Wheater Showdown: Weller 12 Year VS. Van Winkle Lot B 12 Year

Wheater Showdown

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.

Score:  76/100

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.

Score:  78/100

 

 

Conclusions:

  1. Both of these are "solid" bourbons, by my score chart.  At the right price, both would be what I consider good "daily drinkers".
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Cheers!

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

55:  Average

60-69:  Better than average

70-79:  solid/good

80-89:  excellent

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.

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Publisher

All Time Favorite Whisky: Balblair 1990 2nd Edition

Daily Drinkers: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Springbank 10 Year

A former craft beer enthusiast, Andrew fell in love with whiskey after tasting a pour of Laphroaig 10 year and being amazed that such a flavor could exist within a liquid. With a college background in biochemistry and a passion for history, Andrew quickly grew to love the science of whiskey making, the history of different distilleries, and the exploration of flavors within a dram. To Andrew, whiskey is more than just a drink; it is a fascinating mix of art and science – an intricate beauty to be pondered and appreciated. Besides this, Andrew has found that a nice bottle of whiskey has an amazing ability to bring people together and unite people from all different backgrounds together as friends.

While Andrew can be found drinking any style of whiskey from any region around the world, he has a particular affinity for spice-laden bourbons and coastal scotches. Besides drinking whiskey, Andrew also enjoys weight lifting, road biking, and cooking.

6 thoughts on “Wheater Showdown: Weller 12 Year VS. Van Winkle Lot B 12 Year”

  1. Great read, Andrew! I LOVE me some W12! I’ve had one pour of the Lot B and I am sad to say I was extremely disappointed! W12 is supposed to be the ugly step sister… In my opinion, I liked the W12 a LOT better! I love the oak smell… I get the similar aroma on a Barterhouse! I agree, W12 is thin… I think it could stand to be a little higher in proof… say 107??? 😉😉😉

    Cheers my fellow Iowa enthusiast!

  2. Thanks for the straight talk on these bottles. I have had the Weller 12 and enjoyed. I have had the Old Rip 10 and the Pappy 15,20 &23 but not the Lot B 12. Like you I have an aversion to paying much beyond retail. What I do like about all of these is the heavy Carmel/Vanilla nose and solid complex taste. I have seen many wheater comparison articles & videos but Makers & Larceny just don’t deliver the same nose & palate as the Weller/Old Rip line. Can you share you’re readily available choices to match the nose, palate & finish of the pride of Buffalo Trace? Thanks

    1. Hey John,
      In my experience, the best compliment to most wheated bourbons is a higher proof. Those bottled at 90 proof or less tend to become more one-dimensionally sweet, and some would say cloyingly sweet, depending on the brand. As the proof increases, typically so does the complexity in the form of different spice and fruit notes. I think Maker’s Mark cask strength is leagues ahead of its 90 proof counterpart, and it is usually the first wheater I recommend to those who are Weller/Pappy fans. Even Maker’s Mark 46 is a big upgrade over regular Maker’s or Larceny. I’m also a big fan of Rebel Yell 10 year single barrel.

      Keep in mind that there is nothing out there quite like Buffalo Trace’s wheaters, and they have the reputation that they do in part because it is hard to match the taste of their premium wheaters. But I stand by all those mentioned above as worthy and affordable substitutes.
      Cheers!

  3. Well done. Have not had the opportunity to try either of these, but I always hear a lot of what you reference in the article about them being “premium” bottles. Thanks for the review.

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