Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to Superfly Bourbon Club from Buffalo Trace. In no way, does acquiring these samples in any form manipulate the direction of this review.
Breaking Down The Antique Collection
Brace yourselves for a long review… we promise it’ll be worth it. However, of course this review is long- we’re reviewing the coveted, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Dun, dun, dunnn! Let’s do it.
It’s a pretty known fact that each year, Buffalo Trace releases the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), which is arguably some of the most highly sought after American Whiskeys on the market. People drool over these bottles like Megan Fox on a hot day during a wet t-shirt contest, and while not too many years ago they sat on shelves in abundance for $60, the bourbon boom shot these bottles into the stratosphere among other rare whiskies that are only acquirable by the act of jumping through multiple hoops. At this point it’s sort of silly to do reviews on every release of BTAC since the expressions remain, for the most part, consistently amazing from year to year, but still, each year’s release brings subtle nuances that make these fun to decide which bottle is the best out of the lineup.
We sampled each bottle from 50ml samples in Glencairn glasses, and tasted with and without a few drops of water. Be advised that the whiskey does evolve once opened as full-sized bottles and can transform over time.
Lets Get On With It Then!
William Larue Weller (WLW)
The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including a Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and “Bourbon of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017. The 2017 offering was distilled in the winter of 2005 and aged in Warehouses D, I, and P. This bourbon registers in at 128.2 proof.
Age: 12 years, 6 months
Approx Bottle Count: 19,000
Appearance: Dark chestnut with a ruby tint
Nose: Mildly astringent, cherries, figs and stone fruit with slight pine aromas, opens up to rock candy and rich honey with notes of black cherry and mild vanilla
Palate: Oily and viscous, strong notes of black cherry and plums, apricots and burnt caramel with subtle notes of granny smith apple and charred oak on the tail.
Finish: Long and warm but not at all astringent, more notes of plums and black cherry fade to a brown sugar sweetness and the feeling of warm wood. This is what you call a “Kentucky Hug”
Final Thoughts: William Larue Weller lives up to it’s name yet again. This year is just as sweet and fruit forward as ever with notes of black cherries and sweet plums in perfect harmony with an oaky richness that prevents it from being cloyingly sweet. This is what bourbon is supposed to taste like. Immediately after sampling the 2017 we poured some 2016 and we think this even beats last year. 2017 is more fruit forward with dark fruit and brown sugar and has less spice on the finish.
Good or Great? Breathtaking
Worth Retail or Secondary? Retail, secondary, an arm, a leg, your firstborn child, whatever; It’ll be worth it.
Eagle Rare 17 year (ER17)
The previous edition of this bourbon was honored with a Silver Outstanding Medal at the 2017 International Wine and Spirits Competition. The 2017 edition has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses C, K and P. This 90 proof bourbon was aged for seventeen years in new charred oak barrels.
Age: 17 years
Approx Bottle Count: 1,500
Appearance: Deep brown, long legs in the glass
Nose: Oak, piecrust and cinnamon with slight notes of pine, with time it opens up with a vanilla almond sweetness with more refined notes of the warm wood.
Palate: Oily; rich with charred oak, toffee and vanilla bean with notes of plum and brown sugar with a slight hint of graham cracker towards the end.
Finish: Medium, slight pepper and baking spices fade to vanilla and warm wood.
Final Thoughts: Much more spice and oak with less sweetness than the standard Eagle Rare due to the extra 7 years in the barrel. Rich and well balanced this whiskey comes in on the nose with tons of charred oak and vanilla, which carry through the palate to be joined by baking spices and cinnamon sugar. It has a pleasant medium finish that leaves you wanting another sip.
Good or Great? Amazing, there is a reason this stuff only comes once a year.
Worth Retail or Secondary? Absolutely worth retail if you can find one of the very few bottles and might be worth secondary if you’re a big Eagle Rare fan.
George T Stagg ages in new charred oak barrels for no less than 15 years- straight out of the barrel, uncut and unfiltered. GTS has won awards such as the 2018 Best American Whisky No Age Statement (Multiple Barrels) by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, and the 2017 Double Gold Medal – New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.
Age: 15 years 3 months
Approx Bottle Count: 38,000
Appearance: Dark brown barrel char.
Nose: Heavy barrel char and alcohol heat in the first 10 minutes of opening up. Tobacco and a dry dark fruit emerge.
Palate: So oily. Sticks to your cheeks and teeth. Leaves hints of more char, dark fruit, small pops of cherry. Backend reveals a slight smokey trail leading down the back of the tongue but has more of the mesquite profile.
Finish: Long and dry. More dark fruit and the mesquite.
