Weller 12 Year Review [In Depth]

Weller 12 Year

Alex author
Founder, writer
weller 12 year review header

Weller 12 Year Details

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky

Alcohol: 45%

Composition: Rumored to be around 16% wheat

Aged: 12 years

Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)

Price: $40-50 MSRP (good luck with that)

From the company website:

As part of the wheated bourbon family, this twelve year old W.L. Weller is aged far longer than most wheated bourbons. This offering is a smooth, easy-going and balanced bourbon with a beautiful deep bronze color.

Weller 12 Year overview

Weller 12 Year doesn’t need much introduction. Buffalo Trace’s wheated bourbon is a constant target for bourbon lovers new and experienced, so it’s more a matter of how much you’re willing to pay or search for a bottle. Then of course there’s the willpower to actually open and drink it. In my case, I told my brother to open the bottle and enjoy it with my Dad while I was in away Japan. Thankfully, they left me half a bottle when I returned from my year abroad.
In Weller world, Weller 12 Year price-wise sits between Weller Antique and Full Proof (around $50), and Weller Special Reserve ($25ish). It’s the oldest age wise, in the same ballpark as the 12 year old-ish William Larue Weller.
Wheated bourbon this old is really unique. Outside of Buffalo Trace, I can only think of Rebel’s 10+ year old single barrel, which I’m pretty sure is sourced from Heaven Hill. I’ve reviewed the 10 year, but I think they’ve also released a 12 year since then.
I expect this limited selection to change in time as craft distilleries like Dry Fly, Wilderness Trail, and New Riff further age their wheated bourbons. Nonetheless, older rye’d bourbon will probably continue to dominate store shelves and your personal stashes because distilleries have made so much more of it over the decades.
Just in case you’re less familiar with the terminology, wheated bourbon means bourbon (at least 51% corn in the mashbill + a bunch of other rules) that also includes wheat and barley (barley optional) in the grain mashbill. Rye, along with any other grains, are excluded.
While we’re on the topic of wheated bourbon, check out my Buffalo Trace vs Maker’s Mark comparison to learn more about how wheated and rye’d bourbons generally differ. It’s some good foundational information to have as you drink and explore whiskey.
And I have to recognize just how super-hyped Weller 12 Year is…you can’t hide from it. That said, I have to tell you a secret – as of this review, I have another bottle stashed away. Years before I got this bottle, I waited around 3.5 hours, with a buddy in cold weather, to get it for around $40. I can’t say that it was absolutely worth it, but I definitely enjoyed hanging out and wondering what I might get from the allocated drop event.
At least I got that bottle etched with “The Whiskey Shelf”, so that’s worth a little extra something to me. What’s my point with that tangent? I’m just like many others: sometimes willing to go overboard for bourbon.
weller 12 whiskey shelf comp
I was lucky enough to have one (not the bottle I reviewed) etched after I got it
This brings us to the point of this review – is the liquid worth waiting in line for hours / overpaying / chasing? I’ll at least provide my thoughts on the matter, so let’s get to it in this Weller 12 Year review.
Weller 12 Year front label
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Weller 12 Year smell

Weller 12 Year starts off with darker honey, orange, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, cherry, toasted oak, dark chocolate, tobacco, and this floral scent I can’t quite put my nose on. It definitely smells like most wheated bourbons I know: orange and oak spice-forward.
At the same time, there’s a dark chocolate and tobacco backbone that catches my attention. I’m especially a huge fan of those notes in my bourbon. Those two notes reinforce that Weller 12 is an older / more mature bourbon, and in a good way.
It’s not overoaked Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond, Hunt and Gather 15 Year, and Old Ezra 15 Year that shove dried and roasted oak down my nostrils at the expense of everything else. The balance is there.
From what I can tell so far, it has some roundness and depth, but the downside is that the lower ABV shows so the scents aren’t as dense and impactful as I’d like. But so far, I can admit that Weller 12 Year smells great. This is going to sound odd, but it feels a little licorice-y, although I doubt that because it’s wheated bourbon. It’s just that floral and bright, sort of tropical rye character, that I can’t shake.
With swirling and 5 minutes of rest, the scents shift into toasted caramel nougat, vanilla, the puffy crispy bits you sometimes find in caramel, dark chocolate / cocoa powder, clove, cinnamon, dried cranberry, roasted oak, tobacco, and the occasional hint of dried ginseng.
From my experience, I think that the wheat (and lack of rye) takes away the oftentimes stronger earthiness and vegetalness (e.g., rosemary, greens, pine) that can come from rye, and instead lets the sweetness, fruit, oak, and spice shine. It’s definitely a big change from rye’d bourbons.
The depth, richness, and maturity are starting to show up, but the ABV holds it back. Honestly, it’s kind in the same way as Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon and Wild Turkey 13 Year Father and Son. The richness and all the other good stuff is there, especially the fragrant oakiness and chocolate, but that lower ABV (and extra water) sinks it. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly approachable, and some will value that a bit more than I do.
weller 12 year review back

