First of all, I would like to thank Buffalo Trace and their marketing department for sending me samples and making me feel like I’m a big deal. I’m really not, but at least for a day, I felt like it. Also, if you are looking for exquisite tasting notes, I would recommend visiting Fred Minnick’s blog or something like that. I don’t have deep notes, just deep thoughts. Also a quick shout out to Breaking Bourbon for the fact sheets compiled into one graphic which made it easier for me to not have to do research. I hate research. Breaking, I owe you some samples.
Let’s get to it shall we.
2015 Eagle Rare 17
I don’t remember when I first had standard Eagle Rare, but I do remember it changed how I viewed Bourbons. I had moved from the Bourbon and Coke phase into the Bourbon on the rocks phase, but I couldn’t drink any of it neat. That changed with Eagle Rare. I remember thinking how incredibly smooth and easy to drink Eagle Rare was alone in a glass, and my palette expanded from there. Eagle Rare 17 is an extension of that amazing bourbon, aged 7 years longer, and bottled at the same 90 proof. Eagle Rare 17 was also the first Antique Collection Bottle I ever held in my hands. I stared at the beautiful bottle with awe, and even though I was unable to buy it (it was being held for someone else), it made me into a rare Bourbon hunter. To me, this is the most beautiful bottle in the lineup. The color of the Bourbon and the bottle and the logo all work so well together. Unfortunately this bottle still eludes me to this day, but like every good Bourbon hunter, I will never give up.
Sadly, Eagle Rare 17 has never knocked my socks off. I have had several samples of different years, 2014, 2013, and an earlier one, maybe 2011 at a bar. To me, it’s the most ordinary bourbon in the lineup. This year’s sample was no different. The nose is very sweet smelling, like caramel candy. It’s not a very strong scent, but it’s detectable. It has an oaky, vanilla taste and finishes with a little bit of leather. The finish doesn’t last long for me, and I feel like I get cheated a little bit with it. I have always expected the next sample of Eagle Rare 17 to blow me away, but it just doesn’t.
Eagle Rare 17 isn’t bad, it’s a good bourbon, it just does not stand out for me like I would expect with an Antique Collection bottle.
2015 George T Stagg
George T Stagg is the big dog of the Antique Collection. A barrel proof bourbon typically aged between 16-18 years, George T. Stagg has always been a big, bold, badass bourbon. Last year’s release has been regarded by many to be one of the top releases, if not the top (I’ve heard about this 2007, but never had it. 2010 was pretty damn good as well). This year we had some unfortunate news that many of the barrels BT had picked out for Stagg had evaporated most of it’s contents. Because of the excessive evaporation, about half as many bottles were produced this year as last year, meaning this will be even more difficult to find in the wild. So how does this years’ stack up?
Right off the bat, I poured a sample of this into a Glen Cairn and walked out to my back porch where friends were eating, and they could immediately smell my glass. The aroma from Stagg is so strong and bold and awesome. I passed the glass around the room, and everyone said they could smell either vanilla or maple syrup. There is the nose for you. That, some oak, and a nice strong scent of ethanol. The proof of George T. Stagg this year is 138.2, and normally with alcohol that could pretty much ignite me on fire I use ice, but I decided to try it neat. And damn if it wasn’t as drinkable as a 90 proof bourbon. Absolutely amazing flavor of spice and oak and caramel….and well… corn. The finish is long and sweet and spicy, but it never burned me as they say. Every sip I found myself mumbling curse words….half at the amazingness I was tasting, half at Buffalo Trace for producing half as much of this stuff. I have to say, this may be better than last years. So….damn….good.
