January 7, 2014

BeastMasters Volume 1, Part 3 - Review of Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 11-Year, 14-Year, and W.L. Weller 19-Year

This is part three & the conclusion of the first volume of BeastMasters - our tour of private whiskey collections (aka what may have been the best night of our lives, whiskey-wise anyway).

Volume 1 features Jonathan Colton, part-time globetrotting secret service agent, fluent in eighteen languages including Jive, voted 2009's Best in Leather Pants by Teen World Magazine, and amateur bourbon collector.  In part 1 and part 2, Jonathan toured us through some of the most sought-after bourbons in his private collection: AH Hirsch Family Reserve, and the original Stitzel-Weller bottlings of Pappy Van Winkle 15, 20, and 23-Year.  To finish off the night, Jon pulled out another trio of greatest hits bourbons which we'll cover today.

SeƱor Colton, BeastMaster

First Up...

Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 11-Year and 14-Year

First up are two magnificent extinct beasts, Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 11-Year and 14-Year.  Last year we reviewed the currently available Black Maple Hill Small Batch.  It's good, actually it's one of wifey's favorite everyday bourbons.  But it's not legendary good.  On the other hand, the single barrels they put out five to ten years go ARE legendary.  Way legendary.  Hobbits write songs about them.  Teenagers put glam shots up on their bedroom walls.  Hall of Fame type legendary.

The Black Maple Hill single barrel line included bourbon aged 11, 14, 16, 20, and 21 years, and rye aged 18 and 23 years.  (If we missed any, please let us know!).  There isn't a ton of information about the order and dates of the releases, however the word on the street is that the early batches from around 2000-2003 bottled in Lawrenceburg, KY were sourced and bottled by Julian Van Winkle.  The later batches, bottled in Bardstown, KY, were sourced from Heaven Hill / Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.  Production on all the age-stated BMH ended around 2009.  A bit of research turned up this (unverified, but seemingly legitimate) comment from Julian Van Winkle:
"I indeed bottled this whiskey over the last few years for a distributor in California...  It was my Van Winkle whiskey under abother label. The ages bottled were 14, 16, 18 & even some 20-year. There was alos a rye whiskey which was mine. All the Van Winkle whiskey would have been in bottled dislaying the "Bottled in Lawrenceburg,KY" address. Since I now do all my bottling at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, the Califonia distributor is now buying his whiskey and having the bottling done in Bardstown at KY Bourbon Distillers....    
All the Van Winkle bourbons that I bottled in Lawrenceburg, KY were distilled for me at our old distillery here in Louisville, Stitzel-Weller. So the Black Maple Hill whiskey I bottled for CA Vineyards was the same as Van Winkle bourbon. I only aged and bottled my bourbon in Lawrenceburg, no distillation there.  I imagine the new Black Maple Hill bottled in Bardstown was distilled by Heaven Hill, although I'm not sure as I have not tasted the whiskey."   (from http://www.myspeakerscorner.com/forum/spawn.php?qv=1&fn=6&tid=40857)

Black Maple Hill 11-Year Single Barrel Cask 307

Black Maple Hill 11-Year Single Barrel

Nose:  This one really jumps out at you with a fresh, fruity, sweet nose.  Red grapes (not like the sherry notes from the cask, but fresh cut grapes), crisp apples, honey and citrus.

Palate:  Extremely clean, the fruits continue for an immensely drinkable light body.  Adding to the fruits are some rich nougat/caramel/milk chocolate flavors.

Finish:  Short and sweet this is a punchy, fruity little gem.

Review:  An awesome example of how barrel choice can be just as important if not more important than age.  At only 11 years, this blows away many of the 12 year bourbons on the market today.  Considering the original retail price was around $40 we certainly wish we'd stashed away a few cases when such things were possible.  Ah those were the days!

Black Maple Hill 14-Year Single Barrel Cask 147

Black Maple Hill 14-Year Single Barrel

Nose:  Very subtle nose yet complex in all its different elements.  The same fruits (red grapes & crisp green apples) from the 11-Year are here, but there is a whole other level of sophistication with a much more noticeable oak, some chocolate and baking spices (brown butter, brown sugar, flour, cornstarch), and little pops of hot pepper.  We're getting excited.

Palate:  This one is just a knock out.  Admittedly we'd had a lot to drink at this point!  But this still shone through as one of the best bourbons of the night.  It had that same ethereal float-across-the-palate texture as the Hirsch 16, and it shared a lot of the warmth and beauty of the Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year.

