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Weller 12 is one of the most revered whiskeys in the world. I’m not talking just bourbon here, either — I’m talking all whiskeys from every category. The wheated bourbon is the bridge between us mortals and the elysian heights of Pappy Van Winkle, which also has a 12-year expression and is made at the same distillery with the same recipe and aged in the same barrels.
But Weller 12 is more than just alt Pappy. It’s a massively sought-after, award-winning, and beloved pour of its own. But how good is it? Well, it’s time to investigate exactly that in a blind taste test versus some of the best bourbons in the world (with similar age statements).
Look, this tasting is patently absurd. If you went out to buy all 12 of these bottles, you’d be looking at a bill close to $9,000 give or take, depending on the aftermarket and retail in your neck of the woods. Moreover, a lot of these bottles are going to be very hard to find outside of very high-end retailers like Justins’ House of Bourbon or sites like Caskers.com. But price-tag-consciousness isn’t the point of this tasting, the point is to see if Weller 12 really is the bee’s knees that the whiskey world keeps saying it is.
Spoiler alert: All of these whiskeys are brilliant in their own way. Ranking them was pretty much impossible and felt… sorta dumb at times. They’re all so good that if you could, you’d want to try them all. In the end, a top five was very evident and everything else is basically a tie for sixth place. But doing that would be a cop-out, so I split some serious hairs and ranked them all from 12 to one.
Our lineup today is:
- Rabbit Hole Nevallier Aged 16 Years
- King of Kentucky 5th Edition Aged 15 Years
- Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2022 Edition Aged 17 Years
- Weller Aged 12 Years
- George Dickel Tennessee Bottled in Bond Whisky Aged 13 Years
- Knob Creek Aged 12 Years
- The D12tance Puncher’s Chance Aged 12 Years
- 15 STARS Timeless Reserve Aged 14 Years
- Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 1st Edition Aged 17 Years
- Barrell Craft Spirit Gray Label Bourbon Aged 15 Years
- Heaven’s Door Decade Series Aged 10 Years
- Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon Aged 10 Years
Okay, let’s see if any of these monster bourbons can beat Weller 12 in a blind showdown!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
- We Blind Tasted A Whole Bunch Of $30-60 Bourbons To See If Any Could Beat Weller
- We Blind Tasted Classic Bourbons And Were Shocked By The Winner
- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
- We Tasted Bourbon Whiskeys ‘Double-Blind’ And Tried To Guess Each Bottle
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a good hit of tannic wood on the nose next to sharp white pepper and a hint of vanilla cream cut with soft and sweet orange vibes. The palate is tannic as well with a dark berries underbelly that’s slightly spicy and sour with an edge of tobacco leaf. The mid-palate softens toward a supple vanilla ice cream bespeckled with sour cherry bits covered in a dash of nutmeg and soft leather.
Yup, delicious. Though that tannic oak could be a drawback for some as it leans drier.
I thought the last sip was tannic and dry. This blows it out of the water with an old oak stave vibe that’s bold on the nose with supporting notes of sour cranberry, a dusting of nutmeg, soft vanilla, and pancake batter mixed with a chili-chocolate note. The palate holds onto that dry woodiness with a bitter edge that leads to dry cinnamon sticks and ancho chili peppers countered by lush vanilla and creamed dark cacao nibs with a slightly waxy edge. The end calms down the dry woody tannic note toward dry and old wicker with a black soil feel to it next to old orchard wood.
This is a woody whiskey (it’s definitely the King of Kentucky) and feels like it needs a single rock (or a few drops of water) to calm down that tannic woodiness and bring out the creamier vanilla and chocolate notes. That said, this is complex AF and so rewarding if you take your time with it.
Soft porch wicker and new leather come through on the nose with a hint of cherry bark, vanilla oils, cedar bark, burnt orange, and a whisper of dried rose. The palate is pure silk with a creamy vanilla foundation supporting layers of mulled wine spices, dried sour cherries, thick eggnog with a lot of nutmeg, chewy pipe tobacco leaves, a hint of peach skin, and singed cherry wood. The end is the subtle and enticing mix of dark cherry vanilla ice cream drizzled with salted dark chocolate sauce that’s decadently creamy, bitter, and buttery before a dry orchard wood and dark spice mix slowly closes out the sip.
From my notes: “This is f*cking amazing. I’ll be shocked if a pour beats this, and I’m 99 percent sure this isn’t the Weller. It’s too lush and thick. Weller is juicier and nuttier.”