2015 George T. Stagg, far and away the winner of this year’s lineup.
2015 William Larue Weller
There is a huge fascination right now with strong wheated bourbons. Every few weeks or so, Willett Distillery in KY will release a 22 year C barrel (Wheated barrel), and news spreads like wildfire. People go crazy trying to find a mule (human being that will go to the distillery, buy you a bottle or two, and ship it to you) so they can score a few of these. I have personally only had a sip of a 22 year C barrel and I have to say it was pretty ridiculous. William Larue Weller is a similar wheated bourbon which means the primary second ingredient after corn is wheat, which tends to make it sweeter than a pure corn bourbon. Some other wheated bourbons you may have heard of include these Pappy Van Winkle bourbons that collect dust on shelves, as well as Weller 12. Coming in at 134.6 proof this year and with an age of 12 years and 3 months, there are actually 3500 more bottles of WLW this year than last year making it ever so slightly more findable in the wild (yeah right). On to the sample:
It’s got a nice nose, but it’s not as strong as Stagg. It’s got a cinnamony-chocolaty-wheaty nose thing going on. This one is hard for me to describe. The flavor is hot and spicy and the burn for me is more noticeable than the flavor. The first time I tried last years WLW, I choked and almost coughed it back out. This stuff does burn me pretty good so I tried a little water. Still burned but I got some really nice cinnamon/caramel candy flavor with very little oak. The burn resides for a little while and for that reason alone I don’t think I like…..wait…..damn….that finish. It’s a really wonderful finish once the spice wears off. It’s almost like a candy of some sort, maybe butterscotch candy or caramel popcorn. It really is nice, but I still prefer the finish of the Stagg. I guess wheaters just aren’t my thing right now.
Those wheated fanatics are going to love this. I like it a lot, but I still prefer the Saz/Stagg this year.
2015 Thomas Handy
Thomas Handy is like the red headed step child of the Antique Collection. So much so that the bottle is…well…very reddish. Ok well, the foil top is actually orange, and so is the label, but orange is pretty close on the color spectrum, so please allow the analogy. Thomas Handy is a barrel proof straight rye whiskey that is aged 6 years and 2 months this year. It comes in at 126.9 proof and at over 10k bottles, it is by far the most available bottle in the collection. The reason it is the red headed step child is due to it’s age. At only 6 years, it is half the age of the 2nd oldest bottle in the Antique Collection, William Larue Weller. I mean…the word Antique does imply….well… something old. But I digress. On to the 2015 sample.
The nose is exactly what I expect in a barrel proof rye. It has a spicy but sweet smell, like a sweet dill pickle with cloves in it. It is a really nice nose, strong and powerful, almost like a scented candle you would find in Pottery Barn. On the palette it has a burn, but it’s nice. Cinnamon candy and rye bread with a butterscotch candy at the end. It’s a great flavor, and probably even more amazing in an Old Fashioned, which I have yet to try. To me, the 2015 Handy tastes almost identical to 2014.
I guess what bothers me is that I have found even better barrel proof rye over the past year at a fraction of the price and the hassle. Smooth Ambler 8 year cask strength rye to me is better, cheaper, and more available. I’ve also had Willett’s 8 year store offering rye and it also seems to have more depth and flavor, albeit at a similar price point. Even though both are probably sourced from the same MGP distillery, I prefer the taste of that over Handy. I know what BT is trying to do here, appease the rye fans and the barrel proof fans. But I just think this one is better served outside the Antique lineup.
A strong, tasty rye for sure, but I can find something similar much easier.
2015 Sazerac 18
The first Antique bottle I ever got was Sazerac 18. I got lucky and scored one in a store from someone who was trying to find a place on a shelf for it. I waited to try a sample in a bar before deciding if I would keep or trade it. And I remember the first time I tried it, in a bar in Savannah, and I yelled obscenities to anyone within shouting distance of me about how amazing it was. Thus my love affair with Saz 18 began.
About 12 years ago, the fine folks at Buffalo Trace tried some Saz 18 and determined it was absolutely perfect. They threw all the Saz 18 they had into a steel tank to prevent further aging, and they have been bottling it since then. The Saz 18 of this year is the same from last year, and the year before, etc. Some folks say that oxidation in the steel tank has effected the taste over the years, but for me, I found no noticeable difference between 2014 Saz 18 and a sample I had of Sazerac 18 from 2009. Having said that, I was anxious to try this year’s Saz 18, the last of the tanked juice before the new batch of Sazerac 18 is ready from BT.
The nose on Sazerac 18 is amazing. I mean this stuff is 90 proof like Eagle Rare 17, and the nose is so much stronger than ER. It’s so beautiful, it almost brings a tear to my eye. I wish they would make car fresheners from this scent. It’s like a musty barn without the manure smell. But sweet as well, like the barn was filled with vanilla beans. That’s it. A “vanilla bean filled” musty barn sans poop. The taste and finish are exactly as I have come to know from this amazing stuff. As I tell everyone, it’s like you are a termite eating your way through wooden stairs covered with caramel. Nothing has changed in that big old iron tank, Sazerac 18 this year is just as amazing as it has been for the past few years.
Sazerac 18 is still the one for me. If only I hadn’t tried the George T Stagg it would have gotten the highest score.