Aged Spirits  

Fahrenheit 173 - Aged Spirits

"If it's not good enough to drink slowly, then it's not worth drinking"

Four bourbons from the Buffalo Trace distillery

 18 Apr 2010  

These four bourbons are today produced at the Buffalo Trace dis­til­lery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The Van Winkle and W.L. Weller brands were originally dis­tilled at the Stitzel-Weller dis­til­lery which closed in 1992. The W.L. Weller brand was even­tu­ally taken over by Buffalo Trace and the Van Winkle family (who used to used own Stitzel-Weller) entered an agreement with Buffalo Trace in 2002 for them to produce the bourbon for the Van Winkle products. (Today's 10 and 12 year old Van Winkle bourbons were dis­tilled before that, so I don't know where they were actually dis­tilled.)

The W.L. Weller and Van Winkle bourbons are "wheated", which means they use wheat as the third grain in the mash bill, instead of the more common rye. (The other two grains used for bourbon are corn and malted barley. A few bourbons are produced from both wheat and rye and are therefore called "four grain".)

Wheated bourbons are usually softer and milder than rye-based ones and Van Winkle claims that wheated bourbons age more gracefully. Van Winkle certainly has some of the oldest bourbons on the market, for instance the 20 y.o. "Family Reserve" and the newly released 23 y.o. "Limited Edition".

The four bourbons I tried the other day are much younger than that though, ranging from 4 to 12 years of age. Here are my notes:

McAfee's Benchmark, 4 y.o.:
Weird nose - musty, dusty (from the rye, I presume), also fruity with a note of avocado. Sweet, fruity palate with green fruits and cucumber but - again - musty. Rather dis­ap­point­ing but the finish is fairly nice. (78 p)

W. L. Weller Special Reserve Wheated Bourbon, 7 y.o. 45%:
Wow, what a nose! Fragrant and very nice with vanilla, arrack, oak shavings and orange peel. Rich, sweet palate with vanilla, mint and citrus. Quite mild at first then de­velops spices and a little fire. Hot, peppery finish. Not particularly bal­anced but very en­ter­tain­ing and moreish! (87 p)

Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon, 10 y.o. 45%:
Faint nose yet nice and complex with vanilla, oak and a note of mint, also a little musty and smoky (burned oak shavings). The palate is quite hot and a little spirity but mellows with a few drops of water. Sweet, spicy and rather nice with notes of vanilla, mint and orange, also herbal with a hint of basil. (85 p)

Van Winkle Special Reserve 'Lot B', 12 y.o. 45.2%:
Nice nose with vanilla, caramelized sugar and mint. Very nice palate with fresh notes of lemon and lime. Balanced, fairly rich and a little spicy. (87 p)

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