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Chatting with Julian Van Winkle


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It's no secret, the Old Commonwealth is my whiskey. It does say,"Aged 1- years" on the label. Joe buys about 20 cases at a time.

Julian

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Julian Van Winkle wrote:

"It's no secret, the Old Commonwealth is my whiskey. It does say,"Aged 1- years" on the label. Joe buys about 20 cases at a time."

Joe's a smart man. This is damn fine, luxurious whiskey. After two drinks I made it my steady everyday Bourbon. Outstanding. (I was also swept away by the 13YO Rye, but this is the Bourbon forum, not the Rye one. :-) )

Michael Shoshani

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I was also very impressed with this whiskey. Joe let me taste some in the store, which is a really great thing to be able to do. It seems that recently, I have been trying whiskeys that are either good, but not worth the 30-40 dollars I pay for them, or they are more affordable whiskeys that either just don't do it for me, or worse. The Old Commonwealth is an outstanding whiskey at a very reasonbable price. With the holidays coming around, I may just pick up a whole case of it next time I am over at Sams.

-Bill

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I would like to find out for sure if my bottle of Weller Antique is bad, but I don't know how to go about doing that. I have the following problems with that:

1) I could just sent the unused portion to someone who knows. But who in their right mind is going to taste an opened bottle of anything that was sent to them from a stranger? I know I wouldn't. Still, I would feel a lot better if an experienced bourbon taster could take a snoot full and tell me what they think.

2) I could take it back to the hillbilly liquor store in Menomonee Falls, WI that I bought it from. I am a regular customer, so I figure that they would *probably* give me my money back. But I am not that concerned about the $18 that I spent on this. Getting my money back does not solve the mystery.

3) The bottle has some sort of batch or lot number on it. If I could contact whoever makes this stuff, maybe they have had complaints about that batch? I tried United Distillers in CT. From what I understand, they don't own Weller anymore, and I am having a hard time finding out who does. I would be willing to try another bottle, but only if it was free. I'm not going to spend another $18 and chance it. You would think that if there was anyone out there that owns or has responsibility for this brand, they would set me up with a free bottle so they could keep my business by convincing me to buy their stuff in the future. (BTW, the woman on the phone at UD asked me if Rum is the same as Whsikey).

4) I wonder if all this "UD brand shuffling" might be responsible for a lapse in quality?

-Bill

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I can help you with one small part of your dilemma, which is to tell you that Sazerac, in New Orleans, is the new owner of the W.L. Weller brand. They have a web site. However, the sale was earlier this year, so product in the pipeline is probably still from UD.

You may want to find out where the liquor store gets its Weller products, i.e., what distributor handles Weller in your area. The distributor is liable to be more response than either the retailer or the manufacturer. Your retailer can provide that information.

Re consulting another set of taste buds, if there is a bartender you know who is knowledgable about whiskey, he or she might be willing to taste it for you.

- chuck

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Chuck,

Thanks for the info on Sazerac. I suppose another way to approach this would be to find a bar that has the weller antique and order myself a glass of it. It would be nice to have someone knowledgable taste my bottle, but I trust my taste buds enough to simply try tasting another bottle and see how it strikes me. However, I don't want to fork over the $$$ for another bottle.

I have not seen the weller antique in any of the Milwaukee establishments that cater to higher end stuff. However, I will be in Chicago this weekend. Know of any good places on the north side that serve the Weller Antique?

If I could try the weller antique somewhere else, and if it tasted OK to me, then I would be very convinced that there is something wrong with the bottle I have. I don't expect to get any satisfaction from Sazerac necesarilly, but it would satisfy me just to know what the story is.

Don't these distilleries have tasters that try the whiskey out after it is aged and before it is bottled? This may be getting way ahead of the game here, but I wonder what could have gone wrong?

-Bill

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Bill,

You're going to have to find a real bourbon specialty bar to find the Weller to sample. However, I think you should go to Sazerac. They're sharp, and if you get to the right person, they should see the sales logic in making you happy. Like you said, the $18 isn't the real driver here, so let your curiosity take you up the line and see what happens. Sure, as Chuck said, it's not their whiskey that you have, but it WILL be their whiskey that you will or will not be purchasing again. I think they'll pick up on that.

Keep posting, you've got us curious as well.

