for me to drop $70+. There are just too many great (and available) bourbons even in the $45-65 range that are much better than this is.
So friends, don't fret when you don't get to your local store in time to snag 1 of the 3 bottles of Weller 12 that they received on their weekly allocation. And don't be filled with envy when your buddy posts the picture Van Winkle Lot B that the liquor store owner pulled out from under the counter and sold to him for the "incredible deal" of $179. Sit back, pour yourself a hearty dram of your favorite year-round $40 bourbon, and realize that you have something just as good as they do.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.