Finish:  Glowing, smooth but warm, cocoa, fresh fruit, and wood finish.  Incredibly flavorful at the low proof this is just a stunner.  Maybe some oxidation / several years in an open bottle had some impact here as well.  it just had that warm and cozy feeling, like an old lover.

Review:  In order of the preference, we're going AH Hirsch #1, SW Pappy 20 #2, and BMH 14 as #3 for best of the night.  So yes, very high marks indeed.

W. L. Weller 19-Year (2002)

William Larue Weller is now part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, alongside George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17-Year, Sazerac 18-Year and Thomas Handy Rye.  These gorgeous bottles are released every year around the holidays, but they're on the "impossible to find" list along with Pappy Van Winkle.

Since 2005, William Larue Weller has been bottled at barrel proof (120-135 proof), and is aged around 12 years.  This leads to some "love it or hate it" opinions from the community.  Buffalo Trace offers "WL Weller" in a Special Reserve (90-proof), Antique 107-proof, and 12-Year varieties.  These bottles are increasingly hard to find, but they're all in the $20-$35 range.  Some argue that William Larue Weller is just a cask-strength version of WL Weller 12-Year and not worth the premium price tag.  Many swear that mixing Weller 12-Year with Weller Antique 107 tastes the same if not better than WLW (don't worry, we're planning a future post putting this theory to the test).  For now, we don't agree with the skeptics.  All the releases of William Larue Weller that we've tasted have been awesome and in a different class from WL Weller.

But that's all just background.  Back in 2000-2002, W.L. Weller 19-Year was a completely different beast.  This was pure Stitzel-Weller juice, boasting the original wheated recipe, aged to perfection over almost two decades and bottled at a ridiculously drinkable 90 proof without losing a lot of flavor.  This bottle, distilled in 1993 and bottled in 2002, is tremendously sought-after and was an amazingly tasty treat.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Very rich, pipe (not cigar) smoke, heavy spice, tons more leather and dark mahogany wood.,

Palate:  It's very smooth but still has a seriously robust spirit warmth (interesting how the two can go together).  Something like burned tree back (char), dark chocolate w/ pepper flakes.

Finish:  Very smooth and sweet finish with sweet warmth and a wonderful integration of flavors.  This was another superstar and a great way to end the night.

Well that does it for our first round of BeastMaster - private collectors.  Thanks again to Jonathon for a rare look at some awesome bourbon glut.  You can catch Volume 2 - a tour through vintage Rittenhouse Ryes (21, 23, 25 year) and a sneak peak at 2013's Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year here.  Stay tuned for more BeastMasters private collection tours this year.



  1. Bet that was some tasting experience. How long had the Black Maple Hill bottles been open (i am guessing many years, any idea how they were stored) before you were able to try them? I would be curious if the "grape" taste was initially there or developed as the bottle opened up?
    I am interested to see how your batching of Weller 12 and Antique 107 goes as I have heard this proclaimed as "Poor Man's Pappy".

    1. Indeed it was a hell of a night, Dan! Yes the BMH bottles had been open for a few years and were just stored on the shelf, about three quarters gone by that point. I used to drink BMH regularly and I do recall those tastes being there upon opening. I also read a few other reviews and they were similar. I know a lot of people talk about bad effects of oxidation and the need for inert gas or decanting whiskey into smaller bottles. There are a few whiskies that I do believe change for the worse over time, but in my opinion they're in the minority and most bottles will be just fine if not better if stored in the original bottle in a nice cool dark place... Hit us up on FB if you'd like to be a guest judge for our Poor Man's Pappy / Frankenstein WLW vs Weller 12/107 battle!

  2. Yeah, I don't think the tastes "go bad" but i do think they change or open up a bit after the bottle has been uncorked. Quite a few in my collection, in my opinion, have actually improved overtime as the initial burn settles down and you can pick out more of the distinct flavors in the bourbon. I was just curious on the grape flavor and if this could be tasted initially or if the bottle needed to settle in first. I am definitely interested in any opportunity to be a guest judge. Being one of the few people without a facebook page, I will send up some smoke signals here in a bit.

    1. Oh yeah, totally agree on letting bottles open up. I'm not sure that the flavors change that much, but the burn to warmth ratio can improve radically. IMO particularly with barrel proof / single barrel whiskies that have never been mixed or watered.

      Cool, consider yourself deputized for the next bit taste-off!

  3. I have an unopened bottle of the 11 and 21 (cask 2) and I am tempted every day to open one or both of them. Torture!

    1. It's tough these days as each of those bottles is probably worth over a grand. But we vote you open them! :)