If you're a whisky enthusiast with a bourbon collection, you either have Old Weller Antique in your collection or you're waiting for the next shipment to your local liquor store. Weller bourbons have family ties with Pappy Van Winkle. Back "in the day," Weller was the bourbon sold by the Van Winkle family that was generally available, and Pappy was the rare stuff. Both products use the same recipe. Contrary to some beliefs, they do not taste the same.
Weller wheated bourbon is sometimes called “Pappy reject” as though the whisky bottled wasn't good enough for the Pappy brand. As much as I hear this story come out (even in Kentucky), that's not true. Old Weller Antique was never intended to be Pappy. It is its own whisky, with no identify crisis. It's terrific on its own.
Much like with a food recipe, using an identical whisky recipe doesn't yield an identical product. Sure, Weller and Pappy are both wheated bourbons made in the same distillery (Buffalo Trace Distillery), but much of the flavor comes from the whisky maturing within the barrels. Where they are matters. That's like using the same recipe, but changing the temperature and cooking time. Slow cooking versus pressure cooking? Pan fried versus cooked in an oven. Sous-vide versus any of these other method. The location in the warehouse matters. It changes the rate of the chemical reactions inside the barrel.
While barrel maturation and barrel aged seem interchangeable statements, strictly speaking, they're not. Barrel aging implies the same years spent in the barrel equals the same results. Where the barrels are located in the warehouse dictates their exposure to the elements (as does the warehouse location itself). Temperature, temperature variation, and humidity greatly affect barrel maturation. Some barrels are destined for Pappy, others are destined for Weller. In almost all cases the whisky used for Weller bourbon is matured in parts of warehouses where they age Weller bourbon. The "Pappy" stuff, that's elsewhere entirely.
Old Weller Antique is 53.5% ABV (107 Proof). It's on the boozy side of fun. It has all the great flavors that come from a wheated bourbon highlighting oak spice and rich caramels. However, the caramel notes take on sweeter and sour notes, leaning toward cherries. That's a common flavor profile in Weller and Pappy alike (and many other wheated bourbons).
This is a terrific whisky and it's often at a terrific price. It's a little harder to find in the last five or so years, but it's far easier to hunt for Old Weller Antique (OWA) than any Pappy Van Winkle branded whiskies or its more mature variant Weller 12. It's intended as an affordable sipper. Market demands on the Weller brand have made the affordable part more challenging, but this is a fantastic buy for under $40.
Old Weller Antique 107
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Wheated Bourbon, NAS
Nose: Crushed boozy cherries, barnyard dust, hints of distiller's grain (yeasty), caramel, dark chocolate, and cinnamon spice.
Palate: Booze-soaked cherries, caramel, pepper spice, and zest. It's a boozy and sweet drink, walking that line beautifully.
Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must-have
Old Weller Antique doesn't dwell on deep and complex, but it does hit hard on flavor. This is a must-have whisky in any whisky enthusiast cabinet and for the price point there's probably none better. Sadly, it can also be a difficult find, and sometimes it's outrageously priced.