Well, Well, Weller
I was recently invited to a dinner featuring a full vertical of Weller Bourbon, undeniably one of the most sought-after products from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Weller is a wheated Bourbon, sometimes referred to as a wheater. For most Bourbons, the majority grain in the mash bill is corn (by law), the secondary grain is typically rye, and the tertiary grain is barley. A wheated bourbon uses wheat instead of rye. The result is a Bourbon with a softer mouthfeel, a touch more sweetness, and a distinct lack of the peppery spice notes so often associated with rye.
The most popular wheated Bourbon is Maker’s Mark followed by other classics like Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, and of course Weller. The dinner included a four part vertical made up of the Weller Special Reserve, Antique 107, Full Proof, and 12 Year Old.
The dinner was exquisite; it started with pairing the ever quaffable Special Reserve, with its very gentle vanilla and citrus notes, with a steak carpaccio that was topped with an apricot chutney, microgreens, and cranberry vinaigrette. It’s unusual for a Bourbon pairing to go this light, but the citrus and fruits blended perfectly.
The Antique ups the alcohol content, and the higher the alcohol the better it will pair with higher fat foods. On this evening, however, it was paired with a salad, kind of. The “salad” was a beet napoleon with pea shoots, and the fat was plentiful by way of melted Brie and a pecan butter that instantly balanced with the 107 proof Bourbon.
The distillery holds other treats to see. There is a viewing gallery in one of the warehouses where you can see an excellent example of casks being stored in racking rather than dunnage warehouse style. There is also an old pump that shows how many distilleries fill their whisky casks there.
Prime time was upon us, with the Full Proof at 114 proof. For those not familiar with my likes and dislikes, I adore overproof spirits. It came out with flash fried fingerling potatoes joined by an Osso Bucco that had been braised to perfection and fell apart at the touch. It was delightful and the higher ABV made the experience a bit bolder, bringing out some of the more traditional Bourbon notes, but also sweetening up the Osso Bucco. Without question my favorite pairing of the night.
We ended with the 12 Year Old which, sipped alone is remarkably mellow and easy. With flavors of orange zest and panna cotta, the Bourbon was perfectly paired with lightly fried lemon and ricotta zeppoles.
If you have the chance to do a vertical, I suggest you take the opportunity to find your favorites in the lineup. Always remember, at the end of any pairing is good food, good drinks, and good people - don’t take it too seriously.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ethan Kelley is Acker’s Spirits Director and resident expert on all things distilled. Born in Michigan and raised in New Jersey, Ethan Kelley started his career in Spirits early. Beginning an exhaustive journey through the world of beverage alcohol, he got his start behind the bar. Eventually, interests piqued and liver primed, he made the switch from shots to sips and began a lifelong love affair with learning and tasting. Soon, he teamed with Flavien Desoblin at Brandy Library, and a career was launched.
Traditionally educated at Elon University, Ethan found his real learning came from visiting distilleries, cooperages, coppersmiths, and farms; along the way, he tasted and acquired new interests, including a passionate relationship with the outdoors and the influence of the natural world. An educator at heart, Ethan is committed to sharing his love of spirits with anyone who will listen. He has been a judge for both the NY Spirits Awards Competition and judged alongside industry legends in Paul Pacult's Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Ethan has also been featured as an industry expert on The History Channel, MSNBC, FOX News, and multiple NY Times appearances.