The nose opens with soft orchard fruits — think old peaches and bruised pears — that lead to a spun wool, vanilla-heavy pancake batter, and really good marzipan with an echo of rose water and orange oils next to soft and worn wicker canes wrapped in old leather sheets. The taste is a perfect balance of cherry wood, dried cranberry, buttery Southern biscuits, salted toffee candy, and Christmas spices (clove and nutmeg heavy). The end lets those sharp spices shine but isn’t hot by any stretch alongside moist angel food cake, apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks, and orange-infused marzipan with a hint of dark chocolate coating.
Well, there’s there Weller — fruity, nutty, amazingly smooth, and featuring soft spices that aren’t hot thanks to that low ABV. I already know, though, that it doesn’t beat the last pour. So now, it’s a matter of what other pours potentially beat it.
Hello, Dickel! The nose is immediately clear cut with Hostess Apple Pies next to cherry Necco Wafers and the bran aisle of a health food store with a really clear fresh leather note. The palate follows the nose but then veers into a really subtle mix of pecan loaf next to dry sour cherries, waxy cacao nibs, salted black licorice, and brown butter caramel sauce. That butteriness carries into a vanilla cream sauce with a brandied cherry vibe and plenty of bitter yet creamy dark chocolate next to a hint of dried mint-laced tobacco wrapped in old cedar bark and packed in an old leather pouch.
I love how the nose on this is “Yeah, this is Tennessee, baby!” and then the palate is all like, “but I’m going to blow your mind with complexity and balance and awesome flavor…”
Dark and sweet cherries mix with creamy dark chocolate, sourdough doughnuts dusted with raw sugar and sharp cinnamon, and a whisper of menthol tobacco and damp porch wicker round out the nose of this one. That dark cherry pops on the palate before layers of blackberry crumble with plenty of buttery streusel and dark holiday spices mingle with a hint of dry chili, salted dark chocolate sauce, and a hint of toffee. That cherry pushes the sip toward an end full of vanilla creaminess, fresh wicker canes, maple syrup dripping through a pecan waffle, and a hint of marzipan molded around a dry and sour cherry dipped in salt.
All that cherry means this is a Beam product for sure. It’s also a freaking delicious one.
From my notes: “This is top-tier whiskey.”
This has a classic Tennessee whiskey nose with a hint of cherry protein powder that’s accented by breakfast sausage spices, which are … endearing. The palate holds onto that Tennessee chalkiness while adding in layers of soft vanilla oils, buttery toffee, old cellar beams, and wintry spices. The end is cherry forward with a light leathery edge next to an apple pie filling vibe that fades through sour, spicy, and buttery fairly quickly.
Compared to the other pours on this list, this is the lightest whiskey by far. That’s not a bad thing, it’s really good. It’s more that this is going to get lost in the mix of these particular drams.
Maple syrup and roasted almonds lead to a hint of vanilla tobacco on the nose before a hint of melon kicks in and lead to a very subtle watermelon saltwater taffy vibe with a whisper of fresh green chili pepper buried deep in the background. That savory candy feel carries on the front of the palate as smooth toffee sauce mixes with espresso beans, vanilla cream, and a dollop of Nutella. The end has a slight woodiness with a rum-raisin note next to old leather and soft cedar.
This is very tasty but a little all over the place. “It’s very unique though — which makes it very enticing.”
This is another oldie with a lot of old worn leather and tannic dry oak on the nose with a bit of cellar mold before dark and thick spiced cherry pancake syrup kicks in with sharp cinnamon and clove next to a hint of waffle batter and walnuts. The taste leans into a winter spice matrix that’s sweet and sharp with a mouth-numbing ABV vibe (not hot though) that leads to cherry cobbler, nutmeg-heavy lush eggnog, and silky vanilla sauce. The end goes back to the woody side of the winter spices as date-rich sticky toffee pudding and fresh cherry tobacco mingle with old cedar boxes and a hint of brown sugar melted in butter.
This is woody but, again, delicious.
A hint of Tennessee chalkiness and bran comes through on the nose before old pears, toffee sauce, and a minor note of umami kick in — it’s kind of like dried tomato powder and I’m here for it. The palate pops with ripe cherries, tart black currants, woody cinnamon and allspice, wet brown sugar, floral and bitter Earl Grey tea leaves, and an underlying foundation of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal cookies. The end leans into the bitterness of the tea leaves before a soft cedar bark that’s almost sweet leads back to a cherry vibe that’s attached to a mildly spicy chewy tobacco leaf.
This has a lot going on. That umami note on the nose is enticing but kind of doesn’t lead anywhere. Again, I’m really grasping at straws to find any infinitesimal fault to try and rank these.
