Limited release whiskeys like Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection or Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection seem to be getting more limited every year. Still, if you’re looking for a rare whiskey to show off about, it doesn’t get much rarer (in terms of bottles produced) than a private single barrel, and even better you don’t have to pay through the nose for the privilege. The trend in private barrels (or “barrel picks”) has exploded in recent years with single barrel selections from most of big distilleries and even some smaller, craft operations now heavily represented on the shelves. Even control states like New Hampshire are getting in on the fun. As a result, there are real gems out there from every producer, but some of the most coveted come naturally from Buffalo Trace, specifically Old Weller Antique.
While Weller 12 Years Old has increased in scarcity and reputation over the years, Old Weller Antique — a younger but higher proof version of the same juice — remains the easiest way to enjoy the Weller obsession with enough proof and age to offer a glimpse of what lies inside the annual Pappy Van Winkle and William Larue Weller hyper-rare releases (it’s all the same juice). We recently sampled two private barrels of Old Weller Antique, one from B&B Package Store in Kingsport, Tennessee and the other from Liquor Outlet Wine Cellars in Boonton, NJ. Our reviews of each below show just how different the same bourbon can be from barrel to barrel, which, after all, is a big part of the fun of private barrels to begin with.
Old Weller Antique Selection from B&B Package Store – The nose on this single barrel selection is somewhat restrained at 107 proof, but it’s still complex with chewy toffee, cinnamon sugar, and a little flamed orange peel. The palate has a flash of heat and spice and comes off deceptively thin at first, but then a wave of flavor shows itself. There’s butterscotch, caramel candy, a citrus squeeze, and Demerara sugar, all of which hangs on the finish like the last sip of an Old Fashioned: sugary with a slight bitter and citrus sweetness. While this isn’t the most unique Weller 107 pick I’ve tasted, it manages to highlight some of the better qualities of the standard offering in a way that makes it more than worth the slight markup. Reviewed: Barrel 38. 107 proof. A- / $28
Old Weller Antique Selection from Liquor Outlet Wine Cellars – The nose on the Liquor Outlet pick is a totally different animal. It’s bigger, spicier, and overall sweeter but without the same complexity. Aromas of Cinnamon Red Hots and burnt sugar dominate. There’s the same quick heat and spice, a mainstay of Old Weller Antique, but the palate here is a little more syrupy. Unfortunately, there’s not much unique flavor sticking to it. Bright citrus, clove, and cinnamon stick dissolve into a nice enough caramel finish. As a standard offering, it would earn higher marks, but as a barrel pick, I’m left wanting something a bit more. Reviewed: Barrel No. 210 from Rickhouse I, Floor 7. 107 proof. B+ / $36