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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Delilah's, on Lincoln, or the Twisted Spoke, on Ogden, might have it, but those are about the only possibilities.

At the distillery, the final quality check occurs when barrels are dumped prior to bottling. The bung hole plug is removed and a small amount of whiskey is extracted, diluted and sniffed. If it passes the sniff test, it is dumped and bottled. They may spot check after bottling, but the sniff test is the last time every unit of whiskey is checked for a possible problem. What can go wrong? A great number of things, all rare. Another possibility is a mix-up on the bottling line which caused something else to go into the Weller Antique run by mistake. For example, an undistinguished bourbon at 24 to 36 months might taste like what you described.

- chuck

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Funny you should mention the "sniff test". I opened up the bottle of Weller Antique and took a good sniff. The odd thing is, I don't notice anything offensive about the odor of the whiskey. It smells just fine to me. The color looks normal as well.

So, it smells OK, and it tastes OK at first- but not great. Then after it settles on the taste buds for a few seconds, it has a really unusual,strong and fumey and unpleasant after taste. Very strange.

As for Lew's post regarding contacting Sazerac, I left a voice mail for someone there, but have not received a response. I will be more persistant. I don't think it will happen, but I would like to get a complimentary bottle of something out of the deal.

-Bill

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Here is the update on the Old Weller Antique saga:

Last night, still being somewhat unsure of my tasting skills, I did another double-blind taste test. This time, I compared the Weller Antique (107 proof) with the W.L. Weller Centenial (100 proof). Equal amounts of each were placed in their respective glasses. I labeled the glasses, then scrambled. Once again, I was able to tell which was which instantly, i.e. after the first sip of each one. The Centenial tastes great. A smooth refined taste with a hint of vanilla. The Antique was not pleasant at first, then as the whiskey settled on my pallete, it got much much worse. I've never tasted isopropyl alcohol before, but the after taste reminded me of what isopropyl smells like. The Antique wasn't even close to the Centenial.

Now I realize that the Centenial sells for about twice as much as the Antique. However, the Antique was purchased for $18, which is an amount of money that can easily fetch a very decent bottle of Whiskey. Also, I drink Jim Beam all the time, and although it is not as luxurious and complex in flavour as the more expensive whiskeys I have tried, I do enjoy the Beam, and it does not offend me in any way. No terrible after taste with the Beam, and it sells for less than half of what the Antique sells for.

So anyway, I think that by now, I am totally convinced that there is either something very wrong with my bottle of antique, or there is some other junk in that bottle that is not Weller Antique.

I am making some great progress now with the manufacturer. After UD and Sazerac bounced me around a few times between them (UD sold weller to Sazerac), I am now in touch with the Quality assurance manager at the Buffalo Trace distillery, which is apparantly where the Weller Antique is made. He is going to arrange for me to ship the bottle to them free of charge where they will then perform a laboratory analysis on the contents. They are also going to send me a replacement bottle. Once I taste the new bottle, I think I will have my answer. I hope they will also share the results of the laboratory analysis with me when it is complete.

Stay tuned for the epilogue.

-Bill

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Bill, you wrote: "either something very wrong with my bottle of antique, or there is some other junk in that bottle that is not Weller Antique."

It is more likely mis-bottled than that something caused good whiskey to "go bad." Not much can change whiskey except oxidation, and that doesn't cause the taste you described. It seems more likely that something foul was mistakenly bottled as Weller Antique.

I'm glad to hear the reaction from Buffalo Trace. That's the right thing to do.

Just out of curiousity, does the label identify Louisville, KY as the source? It should say at the very bottom of the front label. If it doesn't, then it might be Sazerac's whiskey after all. Unlikely, but check and let us know.

And definitely keep us posted on the saga. It should be very interesting.

- chuck

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Chuck wrote: "I'm glad to hear the reaction from Buffalo Trace. That's the right thing to do."

Absolutely. I'm glad they came through, but I'm not surprised. Sazerac has impressed the hell out of me lately, and I don't mean they've given me free booze and flown me to Kentucky (okay, they did give me one bottle, but I'm not THAT cheap). They're doing things the right way, the way they ought to be done. I'm optimistic about them.

Keep us posted, Bill!

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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First of all, I just got a check from United Distillers, which was the former owner of Weller Antique. So that is very satisfying, because I can use that money to buy something I like, such as the Van Winkle 15 year.

