Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Good Stuff Continued and Introducing Dusty Thursday: Old Weller Original 107

I'm going to use my end of year tasting of good stuff to inaugurate a new feature here on Recent Eats. I taste a fair amount of old dusty bottles that I find in corner stores or through generous friends. I usually don't write these up since they are hard to find and not something you can run out and buy. But since there seems to be precious few on-line reviews of dusty bottles, I thought I would start an occasional series, Dusty Thursday, in which I will review old, out of production American whiskeys. These whiskeys give us a window into the past both in terms of how whiskey tasted and the business of whiskey since they often involve distilleries that are no longer operating or brands that have been sold, often multiple times.

We'll start this series today with one of my biggest dusty treasures. Bourbon from the closed Stitzel-Weller distillery is pretty much the holy grail of dusty hunting. Today's bottle is Old Weller Original 107 from Stitzel-Weller. The bottom of the bottle carries a "79" so it is likely bottled around or later than 1979. The bottle has a federal and state (Oklahoma) tax stamp, abv is indicated only in proof, there is no government warning and volume is listed in milliliters (though on the bottle and state stamp, not the label). It also includes a Louisville address; the bottle came in a clear plastic box with gold colored trim. All of these factors point to a late '70s or early '80s bottle. Later, this expression was changed to "Old Weller Antique."

After Stitzel-Weller was closed by the company now known as Diageo, the Weller brand was sold to Buffalo Trace. A few years ago, they removed the 7 year age statement and changed the bottle design.

Old Weller the Original 107, 7 years old, 107 proof (53.5% abv). No. 3038-A.

Wow! The nose just screams Stitzel-Weller with lovely caramel and toffee notes and a very slight citrus note underneath. The palate has intense vanilla, caramel and candy flavors followed by a musty note, like old dusty boxes in the attic. It trails off with some citrus/creamsicle. It has a satisfyingly chewy mouthfeel and even a slight puckering quality. The finish is almost Cognac like in its sweetness. This whiskey manages to be light and rich at the same time.

Tasting this time capsule of a bourbon, I realize what a tragedy it is that this distillery is no longer operational. These old whiskeys really do have a unique flavor profile. It's true that there is still Stitzel-Weller on the market; you can get it in the Jefferson Presidential Selection bourbons or the Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year olds, but those older whiskeys have a very different flavor profile from this seven year old Weller. While Jefferson and Pappy are certainly good, they taste much more like other bourbons on the market today. The extra age and the wood influence that comes with it seems to compromise some of the sweet and mild character that these younger Stitzel-Wellers had. Maybe seven to twelve years was the Stitzel-Weller sweet spot, and the additional oak mutes those qualities that made it so special. If you're ever lucky enough to find some of this stuff or one of the equally great Stitzel-Weller bourbons from the Old Fitzgerald line, raise a glass and shed a tear for the distillery that is no more.

16 comments:

Jason Pyle said...

Great post SKU. I love the Dusty Series idea as well. I think it would add a lot of value to folks out there trying to find some of these bottles. Or at the very least provide great info.

Cheers!

-Jason

Macdeffe said...

I was just enjoying a 1982 bottled Old-Grand Dad BiB 100 proof when your post came up. I was wondering if Old Bottle effect could influence the taste of this whiskeys ?- I found a similar flavour in AH Hirsch 16 (Old Stainless Steel Tank effect?)

AaronWF said...

Great idea, Sku, though of course slightly maddening. It's one thing to post so-so reviews of $350 scotches, or inspired reviews of small-house cognacs available only through a store in your little corner of the U.S. (see Paul-Marie & Fils), but you start extolling the virtues of whiskey that hasn't been made for decades and will never be made again, I start to hear the sounds of expiring chickens gagging out their final gasps...

But seriously, I love the way you follow your pleasure here. There's nothing like a dusty bottle of booze to take you back to another time; it's like sensory time travel.

sku said...

Macdeffe, I think there is an old bottle effect. I definitely get a musty taste on a lot of old bourbons, especially when they are first opened.

Aaron WF, fair points, but I think there is value to learning about these old whiskey even if you're never going to taste them. The history of American whiskey is complicated with brands changing hands all the time and I'm excited to learn a bit more of this history as I go through the tastings. That being said, there are a surprising amount of old dusty bottles still on the shelves, and while I started big with this Old Weller, I plan to write up lots of older bottles that are not so prized.

Greg said...

Steve - Great bottle there. Some of those older mid proof SW bourbons are fantastic. Just the other day I finally killed a handle of Old Fitz Prime 86 from 1974.

sku said...

Greg, since you are the resident expert of Stitzel-Weller dusties (and anyone who doesn't should be reading Greg's Bourbon Dork blog) do you know when they turned Old Weller Original into Old Weller Antique?

Greg said...

I'm not sure about the exact year the label transitioned to include the work "Antique" but I would hazard a guess very late 80's or early 90's. I have a '96 bottle with the Gold Veins which has the work Antique on it.

sku said...

Thanks Greg. Don't know if you can tell from the picture, but this one also had the gold veins.

Anonymous said...

So right about 'younger' SW. Years back had several pours of a restaurant-exclusive single barrel Van Winkle 12 (selected by Julian VW). Loads of Cracker Jack caramel, nice candied vanilla/caramelized citrus notes, and a lengthy cognac-like finish. Really uplifting and distinct from today's Pappy VW or JPS17/18.

Jason Beatty said...

I recently had some 60s versions of Weller and Old Fitzgerald. They were amazing but this is only from that particular distillery. This post is intriguing but I would not be so interested in others. I was an English major: keep your audience in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hi I recently ran across a bottle of weller antique 107 age 7 years bottled back in 2008. Could this still be S-W juice, if not, is it still worth picking up?

sku said...

Anon, that would have been distilled much later at Buffalo Trace. It's still good stuff though.

Christopher Ripperda said...

I picked up a bottle that has the word antique on it. Bottom of the bottle has an 84. Still has the 7 year old stamp on it. The city is Frankfort and not Louisville. Is that buffalo trace juice?

sku said...

Most likely. Frankfort label means it was produced by BT. I'm not sure if they still used any SW juice once BT took it over.

Bottle numbers are helpful but not always an indicator of date as sometimes a distillery will use an old cache of bottles as was likely the case with that one since 1984 wouldn't match Frankfort label.

Christopher Ripperda said...

Thanks Sku. If anyone is in the Dallas area there are 5 or 6 handles sitting on the shelf. Is that a rare enough find I should buy them all (41 per handle)?

I'm new to the whiskey game but I've learned a ton from your blog so far. Thanks for your time! I've tried to start asking questions over at straight bourbon.com but it seems my account is activated. Anyone else have any trouble with that?

sku said...

Should you buy them all? Well, it depends how much you like it. As you may know, the Weller Antique no longer has the seven year age statement, so even if it's BT juice, it's certainly changed, but five or six handles is a lot of bourbon, and especially if you're relatively new to whiskey, I'd recommend trying other things.