Editor’s Note: This whiskey was generously provided by Buffalo Trace Distilling . In no way, does acquiring these samples in any form manipulate the direction of this review.
Let’s Catch Up
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. Last year’s release we decided the Thomas H. Handy was ultimately the best and most enjoyable in our humble opinion. It made a bigger statement than the other four in the lineup and since it isn’t typically the first bottle everyone grabs during release season it’s the easiest to acquire in the collection. This year we grace our palates with yet another BTAC release. Let’s just jump right in and cut the BS shall we?
We sampled each one in a Glencairn and tasted with and without a few drops of water.
2018 William Larue Weller (WLW)
Distilled: Winter 2006
Warehouses: C, I, K, L, M and Q
Age: 12 years 6 months
Approx Bottle Count: 17,000
Appearance: Dark chestnut with a ruby tint
Nose: Mild heat. Rich dark fruit after opening up. Plums, cinnamon sugar, sweet tannins follow.
Palate: Oily and fruity, strong notes of candied fruit like black cherries and plums, apricots and burnt caramel. Sweet oak on the backend. Subtle Red Vines nostalgia.
Finish: Medium in length. The same rich fruit fades to brown sugar, raisins, leather, and apricot.
Final Thoughts: You know what you’re getting with this release. It’s complex and clear in its stance as the premium Weller. However, in comparing it to last year’s release there is little difference. As whiskey drinkers who constantly analyze annual releases we naturally want to rank the collections against past releases so our only comment is yes it’s an amazing whiskey, but no it’s not a huge step up from last year.
Eagle Rare 17 year (ER17)
Distilled: Spring 2000
Age: 18 years 4 months
Approx Bottle Count: 1,600
Appearance: Dark golden brown
Nose: Classic Eagle Rare notes with the oak tannins cranked up to 11 and subtle delicate sweetness followed by all of your favorite notes of vanilla, caramel, and fruit. Stand out notes are the rich barrel char and cherry peel.
Palate: Medium oil mouthfeel; rich with charred oak, toffee and the usual vanilla bean with sweet pepper and brown sugar. Fruit, creme and short cake towards the end.
Finish: Short. Spice and tannin fades to simple vanilla and what we can only describe as a cherry cough drop. Short and sweet but it fades to an off putting bitterness.
Final Thoughts: We were very excited for the difference in proof for this year’s release and it made all the difference. We held this one high up in our decision to choose which offering we felt was best in the 2018 collection. We totally agreed that the ER17 this year was much more complex than previous years and if it wasn’t for the finish it would have been our favorite. The nose and palate are extremely enjoyable and it truly is an elevated Eagle Rare, however the finish quickly took that enjoyment away by its lack of oil and the bitter flavor it left in our mouths. With that said, this is a huge step up from last year and deserves applause, we only wish the bottle count wasn’t so low again.
George T Stagg (GTS)
Distilled: Spring 2003
Warehouses: C, H, I, K, P and Q
Age: 15 years 4 months
Approx Bottle Count: 37,000
Appearance: Deep burnt amber.
Nose: Heavy rich barrel char with tobacco and cherry cola. Carmel apple lollipop (we swear) comes through after 15-20 minutes of opening up. Before opening up it has a lot of earth notes along with tobacco.
Palate: Very rich and oily. Barrel char lingers for a while with dark fruit and cherry bark. Back-end has leather, butterscotch, cinnamon and more caramel apple.
Finish: Long and oily. More dark fruit, tobacco, and that subtle caramel apple.
Final Thoughts: We couldn’t get enough of this. Compared to last year’s, we think this year’s is a huge difference in terms of classic GTS flavor profile. Last year we thought it was a little too hot and uncharacteristic, but the 2018 offering is a home run. It’s a BBQ in your mouth. So rich and complex with all the right notes. You get the caramel toffee barrel char on one side and the subtle sweetness of the fruit notes to compliment the char on the other. The nose is still a little hot but the palate and finish are excellent. Just make sure you give this pour some time to open up and the good ‘ol Kentucky chew.
Thomas H Handy (THH)
Distilled: Spring 2012
Age: 6 years, 4 months
Approx Bottle Count: 14,500
Appearance: Reddish orange glow
Nose: Lots of baking spices and grain. Apple pie and brown sugar crust comes through as it opens up after about 15 minutes. There is some creamy citrus in there as well that is quite pleasant.
Palate: Baking spices, orange marmalade, brown sugar and strudel are huge standouts. Sits very welcome on the palate. Not too overbearing but a little grainy.
Finish: Longer and hotter finish than last year’s. Leather, creme, cinnamon roll and dry orange peel immediately come to mind. After taste is a little bland.
Final Thoughts: As huge fans of Thomas H. Handy we felt this expression was really tasty but just not quite up to par with last year. Nonetheless Handy didn’t go backwards, we expect this year will be a favorite of many. The apple pie note we constantly get from this release is comforting leading into the fall season. Still the bolder rye of the two in the collection and amazing at the flavor a 6 year rye can present to us whiskey consumers, a constant reminder that: “age isn’t everything.”
Sazerac 18 year (SAZ18)
Distilled: Spring 1998
Age: 18 years
Approx Bottle Count: 2,500
Appearance: Golden Honey
Nose: Strong orange peel, mint leaf, tea leaves, cinnamon, candy corn. Very slight brininess.
Palate: Bitter spearmint, faint sweetness, citrus, subtle orange zest
Finish: Minty and bitter. Very short finish and flavors begin to fade away with only spearmint to cover the bitter aftertaste it leaves.
Final Thoughts: With the tanked stock no longer in use, this release just continues to disappoint us. We thought the nose was fantastic but that was about it.. Overwhelming bitterness and spearmint on the palate and finish was a major turnoff for us. Rye whiskey simply doesn’t need to be aged for that long and we fear the tannins are producing an off-putting flavor with this particular whiskey. We’re no experts, but we listen to our palates and in our opinion this year’s SAZ18 isn’t worth the expenditure and headache involved in acquiring one of these bottles, unless you’re a seasoned SAZ18 fan.
Let’s state the obvious here; everyone has a different palate and different preferences on which whiskies are best. The bottles that bear the name Buffalo Trace Antique Collection each have their place as the “best” and are a mix of 3 bourbons with 2 ryes – so we try not to rank them from best to worst. With that being said, our overall favorite was unanimous this year and we ended up giving it to George T. Stagg. It just hits all the right notes in perfect balance and gives us what we expect in a premium offering that gets better after every pour. The bold flavors that came with the rich char and cherry tobacco sweetness set the bar above the rest. We want to give a shoutout to this year’s Eagle Rare 17 as we found it to be a refreshing change from previous releases and that small proof change made a bigger difference than we were expecting. This year’s bummer was again the Sazerac 18 year in our opinion.. We think there might need to be a revaluation of this release. Perhaps a bump in proof and/or less aging would do the trick. Who knows? Overall, another great year for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but no dramatic changes besides the very welcome change to the proof of Eagle Rare 17 year.
Editor’s Note: This whiskey was generously provided by Buffalo Trace Distilling . In no way, does acquiring these samples in any form manipulate the direction of this review. Some information sourced from BuffaloTraceDistillery.com