I usually don’t like to review one off whiskeys since most people will never get to try the few bottles making it into the market. I am making an exception here because I played a small role in this experiment. Back in 2013, I was talking to Mark Brown, the president of Buffalo Trace and Harlan Wheatly, the Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace. I proposed a simple experiment – What would happen if you took a barrel of 4-year-old Bourbon that had evaporation from the barrel, and added more water to lower the barrel proof, and then age it further? Mark thought it was an interesting question and Harlan arranged to do the experiment. He took two barrels of whiskey designated for Weller products that tasted very similar. In one barrel water was added to lower the proof. They then aged them side by side to see what the difference would be in the flavor. I was able to taste the sample pulled from these barrels after 6 months and then a year. There was a difference in flavor. Harlan told me that his application to the government for this experiment expired. I assumed the barrels were then dumped and became part of a Weller product. I was wrong, at least as far as the barrel with the adjusted proof because they are now releasing this product in 375 ml bottles as part of their Experimental Collection series. I could not be happier as I do find this to be excellent Bourbon.
I am tasting this bottle of Experimental whiskey next to a bottle of Weller 12-year-old. They are the same age and bottled at 90 proof. It is as close to the control barrel as I can get. I find that they are very similar in some ways, but also very different. Here are my notes.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection
Age: 12 Years Old
Nose: Rich caramel toffee, ripe apple, oak and just a hint of dark chocolate.
Taste: Caramel toffee with a hint of chocolate, sweet fruit – ripe apple and pears, with baking spices and oak. Tasted with a dried cranberry and the apple and pear flavors are enhanced but the baking spices are dulled and almost hidden by the oak. When tasted with a pecan, the caramel toffee comes forward and the fruit and spice are dulled, merging with the oak.
Finish: Long and dry. This is where the baking spices come forward with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. The cranberry makes the finish very much oak forward with only a hint of the baking spices. The pecan lengthens the finish and makes it very dry with lots of oak.
Age: 12 Years Old
Nose: Very sweet – lots of caramel and maybe a little maple syrup with some ripe apple and oak.
Taste: Caramel apple with some oak and baking spices. When tasted with a dried cranberry some dark chocolate notes come forward. Tasted with a pecan and it is full of oak and a hint of white pepper.
Finish: Long and dry with oak and pepper spice. The cranberry made the finish sweeter with lingering caramel notes and oak. The pecan enhanced the pepper on the finish.
I have paired these Bourbons with a RoMa Craft Intemperance cigar. I find the smoke of this cigar full of rich tobacco earthiness, vanilla and cedar spice. The Experimental Collection brought more vanilla and a hint of coffee to the smoke while the smoke made the Bourbon very creamy in the mouth and added a little cherry or raspberry note to the flavor. Very nice pairing. The Weller 12 enhanced the sweetness of the smoke making more caramel than vanilla and reduced the cedar spice. The smoke gave the whiskey a creamy mouth-feel with more caramel, but made the finish very dry with lots of oak tannins.
It is my belief that the lower barrel proof enhanced the experimental Bourbon. I saw a greater depth of flavor at all points. Whether I was drinking it neat, with a dried cranberry, a pecan or with cigar, the flavor was more complex and interesting. The Weller 12-year-old is an excellent Bourbon, but fell short when compared to the Bourbon from the Experimental Collection.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller