Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Weller Special Reserve 1945/1952

Every fall, I have a backyard bourbon blowout party called Gazebo West. Named for a party started by bourbon fans in Kentucky, I held my first one four years ago, asking everyone to bring a bottle of something to share. It quickly mushroomed with more friends and more bottles, and now it's a pretty amazing tasting with people bringing fun new stuff as well as digging deep into their collections.  It's one of my favorite nights of the year.

One of this year's most exciting bottles came from LA Whiskey Society founder Adam Herz. Adam can always be counted on to bring the good stuff. This year, he brought us a bottle of W.L. Weller Special Reserve distilled at Stitzel-Weller in 1945 and bottled in 1952. It's bottled in bond, so it's 100 proof.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve, 7 years old, 50% abv

This bottle is in fantastic condition for something this old. The fill level was high, meaning it hadn't suffered from evaporation, and the cork came out like new. We were surprised that it hadn't chipped and cracked like so many old corks.

The nose had equal parts caramel and mint. The palate is fabulous; it's sweet with lots of big spicy notes on a caramel background. The finish is dry with oak, candle wax and a hint of banana along with a bit of damp basement on the nose.

This is great stuff, but interestingly, it does not taste much like a typical Stitzel-Weller. Old Stitzel-Weller has a very distinctive flavor profile, all sweet caramel with some pine and oak. This one had some of those caramel notes, but it had spicy notes that differentiated it from other Stitzel-Wellers I've had.  In fact, given all of the spicy notes, I probably would have guessed it was a rye recipe bourbon had I been tasting blind, though the spice profile is a bit different from rye; it most likely comes from the oak.

Why would this Weller be so different from other Stitzel-Wellers?  Well, there are a few things to consider.  First, this is the oldest Stitzel-Weller distillate I've tasted, and it would have dated from the era when Will McGill, the original distiller, was in charge. He served from the founding of the distillery until his death in May, 1952 so this may have been bottled under his watch as well. Second, the high fill level and pristine cork may have kept this in better condition than some of the other bottles I've had. Part of what we find distinctive about dusty bourbon may be the impact of some amount of oxidation. For whatever reason, that may have been less present in this bottle which had a freshness to it that I don't associate with dusties.

The long and short of it is that while this stuff may not taste like typical Stitzel-Wellers I've had, it was excellent bourbon.


Anonymous said...

God bless, Adam, and his amazing horde of hooch. This stuff was absurd good.


Anonymous said...

You ask: "Why would this Weller be so different from other Stitzel-Wellers?"

Is it possible it's because this is a fake? Many well done forgeries use a high quality (but obviously of less rarity and cost)distillate in place of the what the label says is contained within. You see this frequently in the best wine fakes.

How well do you know the providence?

sku said...

Anon, great question. This is something I considered and asked about and Adam told me in his estimation it was the real thing. I won't go into detail, but Adam is one the most knowledgeable folks around in terms of identifying the characteristics of legitimate old bottles versus fakes, so if he says it's legit, I trust him. I'll see if I can get him to chime in here.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to note that I'm in no way trying to say that this was trying to be passed off be either you or Adam knowingly as something it isn't. It all just kind of jumps out at you; fresh cork, excellent fill level, a noticeable freshness and the striking difference in taste as a comparative. Sounds like it was great nonetheless. Thanks for the response.

Adam H said...

It’s legitimate. I can’t explain why publicly, because giving out that kind of knowledge is dangerous to the hobby — it teaches fakers how to do a better job. I know that stuff is fun to read and learn about, so I apologize. (Privately, I have no problem helping people authenticate their bottles, just contact me on the LAWS site).

The provenance is good and lines up with the physical evidence.

The providence is also good. Note above that I have been blessed by God. As such, I am able to provide divine care and guidance for this tasty beverage.

Sam Komlenic said...

I once had a half-gallon bottle of Baltimore Pure Rye (B-P-R)distilled in 1936 and bottled in 1940 that was obviously basement kept for all those years. High fill and the only primitive dusty I've ever owned where the cork came out on its own, in perfect condition.

It couldn't have been a fake, because, in a meeting with Maryland distillery authority and bottle collector Jim Bready, he mentioned that he'd never seen that bottle. The whiskey had already been decanted into other bottles, so I gave the empty to Jim for his collection.

That bottle is now on display in the Maryland state archives along with the rest of Jim's collection. Though potentially difficult, it's not impossible to find pristine genuine historic whiskey.

The whiskey itself was marvelous, though now just a distant memory.

Anonymous said...

Are there any pictures of the bottle before it was open with federal stamp visible? What state is the state tax stamp?

Unknown said...

Did the label list the DSP? Or has that not always been a requirement?

sku said...

Yes, DSP-KY-16, Stitzel Weller.