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.