Table Of Contents
William Larue Weller Bourbon 2023 Review
Perhaps no annual release in American whiskey is as hotly anticipated as William Laure Weller. Often seen as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection’s crowning achievement, “WLW” (as it’s affectionately known in bourbon circles) is a rare concept from the get-go: a cask strength, well-aged, wheated recipe bourbon whiskey. Pulling off such a whiskey with precision has helped set the entire collection apart from other premium releases year in and year out.
The 2023 William Larue Weller Bourbon comes in at 133.6 proof. It was distilled in the Spring of 2011, with barrels aged in warehouses C, L, M, and N on Buffalo Trace’s campuses. It’s roughly the same age as 2022’s version (within a few months at least), but nearly nine proof points higher.
So how did the latest William Larue Weller — for all the barrel-strength street cred it’s built over the last two decades — stack up? Read on for the full scoop below.
William Larue Weller Bourbon 2023: Stats and Availability
The phrases “Buffalo Trace Antique Collection” and “widely available at MSRP” don’t really go together. Yes, the suggested retail price for this bourbon whiskey is $124.99. But William Larue Weller often goes for 10 times that (or more) at retail or on the secondary market, even during the very season it’s released. In some highly trafficked, high-income areas (like lower Manhattan), I’ve seen bottles collect dust for nearly $2,000 apiece.
That’s not to say there aren’t much better deals to be had. They’re just not getting widely publicized.
William Larue Weller Bourbon 2023 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
On the nose, the party starts off with medicinal cherry cough drops; in that realm, it reminds me of 2022’s release, which in my anecdotal experience was polarizing among longtime fans. Vanilla extract and a very light amount of almond extract follow in the next wave of scents, along with macerated, alcohol-soaked pears, raisins, and nectarines. Those soaked fruits are backed by lemon drop candies, and while I’m searching for fresh citrus notes, the predominant flavors are candied and/or medicinal.
As far as traditional spice notes, cinnamon gum and allspice lead the pack, with a tiny touch of freshly ground nutmeg. Caramel candy carries much of the sweetness here. Interestingly, most of the elements on the nose are of the candied, alcohol-soaked, or medicinal variety; this is lacking a pop of freshness to balance more artificial scents, something I know William Larue Weller (the 2015 and 2016 releases come to mind) is more than capable of.
It’s not a particularly heavy nose when it comes to ethanol, and I’m able to spend a long time nosing before anything approaching an overly hot burn creeps into my nostrils.
Intensely dark caramel leads, pushing those cherry and spice notes to the periphery, at least in the first few sips. That intense, nearly-burnt sugar transitions gradually to dark chocolate and finally vanilla-swirled fudge; it’s a welcome progression and improvement from the first couple of sips.
The midpalate is where this bourbon begins to shine, notes of instant hot chocolate and marshmallows pulling the flavor away from otherwise intense brown sugar. The moderately thick mouthfeel also carries baked, cinnamon-swirled oats and deeply cooked apple chunks.
Upon the fourth or fifth sip, cherry cough drop once again makes an appearance, along with purple grape candy.
Sipped neat, I found the palate a bit stodgy. With a couple drops of water, the various components finally start to blossom, unlocking significantly more fruit candy, including citrus peel and artificial berry.
The finish is where the oak finally begins to shine, not overpowering in the slightest but certainly lending some welcome elements of wood sugar to take this wheated bourbon’s sweetness in a different direction. Overall, the finish is long and syrupy, with both grain and sugary elements reminiscent of breakfast pancakes topped with strawberry preserves. There’s a near-final hit of heat, the whiskey’s 133.6 proof showing its full force for perhaps the first time throughout the entire experience.
Again, a few healthy drops of water unlock more potential, bringing out the strawberry preserves and tempering the astringency that was pushing things a bit too much into leathery territory for my taste. (And I have a high tolerance, all things considered.)
William Larue Weller Bourbon Rating
Rating this year’s William Laure Weller is a tough call, because a few drops of water turn this into a very different whiskey. That said, even with a few (or more) big drops per ounce, this iteration doesn’t quite hit the highs of the bottles that rocketed WLW toward the tippy top of in-demand, allocated American whiskeys. It’s both a very good sipper AND a lesson in the fact that bigger, bolder, and higher proof doesn’t always equal better.
I’d never turn down a pour of this stuff, especially shared among fellow bourbon aficionados. Any Antique Collection that doesn’t feature William Larue leading the pack is noteworthy, this year’s series among them.
*Photo sourced from the Buffalo Trace Distillery