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Bourbon Review Comparison: W.L. Weller and Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 Year

W.L. Weller 12 Year Bourbon, $25, 45%abv (90 Proof)

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Caramel and Butterscotch, ripe banana, candied almonds, flint, and toasted oak.

Flavor: Buttery, rich, and sweet. Butterscotch, vanilla custard, baking spices, and oak resin breaks up the sweetness

Finish: Toffee and warm, soft cinnamon spice.

Overall: An excellent wheated bourbon at an even better price. Soft, sweet, and rich with enough oak and spice to keep things from becoming too syrupy. This is a big big step up from W.L. Weller 7 year 107 Proof. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Outstanding/Superb)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 Year Old Bourbon (Lot B), $50, 45.2%abv (90.4 Proof)

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Butterscotch, banana pudding, toasted pecans, and buttered cinnamon toast with a rising wave of oak.

Flavor: Absolutely stunning mouth feel – silky and velvety. Tastes of puddle of butterscotch sauce over vanilla ice cream. It’s sweet and concentrated and then quickly cut with pretty strong dry cinnamon spice and some oaky astringency that interplays wonderfully with the sweetness.

Finish: Butterscotch, cinnamon candy, and some bitter char remain on the finish.

Overall: A seriously great bourbon whiskey. Like the Weller 12 it’s sweet, buttery, and rich, but this one ramps up interest significantly with more spice and barrel. Is it worth the price increase? Well that’s for you to decide, but it’s an outstanding pour. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Outstanding/Superb)

62 Comments

  1. AdamC says:

    I really need to get my hand on and Van Winkle product. Went to local store and they only get 20-30 bottles a year. Great review. But I still wanna see a Gentleman Jack and JD Single Barrel review!

  2. Andy E says:

    Nice comparison review. I don’t think you could come up with a more obvious pair of bourbons begging to be compared. As hard to find as Pappy products are, at least it is possible in my area. The Weller 12 is just simply not allocated to my state. That said, it’s really hard to ignore the price difference here. I’ll have to resort to going online retailer for the Weller 12 but it is certainly something on my radar. Hopefully I’ll be able to do a comparison for myself. Great review.

  3. micah says:

    hey awesome video! i dont know where this question would go, but here it is, i have the ability to buy either a george t stagg or a pappy 15, which one of those should i get? (doesnt the stagg come out like every fall?) and what would be a good second bourbon 50$ and under as well? thanks so much, im anxiously awaiting the next video!

  4. Andy, you’re exactly right. The price difference makes the decision much tougher for sure, which made this comparison a really fun one for me. Both are superb.

  5. Adam, definitely coming man. I appreciate your being patient with me! It will be early May before I can get those completed but it’s on my radar for sure. I’ve got the Booker’s and the Single Barrel comparison coming out next week. So once that dust settles I’ll turn focus on those. Stay tuned!

    As for Van Winkle stuff, be sure to keep calling your local shops. THey’ll be hitting soon.

  6. Micah, great question, and really tough one. If posed this question I will most always point to the Pappy15. I think it’s a more accessible whiskey to drink neat. But that said we’re talking about one of the finest whiskeys on the planet in George T. Stagg (It does come out every fall). I’d probably blow a few brain cells in the liquor store trying to make that decision, but in the end I’d go home with the bottle with the old man on the label.

    As for other suggestions under $50.00? Great question. I’d recommend grabbing any Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage 2000 off the shelves if you can find it. The 2001 is out and it’s great too, but the 2001 is a classic and one I’d stockpile if you find it. I’d also take a look at some of my High West reviews. Really interesting stuff and mostly rye whiksey. Maker’s “46″ is one to try as well as the new Knob Creek Single Barrel. The Knob Single Barrel is one of the best bourbons I’ve tasted this year.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Texas says:

    Great review, Jason! We are fortunate that Weller has been popular in Texas for a long time, so I can get the Weller 12 year everyday for $20. Seems like we come out on the short end of the stick for most bourbon supply, but not the Weller.

    I will definitely make this my next purchase, as I love the Lot B (had one glass of it once) and the Weller Antique 7/107 has long been a fav (I like it better than you do).

  8. micah says:

    that helps tremendously thanks so much! really appreciate it, great job on all that you do!

  9. Peter says:

    This is awesome, Jason! The Van Winkle 12 is one of my favorite whiskies but I recently poured the Weller 12 at a tasting and was very impressed with it…nice to see the head-to-head battle here. My initial impression was similar, the Weller is great and a great value, but doesn’t quite measure up to the Van Winkle.

  10. AaronWF says:

    I looooove comparison reviews, awesome job Jason! I finally went looking for a bottle of the lot B the other day only to find my store bereft; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it on the shelf and put it off, and your review is reinforcing my disappointment that I can’t compare notes right now.

    The Weller is an old fave of mine. The only let down for me with that bourbon is that the resin is more cool and watery rather than oily and methodical. There’s something about an oily finish that allows the flavors to linger, and you described that exactly with the lot B; it’s a big part of what makes the Pappy15 so special, like the bourbon is consciously celebrating the luscious flavors it has to offer.

    When you answered that Stagg vs. Pappy15 question I instantly disagreed, but upon reflection, it’s the right call. The Stagg is the bourbon equivalent of sky diving: an experience that will touch your soul out of sheer force and intensity. The Pappy15, though, is like falling in love: effortlessly slaying, something that brings optimism and generosity.

    Now, wheat brings that sweet, buttery banana caramel to the table in a bourbon. At its best, it’s soft, buttery, and most importantly balanced out with spices and tannins. What I’m trying to get at is that as wheat gains popularity as an ingredient in bourbon (am I wrong in this impression?), I just hope that distillers don’t take the short route with it and aim for the over-sized American sweet tooth bullseye. The bourbons in this review speak wonderfully for themselves; I just don’t trust wheat!

  11. JWC says:

    Texas is correct – Weller 12 is readily available in Houston for $20. The Lot B is about $50, priced almost the same as the Pappy 15 but there is better availability for the Lot B (at least when it is released – also sells out pretty quickly). Is the Lot B 2.5 X as good as the Weller 12? Obviously not but you also can’t judge wine or spirits that way. Also depends on how much you drink ;)

    I recommend the Weller 12 to newbies – it’s at a price point where if they don’t like it, there isn’t too much buyer’s remorse. They can also get it anytime of the year (not true for the Lot B). I like both but because of the price, the Weller 12 (along with WT 101) is an “everyday”, anyone is welcome to have a dram type of drink. Lot B is pulled out for people who can appreciate it and for those ready for the “next step”.

    As for the Pappy 15 or GTS, if it’s only one, right now, I’d pick the Pappy 15. Who knows what’s coming next? Having said that, the Lot B is not SW juice but it’s still pretty darn good so I’m not going to max out my credit card trying to buy up all the Pappy 15′s.

  12. Andy E says:

    @ micah, I recently was casually checking out a liquor store/bar in my city and found that it had 1-Stagg and 1-PVW 15. I was floored. I wasn’t quite ready to see those (both are extremely rare to find in my city). I about short circuited trying to decide what to do. In the end, though, I bought both ^.^

  13. Joe Serapilio says:

    Great review.Just recently found Weller12 in my area.Picked up two bottles,great stuff.VanWinkle 12yr.one of my very favorites.

  14. JDW says:

    This is a great comparison. Thanks for this, Jason. I have the Van Winkle 12 year and have compared it to the Weller from the Antique Collection and the standard 7 year Weller, but this makes for a very compelling tasting. I have seen the 12 year here in Seattle and will plan on replacing the 7 year when its time comes.

    Micah’s question about the under $50 category raises three questions for me: 1) where do you live? 2) what do you like? 3) how much under $50 do you want to pay? Regarding the first question, here in Seattle I paid just shy of $55 for a fifth of Johnny Drum available elsewhere for around $25! At $25 that is a good whiskey, but at $55, well, I will not plan on replacing my current bottle. You are lucky if you are in KY, for sure. We pay at least as much in WA as our fellow Americans elsewhere and so my under $50 list should not include anything more than $50 elsewhere:

    Very Old Barton ($14.55)
    Elijah Craig 12 Year ($22.95)
    William Larue Weller SR 7 Year ($22.95)
    Elmer T. Lee ($35.85; $24.99 online)
    Four Roses Single Barrel ($40.95)
    Willett Pot Still ($44.80)
    Rock Hill Farms ($49.50)

    Enjoy.

    Yours,

    Jeffrey

  15. micah says:

    @ andy e, thats real awesome, hope you enjoy them in good health!

    @JDW, thanks so much for the help, i happen to live in israel, but any alcohol i buy is online and get it shipped to one of the states, and good-hearted people bring them back for me :)

  16. Micah, you are in good hands. These guys that comment frequently really know their stuff and have a wealth of knowledge to dispense as well. Glad you are enjoying whiskey. And if I ever head your way, I’ll give fair warning so I can load up some luggage for you.

  17. Jeffrey, wonderful suggestions man. All very nice ones.

  18. Peter, it comes down to what do you want to pay right? Both excellent, but the VW12 is just a bit more richer and concentrated in flavor. It also more integrated. The wood and oak flavors for the Weller are a tad disjointed. But still the value is tremendous.

    Texas, good to hear that you guys can get this one. Interestingly I was talking with Kris Comstock of Buffalo Trace about your trouble in particular finding certain things. It surprised him. He did say that for whatever reason some of the Texas market really focuses on the mainstays and the fringes tend to get looked over. I think it’s a distributor thing. Keep hounding them and maybe more and more good stuff will head your way.

    JWC, thanks for the comments. Haven’t heard from you in a while – hope you are doing well.

  19. Dave says:

    I split on the VW 12 vs the Weller 12. The VW has a lot more going on, whereas by comparison I find the Weller to be just smooth and sweet by comparison. Does the VW 12 justify the $25-35 more you’d pay for it (depending)? I would say that the answer would be yes if it were offered at 107 (hey what gives?!), but IMO it’s hard to argue that the Lot B delivers much actual value over, say the ORVW 10/107, which is my favorite “non-Pappy” van Winkle.

  20. Texas says:

    Picked the Weller 12 up at my local Spec’s this weekend for $21.57!

    I absolutely love it! It has to be one of the best deals going for the price. I like the OWA 7/107, but this is even better!

  21. Heather says:

    Just found Lot B in Memphis. It’s going fast. We tracked down 5 bottles to stock up but everyone is out of Pappy 15 and 20 already. They all went super fast this year.

    Love your reviews of Lot B and Pappy 15 – have you reviewed the 20 or 23 yet? What are your thoughts on those compared to the 12 and 15. So far my husband prefers lot B!

    Cheers,
    Heather

  22. Heather, thanks for the comment. I will be reviewing the 20 year old very shortly. Stay tuned! Glad you were able to snag some Lot B – it’s great stuff.

  23. Max says:

    I managed to snag a lot B and a 15 today. I had to practically follow the Bevmo delivery truck and each store would only sell me one bottle. I actually don’t mind that, as long as it keeps them from being hoarded and sent to ebay. I am surprised when people say they are able to find any Van Winkle on a shelf somewhere. It feels like here in CA they don’t make it that far before they are gone.

  24. Well done Max!

  25. Bmac says:

    It’s funny I read about people seeing VW products on the shelf; here in Texas you have to be in the ‘know’ and get your name on a list and MAYBE….just maybe…they’ll call you. I put my name down in 4 locations and only 1 called back and I got a bottle of VW 12yr LOT B (Buffalo trace release). I have to say that it did taste strikingly similar to W.L. Weller 12yr. Is there any way you can compare the buffalo trace release of the 12yr VW like you did with the Pappy 15yr?

    Honestly; side-by-side, the difference is minimal and is mostly in the finish. The VW has more caramel chewiness on the finish than Weller 12yr and the VW finish is much longer. The 15yr Pappy is a GAZILLION light years ahead of either one and is the Stitzel Weller version. I really have to wonder if it’s the 3 year difference or a difference in Warehouse/storage and Barrel type.

    If Julian sealed the deal with Buffalo Trace in 2002; how can they have already produced a 12 and 15 year, if they didn’t draw upon their Weller stock? I can imagine that Julian inspected their warehouse and told BT where to store the Weller to make Van Winkle/Pappy. Which means they probably didn’t put it in the barrel at 107 proof (they typically put Weller in at 120+ proof). this might explain the difference in taste.

    Just my two cents, of course :)

  26. Bmac, they had to have drawn from the weller stock. Had to. It’s the same recipe and it makes sense. Julian probably gets his pick of honey barrels is about all, or at least the sections that he feels best represents the flavor profile he is looking for.

