Head to Head: Oh Weller

On trips to Chicago, Binny’s Beverage Depot is always on my itinerary.  Not only do have a friend who works at the South Loop Store, and the store have a great selection, but they always have some great private barrel selections, be they bourbon, Scotch or something else.

Binny’s barrels of Weller 12 y/o (a wheat bourbon made at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY) are always very, very good, so I always pick up a bottle for myself and usually one for somebody else too.  A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle of the latest edition and since I happened to have a little bit left from my previous visit, I seized the opportunity and did a head to head.

Binny’s Weller 12 head to head

1)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 3/2009

2)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 10/2010


1)      Copper

2)      Same color, but maybe slightly darker


1)      Granny Smith apple, lavender, a bit of alcohol.

2)      Peanut Butter, fresh roasted peanuts, wood.

On the Palate

1)      Silky, tart, a touch floral

2)      Same silkiness, but woodier and drier.  Much drier.


1)      Tangy, fills the cheeks, then some slow burn and slight sweetness

2)      Raspberry jam, then fading and slightly sweet and woody.

Parting Words:

I was surprised at the difference between these two bourbons.  Most suprising were the floral aromas and flavors, particularly lavender in the 2009 edition.  This is a characteristic that is most closely associated with high-rye bourbons like Four Roses Single Barrel, not wheat bourbons (which contain no rye at all) which are usually dominated by vanilla and sweet caramel flavors. 

The powers that be at Binny’s have done an excellent job in selecting barrels with distictive profiles that bring out different aspects of this rich and complex (and affordable) bourbon.

Now Drinking

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength KSBW

Age: NAS, ca. 9 y/o

Proof: 112.8 (56.4% ABV)

Recipe: OBSO (For a breakdown of the 10 recipes, click here)

Barrel: GE 553C (bottle 1/172)

This whiskey is not available at your friendly neighborhood grab & go.  This is what is called a “private bottling”.  Where the law permits, certain liquor stores, clubs or even individuals will buy an entire barrel of whiskey (or brandy, rum, tequila, etc) and have it bottled for them by the producer.  The producer will usually pour samples of the contents of a few different barrels, then the purchasers will try them and decide which barrel(s) to purchase.  Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago is well known for its private bottlings of bourbon, rye and Scotch, for instance.  The Bourbon Society of Louisville, KY is also known for its private bottlings for members.  Two friends of mine even got together and bought a barrel of Four Roses single barrel that is very well regarded and very tasty.  I know because I’ve had some.

Not all distilleries do private bottlings though.  Four Roses, Willet (not really a distiller, but a producer of excellent whiskeys nevertheless) and Buffalo Trace are well known for their private offerings, but Heaven Hill has started doing them with their single barrel whiskeys too, and one will even find a private bottling of Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit on occasion.

At any rate, in 2009, Four Roses decided to release some of their 10 recipes at barrel strengthas private bottlings to select liquor stores across the country.  Binny’s, as usual, got some of the best barrels.  This one, OBSO, is one of the constituent whiskeys in Four Roses Small Batch.

When sipped at barrel strength, it does that magical thing that high proof spirits do.  The moment a drop hits your tongue, it vaporizes.  This trick is amusing the first few times it happens.  After that, you decide you would like to actually taste it, and you decide you don’t want to have heartburn all night.  So you add a splash or two of water.

The whiskey itself is a dark amber, the proverbial copper penny color.  The nose has a lot of caramel, but a sharp edge to it, too, as the barrel char punches through.  Even with a splash of water, it’s still a hot whiskey.  But it’s a mature heat, more Kim Cattrall than Megan Fox.  The caramel is still there and even stronger on the palate.  The char has retreated a bit, but adds depth to the sweetness and keeps this whiskey from becoming one dimensional.  Not the best one of these Binny’s Four Roses bottlings I’ve had, but still worth the price of admission.