Bruised pear and rich toffee lead to a woody maple syrup that gets a little tannic before burnt orange and creamy vanilla drop in. The palate is lush thanks to buttery salted toffee, more vanilla creaminess, and cinnamon ice cream next to a black licorice Necco Wafer (hello, Tennessee) with a hint of marzipan and old porch wicker rounding things out. The end has a mild note of moss next to powdery dark chocolate and worn garden gloves with a hint of pear tobacco lingering on the backend of the taste with this luxuriously softly spiced final note.
from my notes: “This is pretty much faultless.”
Real sheets of new leather mix with soft notes of sweet cedar, dark and tart red berries, burnt orange rinds, lush eggnog, salted toffee sauce over spiced and moist date cake, and a hint of smoked maple syrup cut with blackberries poured over a lightly toasted waffle. The palate feels like fresh vanilla tobacco leaves have been wrapped around dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans and then dipped in marzipan with a hint of rose water, orange oils, and brandy-soaked cherry layered on top with another dusting of nutmeg and dark cacao powder with airy vanilla whipped cream. The end is pure silk with a spiced black cherry leading to a pile of dry orchard wood next to a whisper of campfire-singed marshmallow.
From my notes: “This is perfect.”
Part 2: The Ranking
12. The D12tance Puncher’s Chance Aged 12 Years — Taste 7
Average Price: $129
This sourced whiskey is a 12-year-old Tennessee straight bourbon whiskey. Those barrels are emptied and the juice is re-filled into old Cabernet Sauvignon casks for a final maturation before proofing and bottling.
While this was very obviously a Tennessee whiskey on the taste, it really does shine as a lighter sipper. I’d say this is a good entry point into higher age statements and bigger prices that are not going to blow out your palate with high ABVs and big tannic notes.
11. George Dickel Tennessee Bottled in Bond Whisky Aged 13 Years — Taste 5
Average Price: $40
Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in spring 2007. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.
This is so goddamn good. A lot of people can’t get past that health food store nose (multi-vitamins, bran, etc.), but there’s really missing out on a great whiskey. Factor in the price, and this multi-award-winning whiskey is the best value on this list by a country mile.
10. 15 STARS Timeless Reserve Aged 14 Years — Taste 8
Average Price: $279
The whiskey is a blend of old sourced barrels of bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky. Those whiskeys spent 14 years in the barrel before the crew at 15 STARS picked them up and created a whole new experience from them for this award-winning release.
I called this a bit all over the place in the tasting notes and I stand by that. The melon/savory note on the nose might be a deal breaker for some. I tend to like it when blenders take big swings and connect with something new and fresh. Purists do not.
I’d say if you’re looking for something new, this is the bottle to grab. Just make sure to add a little water to help it bloom in the glass.
9. King of Kentucky 5th Edition Aged 15 Years — Taste 2
Average Price: $2,814
This year’s King of Kentucky is a 15-year-old bourbon made from a mash of 79 percent corn, eleven percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The spirit — made at the Brown-Forman Distillery in West Louisville (Shively) — went into the barrel on December 18, 2009, at 125 entry-proof. After 15 long years, only about 35 percent of the whiskey was left in the barrel. 43 single barrels were then chosen for this release and individually bottled as-is, yielding about 3,500 bottles of King of Kentucky.
This is a woody monster that is built for an advanced whiskey palate (that’s not elitist, just facts). Still, there’s a killer flavor profile past all that dry tannic woodiness that’s worth digging into, if you can ever get your hands on a bottle.
8. Barrell Craft Spirit Gray Label Bourbon Aged 15 Years — Taste 10
Average Price: $270
Barrell Craft Spirits is another craft blendery that’s sourcing some of the best barrels in the game and expertly marrying those barrels. This expression blends 15-year-old bourbon from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennesse into a final product that reaches new heights for blended bourbon.
I like the Tennessee of it all, but there’s a lot going on the palate that might feel overwhelming to some. That said, this is a sip that deserves attention and time. Let it breathe and oxygenate, add drops of water between sips and nosings, dig in and find those funky and fresh flavors.
It’s worth it, trust me.
7. Rabbit Hole Nevallier Aged 16 Years — Taste 1
Average Price: $895
The latest Founder’s Collection from Rabbit Hole is a pricey masterpiece. The juice in the bottle is made from a few hand-selected barrels of 15-year-old bourbon that was then finished in new French oak before bottling as-is in only 1,155 bottles.
This is one of those whiskeys that’s amazing, perfect, and all of that when you taste it on its own. It really is stellar. Tasting it in a panel like this, the bigger notes are what pop and that beautiful subtly is kind of lost. That’s a shame as this is a pour of whiskey that shines from taking slow sips and exploration.
6. Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 1st Edition Aged 17 Years — Taste 9
Average Price: $1,667
The base of the spirit is Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and a mere ten percent rye. This particular whiskey is built from several barrels from four warehouse campuses in the Bardstown area. In this case, three different ages were pulled with 17 years being the youngest. The whiskey is made from 28 percent 20-year-old barrels, 44 percent 19-year-old barrels, and 28 percent 17-year-old barrels. Once those barrels are vatted, the bourbon goes into the bottle as-is, without any cutting or fussing.
When I tasted this one on its own, it was easily a top-five bourbon pour of the year. Tasting it against eleven other killer bourbons and it naturally slips a bit. There’s a deep ABV warmth here that is rewarded with an awesome flavor profile, you just have to get past that big and tight Kentucky Hug first.
5. Heaven’s Door Decade Series Aged 10 Years — Taste 11
Average Price: $95
This is the first release in the new series from Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door Tennessee whiskeys. The juice is a ten-year-old straight bourbon that was made in Tennessee but wasn’t charcoal filtered before or after aging. The sourced barrels were blended and just proofed down before bottling without any other fussing.
This pour immediately made it into the top five. This had some serious balance while still feeling well-aged and blended to accentuate subtler notes. The only thing holding it back — and this is as nit-picky as it gets — is that the tannic note was a tad dailed up on the nose. Otherwise, this is an instant classic.
By the way, I have said this before but please note — the idea that this brand is any sort of cash grab by Bob Dylan is absurd. It’s a wonderful brand and competes with the killers.
4. Knob Creek Aged 12 Years — Taste 6
Average Price: $67
This is the classic Beam whiskey. The low-rye juice is left alone in the Beam warehouses in Clermont, Kentucky, for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and mingled to create this aged expression with a drop or two of that soft Kentucky limestone water.
This is just delicious. It’s also accessible and cheap — an incredible high-age-statement bourbon that you can not only find but likely afford to keep on hand as your house pour. Alongside the Dickel above, this is another best-value bourbon by a long country mile.
3. Weller Aged 12 Years — Taste 4
Average Price: $299
Weller is made from the exact same mash bill as Pappy Van Winkle. This expression of Weller rests in the warehouse for 12 long years, in the same barrels and warehouses as Pappy. The difference between this and Pappy 12 is pretty simple actually. If the barrel doesn’t hit the exact flavor profile needed for a Pappy, it’s sent to the blending house to become a Weller (as long as it hits that flavor profile, of course).
So, yes, this could have been a Pappy 12 had the flavor profile been slightly different in the barrel. Instead, we have Weller 12 at 90 proof.
This was a complex and brilliantly balanced whiskey that was a tad light thanks to that proofing. That said, I know I don’t like the Weller Full Proof expression as much as this. It’s a complex world out there, folks. Anyway, this is really f*cking delicious. It’s also really easy to drink.
I’d argue that this is the easiest drinking whiskey on this list. It’s just not the most complex and rewarding.
2. Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon Aged 10 Years — Taste 12
Average Price: $512
The juice in this bottle is a little under wraps. Michter’s is currently distilling and aging their own whiskey, but this is still sourced. The actual barrels sourced for these single barrel expressions tend to be at least ten years old with some rumored to be closer to 15 years old (depending on the barrel’s quality, naturally). Either way, the juice goes through Michter’s bespoke filtration process before a touch of Kentucky’s iconic soft limestone water is added, bringing the bourbon down to a very crushable 94.4 proof.
This is a perfect pour of bourbon. It may as well be tied for first.
1. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2022 Edition Aged 17 Years — Taste 3
Average Price: $1,276
This whiskey was distilled and laid down in barrels back in 2004. The barrels were vatted after 17 years and proofed down to the bottled-in-bond standard of 100 proof and then bottled in the iconic Old Fitz decanter for a Spring 2022 release.
Again, perfection. This is so deep and fun and enchanting and complex. This is going to be hard to beat this year when it comes to 2022’s best pours.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I definitely used age and dry tannic woodiness as an ally to rank some amazing whiskeys a little lower. It’s a hard note for some to get past and really pops when tasting whiskeys side-by-side. This means that if you taste some of these on their own, that note won’t be as centered.
As for the Weller 12, it was pretty easily beaten but not brutally so. It’s still clearly a top-five pour. I think it’d have been a winner had that ABV been amped up to 95 or 100 proof, especially against some of the huge whiskeys on this panel. The softness of that proofing was really the only thing holding back from being unbelievably great (when splitting hairs for this tasting).
Overall, all of these whiskeys are amazing. If you can find any of these, you’ll be in for a treat. And that’s where Knob Creek 12 and Dickel Bottled-in-Bond come into play. Go out and buy those right now. They’re on most shelves and aren’t marked up by retailers to absurd heights. Both of those whiskeys stand up to some of the most iconic whiskeys in all the land and, again, you can actually buy them.
It won’t always be that way.