Apparently, W. L. Weller distilled Kentucky Straight Bourbon with wheat before anyone else -- including Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. Van Winkle actually worked as a liquor salesman for W.L. Weller and Sons before he and a friend, Alex Farnsley, bought the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller.
On Derby Day in 1935, Stitzel-Weller opened its doors and began making its wheated bourbon recipe famous. Eventually, the union produced Pappy Van Winkle, one of the most celebrated and hard-to-find bourbons in the world.
Why Weller and Pappy Are Almost the Same
Stitzel-Weller closed in 1992 and today, W. L. Weller 12 and Pappy Van Winkle are both produced at Buffalo Trace’s distillery. Basically, Weller 12 Year Old is made of Pappy that didn't quite make the cut for Pappy Van Winkle Lot B 12 year. That's why many say it as close to Pappy as you can get -- for a whole lot less.
Why Weller Isn't Pappy
At first, this may seem like a big deal or that it didn't taste good enough to be considered Pappy. However, when you realize Pappy Van Winkle chooses the best of the best, you'll see it can come up a tad short, still be a very good bourbon and become Weller. The difference between the maturation of one barrel to another can be very slight -- if not almost indiscernible -- except by a highly trained whiskey palate.
In other words, 12-year-old Weller is almost 12-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, except it is findable and cost muchless than Pappy at around $26 for a 750ml bottle. On the other hand, Pappy Wan Winkle 12 year old runs about $75 a 750ml bottle off the shelf and more in the secondary market.
Weller and Van Winkle of the Same Bourbon Family
Check out this cool chart to see how certain bourbons are "related." Notice on the first tree, the Buffalo Trace tree, that WL Weller 12, in a sense, branches off and through further aging becomes Pappy 15 year, 20 year and 23 year. Not an exact science, but I think it is a great visual for understanding how certain bourbons "grow" into other bourbons through the art and science of aging.
More Kudos for Weller 12
Recently WL Weller 12 also earned Double Gold at one of the most prestigious spirits competitions in the world, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Only one other $25 bourbon, Larceny, distilled by Heaven Hill, also received the Double Gold.
Other Double-Gold bourbons below $50 included Knob Creek Small Batch ($31), Jim Beam Single Barrel ($35), Soldier Valley Small Batch ($40), Yellow Rose Double Barrel ($40) and Breaker Small Batch ($49). I'll talk more about these in future posts.
Black Saddle Small Batch ($50), Four Roses Single Barrel ($50), Stagg, Jr. Small Batch ($50) and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50) also earned Double Gold.
Hill Rock Estate Distillery ($80) and Blanton's Straight From the Barrel ($85) took Double Gold in the over $50 under $100 price range, while Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year ($120) was the lone Double Gold recipient that cost over $100.