Weller 12 Year taste and aftertaste

With first taste, I get honey, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, clove, caramel nougat, roasted oak, dark chocolate, and tobacco. Weller 12 Year is very clove-y, which I normally associate with wheated bourbon, so that’s on-brand. There’s not much kick either, making very easy to drink.
The dark chocolate, caramel nougat, and tobacco bring a nice twist that’s uncommon in bourbon, let alone wheated bourbon, and again tells me that this is an older bourbon, or at least more mature. I don’t take it for granted. But even with that nice oakiness, Weller 12 Year still has some brightness and vibrance that bring extra range and complexity.
After “chewing” I get darker caramel, orange peel, clove, roasted oak, dark chocolate, marshmallow, tobacco, dried cranberry, and cinnamon. It tastes so good, but sort of weak. I can’t shake the sense that it’s a little rye-y with the herbal clove, but clearly this isn’t rye’d at all. It’s not actually a useful addition to the review, but provides more insight into how I experience this.
I dig the oak, chocolate, tobacco, and cinnamon, which bring nicely mature and refined flavor that stays away from being overoaked. The sweetness and some fruitiness still come through, so the oak presence is just well done.
The finish kicks off with honey, orange peel, clove, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and tobacco. To no surprise, it’s an oak spice-forward finish with lasting clove, orange peel, and oak tannins. And after “chewing” the finish leaves caramel, orange, clove, marshmallow, roasted oak, chocolate, and tobacco with lingering oak tannins and cocoa powder. It’s a really nice finish that shows off Weller 12 Year’s age.
I will freely admit that I really enjoy all the flavors and middle of the road viscosity (not necessarily in a bad way) that Weller 12 Year has to offer, but man I wish the ABV was higher because it feels just a bit too weak for me. It’s not a thin bourbon, but it would benefit from a little more muscle to get it over the top, like Weller 12 Year 107 Proof. If that happened, lines would start forming weeks in advance.
And yes, I have had <= 45% ABV bourbon that were “easy going” and stuffed full of depth and character such as 1986 Maker’s Mark Gold, 1996 Anderson Club 15 Year, and 1990 BJ Evans 10 Year. And yes, those are all “dusty” bourbons from decades back. It goes to show that you can have it all given the right circumstances, like a time machine.
I still can’t shake the thought that Bernheim Wheat Whiskey is similar.
Weller 12 Year front label

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Weller 12 Year Rating

Mid shelf+
Oh man, Weller 12 Year puts me in a tough spot. Certain things about it make me want to give Weller 12 Year a “Top Shelf” rating, like the range that spans brighter fruit and spice down to the refined and mature oak. But altogether, it doesn’t quite feel right in my heart. It has nothing to do with the name. There are just some things, mainly stemming from the ABV, that don’t make me want to push it to the next level, although it’s right on the cusp.
Here’s my train of thought. I think that Weller 12 Year falls in the same place / purgatory as Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon and Wild Turkey 13 Year Father and Son. They’re all older bourbons with a lot to great scents and flavors to offer, especially the mature and fragrant oak, chocolate, and tobacco.
Michter’s and Father and Son have some stronger dried berry traits as well, which are lighter in Weller. Unfortunately, the lower ABV dampens everything and limits them from reaching their full and awesome potential. I’m sure many factors go into the final ABV. As a consumer and reviewer, I wish for more.
I guess that’s why people mess around with “Poor Man’s Pappy”, the blend of Weller 12 Year and the higher ABV Weller Antique 107. I haven’t experimented with it yet, but I’m guessing that the added “muscle” from Weller Antique might be enough to elevate the combined blend to “Top Shelf”. At least as of this review, I have Full Proof but not Antique. I may try using that instead.
I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but want to make sure that I reiterate it again – Weller 12 Year seems to be similar to Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. It sounds like a crazy thought to compare Buffalo Trace’s super hyped wheated bourbon to Heaven Hill’s overlooked wheat whiskey (not bourbon), but Bernheim’s distinct older oak and chocolate notes are too distinct to forget.
So is Weller 12 Year a worthy $40-50 bourbon? I think so, maybe even $100 because of that mature oakiness. I’d go so far to say that I’d probably drink it frequently if it were actually available at or close to MSRP, because it’s a less expensive way to get those chocolate and tobacco notes that are found in even more expensive bourbons (based on MSRP only). The drinkability is great too.
Does it come close to meeting the hype? Hell to the no, not even close. If you’re going to start spending three figures on bourbon, you’re smack in the middle of amazing bourbon territory, albeit very little of it is wheated. But if you love it, I totally get it.
I guess I should conclude this review with…Maker’s Mark can you please release some age stated bourbon to give everyone else a run for their money? The market craves it, and you can do it!
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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