Spirits & Liqueurs Bourbon

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Wheated Bourbon Review

This benchmark wheated bourbon is a great value at its suggested price.

Weller Special Reserve bottle against maroon background

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

Our Rating

Overall: Our tasting panel’s overall assessment of the quality of the product,as well as its rank in comparison to others within the category

Value for Price: Our tasting panel’s assessment of this product’s quality-to-cost ratio within its larger category of competitors.

Mixability: Our rating of how well this product can be used as a component in cocktails.

Sippability: Our rating of how well this product tastes as a stand-alone pour.

Learn More about Liquor.com's Review Process

Overall Quality
Value for Price

Like many Buffalo Trace products, W.L. Weller Special Reserve can be hard to find. It’s produced in limited amounts, and sizable retail markups make it even harder to source at the producer’s suggested price of $23.99. However, if you’re able to get your hands on a bottle at the original price, this no-age-statement wheated bourbon represents an excellent value, according to our reviewers. Although they were divided on its merits as a complex sipping bourbon, they were unanimous in recognizing a fruit-forward nose and palate and a medium finish that would excel in cocktails like a Manhattan or Mint Julep.

Fast Facts

Classification: Wheated bourbon

Company: Sazerac Company (Distributed by Buffalo Trace Distillery)

Producer: W.L. Weller

Expression: Special Reserve

Cask: American white oak

Still Type: Unknown

ABV: 45%

Aged: No age statement

Price: $23.99

  • Classic example of a wheated bourbon

  • Excellent value at the suggested price

  • Collector’s item

  • May be difficult to find

  • Retailers have been known to inflate the price

  • Some may find the finish slightly short

Tasting Notes

Color: Medium amber

Nose: Sweet cherry, vanilla, honey, caramel, spice, peach, mint, orange, cinnamon, light oak, turpentine esters, wheat grain

Palate: Baked apple, cherry, vanilla, allspice, pepper, chocolate, orange

Finish: Medium with notes of black pepper, orange, vanilla, cherry, dark chocolate, and oak

Similar bottles: Four Roses, Larceny, Maker’s Mark, Old Overholt, Old Forester

Suggested uses: Neat or on the rocks; Cocktails like the Manhattan, Mint Julep, and Whiskey Sour

Our Review

Our tasting panel had differing thoughts on this bourbon’s overall complexity, but they were unanimous in recommending it for those who enjoy wheated bourbons. Each reviewer stressed that while this bourbon would ideally represent an excellent value, it is increasingly difficult to find at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. 

“[It] really overdelivers at its original price,” says Jacques Bezuidenhout. “The wheat makes for a nice, mellow sipper.” 

“This bourbon lacks depth, but it is still pleasing to drink,” says Julie Reiner. “It’s a middle-of-the-road bourbon that will do the job in many whiskey cocktails.”

Our reviewers detected fruity notes on the nose and palate, including baked apples and cherry. Jeffrey Morgenthaler said the bourbon is expressive of “Buffalo Trace’s signature barrel character.” 

“[The] nose is a swirling eddy of super complex flavors hailing from every step of the whiskey-making process, from the distillate to the barrel,” says Morgenthaler. “Some exquisitely pleasant turpentine esters are underneath all of the sweet caramel and spice notes you’d expect to find in a well-made bourbon.”

All tasters noted a medium finish. “[It’s] somewhat shorter than I’d ask for in a pricier bourbon, but fairly standard in a bourbon at this echelon,” says Morgenthaler. Reiner found the finish slightly hot, while Bezuidenhout noted prominent oak tannins. 

Reiner recommends using this bourbon in cocktails that call for syrups, citrus, and sodas, such as a Whiskey Sour or Horse’s Neck. While Bezuidenhout also suggests cocktails like the Mint Julep, he notes that this bottling’s increasing collectability may make it best reserved for sipping neat or on the rocks. 

“Personally, I like tasting Manhattans side-by-side with rye whiskey and wheated bourbons, as the two styles are at nearly opposite ends of the American whiskey spectrum,” says Morgenthaler. “While it may be seen as taboo in some circles, I think a Manhattan made with a wheated bourbon such as this one might be my favorite.”


W.L. Weller Special Reserve is produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, along the banks of the Kentucky River. Although the mash bill is undisclosed, this bottling uses Buffalo Trace’s original wheated mash bill recipe, which replaces rye with wheat as the secondary grain for a softer and smoother profile. Like all bourbons, it contains at least 51% corn in the mash bill. As a no-age-statement bourbon, it ages in new American charred oak barrels for an undisclosed amount of time. 

W.L. Weller Special Reserve is an allocated spirit, meaning that stores can only receive a certain predetermined number of bottles, which they cannot replenish until they receive a new allocated shipment from Buffalo Trace.


Although W.L. Weller’s history as a Buffalo Trace product is relatively short, the producer had a major role in the story of American whiskey. The Weller family, who had immigrated to Maryland from Germany in the 1740s, began distilling whiskey in Kentucky in the mid-1790s. Second-generation distiller Samuel Weller married Phoebe Larue, of another prominent distilling family, and their son William Larue (W.L.) Weller was born in 1825.

In 1849, W.L. launched W.L. Weller & Brothers with his younger brother Charles, and the duo later changed its name to W.L. Weller & Sons. (It’s worth noting that W.L. was a rectifier, not a distiller.) In 1893, Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. was hired as a whiskey salesman. Pappy and his colleague Alex Farnsley purchased the company in 1908, following W.L.’s death in 1899, and W.L’s oldest son George remained president of the distillery until Prohibition. Post-Repeal, Pappy and Farnsley merged with Arthur Stitzel from A P.H. Distillery to create Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which opened on Derby Day in 1935. The distillery became known for its wheated bourbon, which was said to show a softer and smoother profile than more rye-heavy bourbons. 

In 1972, conglomerate Norton Simon purchased the distillery and changed its name to Old Fitzgerald Distillery, which was acquired by liquor company Distillers Co. in 1984. Throughout the 1990s, Distillers Co. sold off many of its brands to competitors, and in 1999 the Sazerac Company purchased all Weller products. That same year, Sazerac changed the name of the historic George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, where it had produced many of its whiskeys since 1992, to the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Today, Harlen Wheatley serves as the master distiller for Buffalo Trace Distillery, which also produces such bottlings as Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, and Blanton’s. In recent years, due to the popularity of costly Pappy Van Winkle, demand for other Buffalo Trace products has increased, and as such, prices are often driven up by retailers. However, W.L. Weller Special Reserve remains the most affordable of the Weller products, which also include 12-year, single-barrel, and full-proof expressions. 

–Written and edited by Audrey Morgan

Interesting Fact

W.L. Weller was Pappy Van Winkle Sr.’s boss. Weller hired Van Winkle as a whiskey salesman for his company, and Van Winkle went on to purchase the company and later join forces with another distillery to create Stitzel-Weller Distillery. The Van Winkles ran operations of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery until 1972.

The Bottom Line

Although our reviewers note the excellent value of this wheated bourbon at its original intended price of $23.99, they stress that like most Buffalo Trace products, it can be difficult to source without substantial retail markup. Nevertheless, it’s a quality example of a wheated bourbon with fruit-forward notes that works well in cocktails like the Manhattan and Mint Julep.