A certain sense of occasion should permeate this review, as Cask Tales makes its first genuinely transatlantic foray. Our first bourbon comes from Frankfort in northern Kentucky, and what is now the Buffalo Trace distillery. The Sazerac Company, its owner, produces a panoply of whiskies there, amongst them the William Larue Weller. The W.L. Weller (as its bottles are labelled) is a wheated bourbon, which is to say that wheat is the small-batch grain used, along with malted barley and the majority corn (take a look at one of our previous articles if you need a refresher on bourbon). Appropriately so, too, since Mr. Weller himself was a nineteenth-century innovator in distillation – the first to make straight bourbon using wheat instead of rye.
Anyhow, to the whiskey, which gloriously redeems the promise of the New World. The warm reddish-brown in the bottle presages the warmth of the nose, which greets you with a waft of amaretto and hot butter. The inviting sweetness takes on several aspects, moving through sugar cane and vanilla as well as the original almond. It isn’t saccharine, though, since it’s offset by a roll-call of spices: sharp ginger, fresh mint, even hints of cardamom. Taken together, it’s as if you’ve wandered into a bustling bakery, where sweet doughs and piquant spices stage a sensory joust. Throughout, there’s a welcome sprinkling of gentle coconut.
The nose writes a cheque that the taste, for the most part, cashes. The liquid is oily, slightly waxy even, but many of the familiar notes pay a return visit: coconut certainly, vanilla too. The spices are also there – perhaps allspice, perhaps cumin – but there’s a more sober side to partner the sweetness, like hot buttered toast. Cocoa powder puts in an appearance on the nose, if you go back to it.
The finish is a curious creature. At first, it reminds you of sherried Scotch whisky, which is distinctly odd since that is one thing that this ain’t. That passes, though, leaving a brassily citric fanfare that slowly diminishes. It’s a long, long finish, warm and accompanied by a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel. After some minutes, you might think you catch the suggestion of weak tea. Add water (and you probably will, since this is 45% (or 90 proof, for our American cousins) and the nose will bespeak drier, floral spices like jasmine, but also a fruitier sweetness – banana, I thought. The body of the whiskey is shallower, oilier, but more citric. I would be inclined to prefer it, I think, without water.
A successful flirtation with bourbon, then – I could certainly see myself keeping a bottle of the W.L. Weller in stock, and it more than holds its own in the worldwide family of distilled spirits. We will be heading back to the South before long, too. Watch this space…
Nose 22 Taste 21 Finish 19 Balance 19