top of page

Story of WL Weller Bourbon

WL Weller Bourbon range

Sometimes referred to as 'poor man's Pappy', WL Weller has become one of the most sought-after Bourbons in the world. The brand is one of the many whiskeys produced at Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, owned by Sazerac. The distillery is known for its namesake Bourbon, Blanton's Single Barrel, Pappy van Winkle, and Eagle Rare Bourbons.

WL Weller is offered in seven variations from Reserve and 12-year-old to the 2024 release of Weller Millennium. In 2023, a new Weller joined the group: the experimental Daniel Weller.

But what makes WL Weller stand out from the crowd? What is the brand's history, and why is it called 'The Original Wheated Bourbon'? Let's find out.

All images in this article have been compiled by The Whisky Ardvark. Original images by Buffalo Trace distillery and Whiskybase.


Man Behind The Name

William Larue Weller

The Weller family moved to Maryland from Germany in the 1740s, where they purchased a patch of land and worked as farmers and millers. The family relocated to Kentucky in the 1790s and started distilling spirits.

The third generation of Weller's in the US and the second generation distiller, Samuel Weller, brought together two prominent Kentucky distilling families with his marriage to Phoebe Larue. In 1825, the couple welcomed their son, William Larue Weller - now known to the world as WL Weller.

William began his career as a wholesale whiskey dealer and distiller in 1849 at the age of 24 after serving in the Louisville Brigade, carrying on the legacy started by his paternal grandfather and his maternal great-grandfather. William started WL Weller & Brothers with his younger sibling, Charles, but the company was later renamed WL Weller & Sons when William's eldest son, George, joined the family business.

Weller is credited for creating a mashbill in which wheat was the secondary grain to corn instead of rye, resulting in 'softer and smoother' whiskey. To draw customers in, this new type of whiskey, now referred to as wheated Bourbon, was marketed with the slogan 'Honest Whiskey at an Honest Price'.

As a counterpart to the company's reported history, some believe that WL Weller & Sons only sourced whiskey from different local distilleries, blended, filtered or flavoured it, then packaged it under the company name and sold it to buyers.

By chance, 19-year-old Julian Proctor Van Winkle (later known as 'Pappy') joined the company as a whiskey salesman. After William passed away in 1899, Van Winkle and his co-worker Alex Farnsley purchased the company in 1908 from George, who remained president of the company until Prohibition. To survive, WL Weller & Sons merged with Arthur Stitzel of A. PH. Stitzel distillery in the early 1920s. The new company opened the Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, Louisville, in 1935 on Derby Day.


Stitzel-Weller Distillery 1935-1992

Stitzel-Weller quickly became known for its wheated bourbon recipes, including Old WL Weller and Old Fitzgerald, as well as Rebel Yell, which was introduced in 1961.

Farnsley and Stitzel both passed away in the 1940s, leaving the distillery to Van Winkle. When 'Pappy' Van Winkle Sr. passed away in 1965, the distillery was left to his son, Julian Van Winkle Jr. During the Van Winkle family's ownership from 1935 to 1972, the distillery established itself as a leading Bourbon producer. Unfortunately, the demand for Bourbon declined, leading the family to sell Stitzel-Weller to Norton-Simon in 1972. The distillery was then renamed Old Fitzgerald under its new owner after its best-selling brand.

In 1984, the distillery was acquired by Distillers Co. A year later, Distillers' US subsidiary, the Distillers Somerset Group, aligned its sales forces to sell Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Weller and Cabin Still with Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray and specialty brands.

Ultimately, the distillery was passed down to United Distillers, the predecessor of Diageo, which closed it in 1992. The major brands were sold to other companies: Old Fitzgerald to Heaven Hill, Rebel Yell to Luxco, and Weller to Buffalo Trace in 1999. After many years of neglect, the distillery was reopened with its original name in 2014 and now serves as the brand home of Bulleit Bourbon.

Over the years, the name of Weller's whiskey brand has changed, and it is not only between Special Reserve and Antique Reserve. From Old WL Weller under the ownership of Van Winkle Sr (and Stitzel) and Weller's under Van Winkle Jr to Old Weller under Norton Simon and then back again to Old WL Weller under Distillers Co, the brand has seen many variations of the name. The bottle had also undergone some changes, notably in the 1960s, when all Stitzel-Weller distillery whiskeys were bottled in 'Dusties', short, dumpy bottles.

The 'classic' Weller's is bottled at 107 proof and aged for seven years. It's worth noting that after Norton-Simon acquired the business in 1972, the producer's name on the label was changed from Stitzel-Weller distillery to WL Weller & Sons (since they had renamed the distillery). This tradition continued until the early 2000s, after Sazerac took over brand ownership. Eventually, they changed the label to state Buffalo Trace distillery, signifying that the Weller whiskey had been distilled at the company's own distillery. (For a short period, Weller was distilled at Bernheim distillery.)

Old WL Weller labels under different ownerships


WL Weller at Buffalo Trace

Reborn under Sazerac and now a brand of Buffalo Trace, Weller was rebranded as Old Weller in a balloon-shaped bottle, including a 12-year-old expression, which had made its first appearance in 2000. To pay tribute to the 'father of wheated Bourbon', the distillery launched William Larue Weller in 2005 as part of the Antique Collection. The bottling was offered at 12 years old and at 121.9 proof (60.95% ABV).

Old Weller pre-2016 bottling

Following the success of the reborn brand, the new look for WL Weller was introduced in 2016. Since then, many new expressions have been introduced. Joining the Antique 107 and Special Reserve, the range includes Single Barrel, 12-year-old and Full Proof, with CYPB as a limited release. In addition, the super-premium vintage blend, Weller Millennium, was launched in May 2024.

WL Weller current bottlings 2024

WL Weller Antique 107 proof - 53.5% ABV

WL Weller Single Barrel, 97 proof - 48.5% ABV

WL Weller 12-year-old, 90 proof - 45% ABV

WL Weller Special Reserve, 90 proof - 45% ABV

WL Weller Full Proof, 114 proof - 57% ABV

WL Weller CYPB 8-year-old, 95 proof - 47.5% ABV

'Craft Your Perfect Bourbon' is a limited edition and was created by fans of the brand who could cast their votes online for their ideal bourbon recipe, proof, warehouse location and age.

Weller Millennium, 99 proof - 49.5% ABV

A blend of 18- to 24-year-old vintage straight bourbon and wheat whiskeys was distilled in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2006.


Daniel Weller

In 2023, Buffalo Trace launched the Daniel Weller experimental grain series, paying tribute to William Larue Weller's grandfather, Daniel Weller. Aged for nearly 12 years and bottled at 94 proof, the 2023 release is made with Emmer wheat. The plan is to release one limited expression every other year when Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley deems each experiment ready for bottling.

Daniel Weller wheated Bourbon 2023 release

Daniel, the son of settler Johannes Weller, travelled to Kentucky after serving in the Revolutionary War, where he continued his father's tradition of distilling rye whiskey to supplement his income.

When Daniel passed away in 1807, he left no will, requiring his son Samuel to purchase his stills and equipment to continue the family legacy, which he would ultimately pass down to his son, William.


Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Please check out some of our other informative articles listed below.


bottom of page