As for solving the mystery of what the deal is with this bottle of Weller Antique that I have, I think I am getting closer to finding out what it is exactly about this whiskey. I finally got a whiskey drinking friend of mine to try the Weller Antique that I have (my particular bottle that I did not like). I told him I didn't like it, and he responded by asking why he should try it if it is no good. I explained that I need another opinion here, so he kindly obliged. Here is what he said about the Weller Antique that I gave him to sample:

-------------------------------------------------------------

I put each of the Antique and some Corner Creek in brandy snifters (the

better to nose it with).

There really was no major nose difference, except that the Antique might

be higher proof. It seemed that there was more alcohol vapor present.

Upon tasting, I noticed a marked difference in flavor.

The Antique has what I would call an astringent character and

significant woody flavor. It was very reminiscent of that taste you get

when you eat fresh-cracked walnuts (there's a membrane in the shell

which tastes very astringent). There is a similar note in some very old

(25+ yr) scotches I have tried.

Remembering what old Booker Noe said about aging, it's very likely that

this is the character you get from a bourbon which is "old for it's age"

-- perhaps from barrels stored in the higher heat of the upper floors of

the storage building.

I believe that there is nothing funky at all about this bourbon - though

I can't say it's my favorite. It's just natural flavors imparted by the

wood - tannins and other wood-related extractives. The name itself

should probably give you a clue -- Antique.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

So, from his analysis above, it does seem to be a case of "different strokes for different folks". I guess I just don't like the taste of this bourbon. I still wonder why no other bourbon I have tasted has these characteristics that I find offensive.

Buffalo Trace distillery (now does Weller Antique) has offered to pay for the shipment of this bottle back to them for analysis. I will take them up on that, but I suspect that they will find nothing wrong with the whiskey. I will be very interested to find out what their conclusion is. I suppose there is still a possibility that there is either some other whiskey in that bottle other than Weller Antique, or that the particular batch that is in that bottle is not their best stuff. However, it is starting to look more and more like Weller Antique is just not my cup of tea. I got my refund, so maybe I should just take that money and buy some Van Winkle 15 year and leave well enough alone!

Any comments on this would be appreciated.

-Bill

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Your friend's comments notwithstanding, I think you should follow through with Buffalo Trace and see what they tell you. If nothing else, it will tell them that the Weller brand has partisans who are serious about the quality of their whiskey.

- chuck

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Can you tell me more about the Hirsch 16 year?

What I want to know is:

1) Is it worth $50 a bottle?

2) One of my favorites of all time is the Van Winkle 15 year. How does the Hirsch compare to that?

3) How does Hirsch compare to other bourbons you have tried? Can you try and describe the flavours?

I also wish to try the 20 year Pappy Van Winkle. This being even higher bucks(~$70), I want to know more about it. What about the 23 year Pappy Van Winkle? Has anyone seen that around, and if so, how much?

-Bill

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I haven't had the Hirsch, I have had the Pappy.

The thing about specialty bottlings or whatever you want to call them, ultra-super-mega-premiums, whatever, is that the reason to buy them is that they are a one-of-a-kind experience. They are rare, special experiences. They're worth $70 for their rarity not because they are necessarily that much better than a less expensive whiskey. A bottle of Pappy doesn't cost 3-4 times more than the lowest priced VanWinkle bourbon because it's necessarily 3 to 4 times better. It goes without saying that a $70 bottle of bourbon had better be high quality whiskey. What I recall about Pappy is that it is a nearly perfect example of that type of whiskey, so if you have had and enjoyed any of the other VanWinkle bourbons, you probably would enjoy Pappy.

- chuck

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> also wish to try the 20 year Pappy Van Winkle. This being even higher bucks(~$70), I want to know more about it. What about the 23 year Pappy

> Van Winkle? Has anyone seen that around, and if so, how much?

As I said in another post, I think the 20 year Pappy is incredible -- rich, smooth. I wouldn't just go out and buy a bottle (the $70 is a lot when there are other great bourbons that are cheaper, i.e., Wooford Reserve), but it makes a really nice gift (that's how I got my bottle). As for the 23 year, I think it is export-only (alas...).