Final Thoughts: For most, GTS is either the favorite of the BTAC lineup, or a close second… and for good reason. As barrel strength lovers, we can’t get enough of this. Compared to last years, we think the 2016 is better just based off the higher proof and how much more oily it was compared to this years release, however this years was a small step up from last years in terms of richness in flavor. If you’re not into the heat of Stagg just add a few drops of water and give yourself up to George.
Good or Great? Amazing. Capitalizes on one’s love for barrel strength whiskey.
Worth Retail or Secondary? With the extremely high yield this year, it’s exciting to anticipate acquiring a bottle with minimal effort, and although the name still has high value to most bourbon hunters, if there is any BTAC worth hunting for this year it’s this one. Obviously try to score one under $200 maximum, but also keep an eye out on secondary. Once the entire allocation country-wide has been completed, expect to see a dramatic drop in price compared to any other vintage of Stagg.
Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. Previous editions of this whiskey have been named “World Whisky of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and “World’s Best American Whiskey” by Whisky Magazine. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2011; aged on the third, fourth and fifth floors of Warehouses K, L, and Q, and weighs in at 127.2 proof.
Age: 6 years, 5 months
Approx Bottle Count: 14,000
Appearance: Deep orange, long legs in the glass
Nose: Pepper and rye spice fade to a strong citrus presence with notes of peaches and tangerines, lots of light fruit and warmth from the oak, call me crazy but we even get a subtle whiff of banana.
Palate: Apples, peaches and oranges mixed with pepper and leather with a mild rye spice, hot but in a welcoming way, not overbearing
Finish: Much sweeter and shorter than expected, leather and green apples with slight notes of wood and just a hint of clove, not as much as we were expecting
Final Thoughts: This one really surprised us, we didn’t expect to like it and yet we both loved it. It smelled like someone put a splash or orange bitters in the glass when we wern’t looking and the taste followed suit. Of course there was some spice and pepper from the rye but it wasn’t as strong as was expected. This stuff is tasty
Good or Great? Great
Worth Retail or Secondary? Obviously retail is ideal but this one tends to have a lower secondary compared to the rest so if you’ve been thinking about it, this is the year.
Last year Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old received “4 Stars – Highly Recommended” by F. Paul Pacult’s The Spirit Journal. This 2017 straight rye whiskey release has notable flavors of leather, clove and all-spice. The barrels for this whiskey were filled in the spring of 1998, and then put into a stainless steel tank in 2016 to stop further aging and evaporation.
Age: 18 years
Approx Bottle Count: 2,600
Appearance: Dark Bamboo
Nose: Cinnamon and pepper, lots of clove and leather followed by hints of granny smith apple and ginger
Palate: A little thin on the palate, we expected more for being 18 years old. Baking spices and cinnamon carry through with a more pronounced clove presence and hints of licorice
Finish: Long and not terribly pleasant for me, we find it the most astringent of the collection, hints of pepper and cinnamon spice but I can’t get over how rough I find the finish. It almost reminds us of the feeling you get after you take a cheap shot of whiskey. Odd
Final Thoughts: Definitely a good whiskey but this year just doesn’t do it for me. It has some pleasant qualities to it such as how well rounded the nose it but once you get into the palate it starts to break up and for me the finish just ruins it for me.
Good or Great? Definitely a good whiskey, but not our preference this year
Worth Retail or Secondary? Any bottle from the Antique Collection is worth retail, but in this instance we don’t think we would pay much above that.
The Wrap Up
It’s no secret that all 5 of these whiskies are amazing and should never be dismissed. Many conclude their assessment of this well-crafted lineup with determining the best of the 5, and most of the time it’s WLW. One simple thing is flawed with that approach… Not everyone has the same palate. Duh. The spirit of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is the fact that they are meticulously crafted and selected to be the best of the best in flavor benchmark of each American Whiskey. In other words, WLW is the best of wheated bourbons no doubt about it- not to mention it’s typically bottled at a high exit proof. GTS is the best of barrel strength bourbon, ER17 is the sweeter and softer premium version of an all-around bourbon, THH is the more rich and powerful rye, while SAZ18 is the gentler, more complex rye. Each has their place as the “best”. With that being said, our final analysis leaves us giving a huge shoutout to Thomas H Handy this year as it exceeded the bar it set from last years release. This is the type of rye that converts even the most stubborn, purist bourbon drinker. Max’s favorite was WLW and Michael’s favorite ended up being the THH.
Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to Superfly Bourbon Club from Buffalo Trace. In no way, does acquiring these samples in any form manipulate the direction of this review. Some information sourced from BuffaloTraceDistillery.com