    Also let me make sure I’m clear. Are you requesting a review between Weller 12 and VW 12? If so I’ve done that on the site. Take a look under Van Winkle and you’ll see a comparison review. Cheers!

  27. Bmac says:

    @ Jason – Correct, but was the 12yr you reviewed from W.L. Weller stock or BT stock? :)

  28. BMAC, I am sorry I’m not understanding you clearly on the question. Perhaps I am a bit thick headed this week.

    Perhaps what you are asking is if the Van Winkle 12 year I reviewed was STITZEL-Weller Distillery produced or Buffalo Trace Distillery produced. The one I reviewed was BT distillery whiskey. As far as I know it’s been that way for at least the last 3+ years or so, if not well longer than that. I don’t have a bottle of Stitzel-Weller 12 year Van Winkle is essentially what I mean.

    Hopefully that is what you were referring to. W.L. Weller is just a brand of bourbon that the Stitzel-Weller distillery produced before it closed operations. The W.L.Weller brand was later sold Buffalo Trace in the late 90′s. Apparently they got some stock to get things going, and the recipe to continue production.

    I hope that helps. If I could find an older bottle of Stitzel-Weller 12 year Van Winkle then I sure would love to compare. Tough find now though.

  29. Bmac says:

    No, you’re not think headed. You actually answered my question :)

  30. Baker says:

    Will you ever review Rebel Yell bourbon?

  31. Baker – check back on February 1st. Cheers.

  32. Chris says:

    Van Winkle 12 year is an outstanding Bourbon. I totally agree with you Jason. I can’t even imagine what the 15, 20, or 23 year old tastes like. They must be heavenly. Haven’t found those yet. But, I’ll keep on searching. If your a true Bourbon lover, you have to try this Whiskey. It’s one of the best Bourbons I have tried to date. Highly recommended.

  33. GQuiz says:

    Been fortunate enough to enjoy the VW12, Weller 12, Pappy 15 and William Larue Weller. Pappy 15 is the greatest whiskey I’ve ever tasted. But both the VW12 and and Weller 12 are awesome choices. I waited a year for Pappy only to be told sorry, have to settle for Lot B. if only all disappointments tasted so good. Jason, your reviews are spot on. My liquor consultant at Spec’s keeps hopping because I request what you review. I have orders in for Rittenhouse, Hooker’s House and Dickel Barrel Select. I’m hoping for a crack at some Stagg and Pappy 15 this fall. But I have a second bottle of VW12 tucked aside, just in case I have to sip “disappointment” again. Keep rockin’. Can’t wait to hear what is next.

  34. Charlie says:

    Jason…Any review on Weller 7 yr. special reserve 90 proof? Would like to hear how it rates with the 12yr since you didn’t like the 107. Can’t find 12 yr Weller in Atlanta area and VW is out of the question.

  35. Charlie, been eyeing this review and a second look at Antique 107. It’s something I want to get to soon.

  36. Doug A says:

    Jason, have tried Weller 12 twice and find it is a good bourbon but just don’t find the taste I am looking for. Tried the Weller 107 and with a bit of water it reminded me of the Old Rip VanVinkle 107, a bit lighter and a sweeter wheat whiskey, though not as good for sure. But if I had to try to substitute for Old Rip 107, I would take the Weller 107 with a “splash” or water.

  37. Elliott says:

    I work at a large liquor store in central Ky as a buyer for spirits, wine, and beer. I have been the bourbon go to guy for 18 years. Weller 12yr is by far the best bourbon for the money! Pappy 15 is the best if money is not a problem. It is the SAME stuff except for the age and proof. 20yr or 23yr, is to long. What you want to look for is, 10 to 15 years, 86 to 105 proof, with a high wheat. By the way Ancient Ancient Age 10yr is wonderful.
    Enjoy!!!

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  39. Storcke says:

    Price update–I got a handle of WL Weller 12-year today in west Georgia for $22.99. A price that low throws some serious kinks into any value-comparison. This is my first time tasting it, thanks solely to Jason’s review. Thanks again, Jason!

  40. Storcke – what a steal at that price. Really at any price under $30.

  41. Mark says:

    Storcke, where? i live in georgia and have never found it.