DirtyCowboy

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23-Year "Pappy" is available in US. 3,000 bottles were produced. All bottles are numbered. Once they are gone, that's it. Sells for about $110.00 to $150.00, depending upon the market. This bourbon is like a cognac. Definitely for after dinner.

JPVW

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Bill--

"Can you tell me more about the Hirsch 16 year?"

You bet!

1) Is it worth $50 a bottle?

I paid $55. And went back and got another. And I'm a cheap, stingy bastard.

2) One of my favorites of all time is the Van Winkle 15 year. How does the Hirsch compare to that?

Well, it's one of my favorites of all time. And I also really like the Van Winkle 15 year. I don't pour the Hirsch for just anyone, just any time. It stays in the back of the closet, where only I can reach it. Told you I was a stingy bastard.

3) How does Hirsch compare to other bourbons you have tried? Can you try and describe the flavours?

Wow. Hmmm... I'd have to do a fresh sampling, and I'm sick as a dog right now. Let me get back to you on this. As far as compare... I'd say it's a bit leaner than the VW 15 YO, but more complex in flavor and aroma.

Here's the tasting notes from Malt Advocate V.8, No.1, where it was named Domestic Whiskey of the year: "Chestnut colored. Rich thick aromas of maple syrup, sandalwood, dark berries, molasses, leather, and spice (especially mint). A thick-textured whiskey, which coats the mouth. Rich, complex flavors, very spicy, with plenty of mint, evergreen, dried apricots, toffee, and vanilla. Long soothing finish."

That do you?

Lew Bryson

Hirsch Reserve 16 YO: Real Pennsylvania Bourbon

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Bill,

I would also recommend that you return the bottle of Antique Weller to the Distillery for evaluation. They need the opportunity to investigate and troubleshoot this problem. From my experience in investigating packaged product in another industry, there are several possible explinations that do not pertain to how the whiskey is made, but rather how it was bottled: The bottling machine or piping could have been repaired or cleaned, and your bottle might have been the first to be filled afterward. Another possibility would be the bottles themselves, it is not impossible that one bottle in a batch would not be completely cleaned. There might be something wrong with the cork or cap ?

I am not certain that packaging is you problem, but want to point out that a one time occurance is possible. The distillery would best be able to investigate this, particuairly if they have access to spectrographic instrumentation. At the very least, they would be experts on the taste.

Good luck, and let us know what you find out.

Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas

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Julian, We do not get Van Winkle here in Arkansas, but a friend who is traveling to Chicago just e-mailed me to let me know he found a bottle of you 12 year old and is bringing it back for me. I see pleasant moments in my future.

While I wait I have a question for you. Many of the bourbons I have tried have had a sweet element to them. But there seems to be different types of sweetness. Rebel Yell and Eagle Rare have an up front 'simple sweetness' that is tastes like sugar. Wild Turkey Rare Breed has a more sophisticated sweetness, more of a caramel taste. I even sipped some 'Mellow Corn' straight corn whiskey, which is sweet in the character of corn syrup, and quite hollow in every other respect. Can you enlighten us as to the sources of sweet tastes in bourbon. Is some from the grain, some from the sour mash process, and others from the barrel ? Sweetness is a mixed blessing, since too much of a good thing can quickly spoil the balance of bourbon. After tasting the pure corn whiskey I can easily see the wisdom of adding the rye.

Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas

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I have the final verdict on the "Old Weller Antique" saga. The analysis is thorough, and I think that the conclusion is very clear.

Let me start by recapping the highlights so far:

- I go to liquor store and see "old Weller Antique" bourbon. I have heard that this is a good wheated bourbon, and I seem to enjoy other wheated bourbons that I have tried, so for $18.99 I decide to give it a try.

- I proceed to drink the bourbon, and decide that it has a very peculiar and unusual flavor. Of the several different brands of bourbon that I have tasted, none have been quite like this one.

- Over the course of the next few days, I try the bourbon again, then perform some double blind taste tests with other bourbons that I have in my stock. The blind taste tests conclude that something about the Old Weller antique sticks out like a sore thumb. A very unpleasant and offensive aftertaste. Somewhat bitter, with an overtly "petrochemical" overtone.