  42. Storcke says:

    Albany. Turns out it was a “special purchase” “outside the regular lines of distribution,” and won’t be repeated. I wish now I’d gotten the other two bottles they had.

  43. Dawn says:

    Jason, We used your review a while back to select the Weller 12 and are very happy you recommended it. The bottle is past half gone now and it’s changed character over a couple months. I had never smelled any banana in a whiskey before, but recently there’s appeared some seriously pungent (overripe) banana and cinnamon spice to contend with the original profile of sweetness (maple, caramel and shredded wheat) in the aroma. Two whiskys in one bottle – fun stuff.

  44. Thanks for the info Dawn. And this is also very common. Think about what happens to a banana itself when exposed to more air time. It ripens, sweetens, etc. Whiskey is a different animal for sure – there’s lots of alcohol there to keep that from happening too much, but as you’ve noted it clearly happens. Enjoy!

  45. lastcoyote says:

    i too got some w.l. weller 12 after reading this review. couldn’t afford the van winkle at the time. i agree with the over-ripe banana thing on the nose. however for me from the first glass from my bottle and every glass since i just get massive almonds. i know Jason mentioned candied almonds on the nose, but for me its very much almonds in the taste and finish too. very nice.

  46. fredman says:

    I’m new here, and Iv never tried any of these. My mouth is watering.

  47. Scott says:

    Just got a chance to try these back to back. In terms of background, the Weller 12 has been my favorite value wheater. I agree with Jason’s call that the Lot B is better integrated and slightly richer, but the difference is subtle. I’m glad I got a bottle of Lot B and I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but at over twice the price it is not going to be an everyday pour for sure.

  48. Anthony says:

    Awesome reviews. I just recieved a bottle of W.L. Weller 12yr from my boss for Christmas. Never had it so I’m looking forward to jumping right in tonight. I live in Louisville KY (burbon captiol of the world in my eyes) and have vitsted the likes of Makers Mark, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, and Jim Beam. Being only 29 I’m a fairly new burbon drinker (past 5 years or so). Always neat and always either Woodford, Beam 7 year, or Makers. IF it’s a sepcial ocassion, Woodford Double Oak, Jefferosn Reserve, or Pappy 15 year. Pappy is even tough to find in KY if it’s not March – June. The best two Bourbons I have tatse din my life are – Pappy 23 year and Parker’s Heritage Bourbon. Both are equally amazing and I’m lucky to have had a bottle of both. Love the site and will keep looking in for more!

  49. n2thecloud says:

    Jason,
    Great bourbon reviews as always! Your taste profile and mine match up very closely. I have followed your reviews for a few years now. I have recently come back to this review to comment and I suppose many others will be coming back here, as Pappy 15 was VERY difficult to get this year( Fall 2012). One theory is that the big storm back east caused a distribution issue. Ok , first things first. I got a Pappy 15 for Christmas this year and it is awesome as usual. My Brother-in-law was just crazy enough to drive all over SoCal to find a bottle… Let’s say this is the best Christmas gift that I can remember next to my “Schwinn Apple Crate bike” many many years ago… What is so amazing about P15 is that you get a taste for higher proof wheater bourbon and THEN there is no more! I have been on a quest to find the best alternative as has my Brother-in-law. So I told him before Christmas about William Larue Weller. He found one and snapped it up. It will likely become Whiskey of the year! So smooth for the proof of 126. Just a great pour and one to look for in the back country. ;) My point now is to say that I found a WL Weller 12 recently(also difficult to find here) and have sat down to try the P15 ,W12 and the OWA 107 next to each other. We all know the order they should fall in YET I am really impressed again with the W12. Smooth but with a long finish. The nose is full with caramel,candied fruits and cherry essence. Much better than OWA, yet that is still a reasonable standby. BTW ORVW 12 is nowhere to be found in SoCal…

    My list to relieve the P15 gap and then some
    1. William Larue Weller(good luck)
    2. WLW 12 ***
    3. Elmer T Lee (not wheat but very good)
    4. OWA 7yr 107
    5. Rittenhouse Rye ( best rye for the $)
    6. Macallan 12 or Glenmorangie Original :) just for good measure

  50. n2thecloud – Great comment! I like what you have here – that’s a nice list.

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