- I convince a fellow bourbon drinker to taste some. I gave him a sample so he could try it more objectively in the comfort of his own home. He commented that although he did not believe that there was something funky about this bourbon, i.e. there was nothing actually defective about my particular bottle, he did note that for a bourbon, it was somewhat bitter and unusually astringent. As a scotch drinker, he noted that this was reminiscent of some of the very old scotches he has tried, but had not noticed this type of flavor in any of the bourbons that he had ever tried.

- In sharing this information with the straightbourbon.com discussion group, it seemed that the consensus was while it *could* be a case of "different strokes for different folks", i.e. I simply don't care for this particular style or brand of bourbon, it very well could be a manufacturing defect, a bad batch, or something contaminating the bottling lines.

- I then started researching who could help me with this. United Distillers has sold the brand to sazerac. Sazerac then referred me to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. I contacted them, and they were extremely helpful. The quality assurance manager fed exed me a replacement bottle, and he paid to have the remains of my bottle shipped back to him for a laboratory analysis.

And now here are the results:

I got my replacement bottle and tasted some of the bourbon. It tasted the same to me as the bottle I returned. I had saved a little of the old bottle, and in a double blind taste test against the new bottle, the old bottle, and a reference sample, I could tell no difference between the new bottle and the old bottle. I could however distinguish both from the reference sample. At this time, after all these weeks of wondering, I finally had my answer. It was indeed a case of "different strokes for different folks". I concluded that the probability of both bottles from completely different batches being defective is rather unlikely, and I waited for the results of the analysis.

I received the results of the analysis, and all of the parameters that they tested for were in spec. Furthermore, the returned bottle's contents were then taste tested by 3 different individuals at the distillery. They noted that there was nothing "off" that could be detected about the returned sample.

So there you have it folks. Out of the 25 or 30 different bourbons that I have tried, I find the Old Weller Antique to be the least desireable. However, your mileage may vary. Whatever it is that distinguishes this bourbon from the others that I have tried is the same character that someone else might love.

Much thanks to the folks at Buffalo Trace for going to all the trouble to check this out. Their customer service is top notch in my book, even though I can't say that this particular brand of bourbon is.

Check out

http://www.tastings.com/action.lasso?-database=BottleBase.fp3&-layout=WebFields&-response=forms/search/shopping_list.html&-noresults=forms/search/search_error.html&-maxRecords=30&-Find=&Keyword=recommended+bourbon

The weller antique only gets a an 83, but they say this:

Notice is served

by a strong assault on the nose. Notes of pear and peach over maple and

toffee. Very smooth with good length of fruit and butterscotch in the finish.

I know there are some fans out there. Therefore, I am going to offer to ship almost an entire liter of Old Weller Antique to the first person that wants it. Send me a private message (billf) on the straightbourbon.com discussion board, and it's yours. I'd rather spend my time drinking something that I happen to dig more, for whatever reasons.

-Bill

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" Hey guys, The boys and I just got our hands on a bottle of A. H. Hirsch 16 yr old and think that it is quite good and recommend y'all try it. We experimented around a bit and found the best way to drink it was one part Hirsch and three parts Diet Coke. We tried normal coke, but found the extra sweetness distracted from the bourbon taste a bit too much. It is also important, IMO, to use crushed ice, cube ice did not seem to get it cold enough. We wanted to try it with Mountain Dew, but spilled the can on the floor before we could mix it up, so I will have to post this later. I think a good question to throw out to the group (those who have a supply of Hirsch) would be to share our Ideas on the best mixers for this fine bourbon. Another thing: we lost the cork somehow, and a friend suggested I put the rest of the bottle in the freezer to reduce evaporation. I cannot wait to snatch the bottle and find out if this extra coldness helps. "

Jack "Daniels" McCracken

I 'Volunteer' for Tennessee Whiskey

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Jack "Daniels" McCracken wrote:

" I think a good question to throw out to the

group (those who have a supply of Hirsch) would be to share our Ideas on the best mixers for this fine

bourbon."

I like my Hirsch about 1/5 Hirsch and 4/5 Old Thompson. If your local liquor store doesn't have any more

Old Thompson sitting on the back shelves, you CAN use Kessler...but you have to mix it 1/4 Hirsch and

3/4 Kessler to get it to taste like anything.

Regarding your idea of mixing it with Mountain Dew, the only drink I have found that to be at all palatable

with is 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle. 1 oz of Pappy to 6 oz of Dew should be about right.

Michael Shoshani

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