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Whoop and Holler Review [Warning, Not Safe for Diageo]

Mark your calendars.  October 18th, 2016.

It’s the day that I stopped receiving samples from Diageo.  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe they won’t read this, maybe they won’t care.  I no longer care if they care, or the others who send me samples.  Maybe I care.  Maybe no one cares even if I care.  Anyway…

Back when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth (also known as 2014), I began blogging and receiving samples.  Back then I was a little more generous in my scoring and in my reviews than I should have been.  As a blogger, you want the samples to keep coming, and there is probably an underlying assumption that if you destroy a product in reviews, the samples will stop.  These days I’m not as concerned.

Whoop and Holler is an absolutely terrible whiskey.  I’ll get to that later.  The part that annoys the shit out of me is not how bad it is, but how this review ultimately makes no difference.  You may be reading this because someone posted it on a secondary site when someone asked if they had tried Whoop and Holler.  You may read this because of the catchy title.  Regardless of why you are here and what I say below, people are going to buy this up at a price of $179 and more.  And they aren’t going to buy it because they heard it was great, they are going to buy it to finish their nice sealed bottle collections.  They are going to buy it because it says 28 years on the front.  They are going to buy it because these days it’s not about what’s inside the bottle, it’s about the bottle itself.

Truth be told, I actually really like some of the earlier Orphan releases.  Rhetoric 21 is a fantastic bourbon, one that I like to keep a nice stock of.  I am also a fan of Forged Oak, Barterhouse, Lost Prophet, and Old Blowhard.  Diageo gets a LOT of hate for their releases, but by and large most of them are actually very good and very well priced.

And then there is Whoop and Holler.

The press release tells us very little except that it is 28 year old whiskey that was distilled at the George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee.  Before being barreled, it was chilled and mellowed with sugar maple charcoal.  It’s an American Whiskey, not a bourbon and not a Tennessee Whiskey.  As far as I know, “whiskey” only has to be aged in wooden barrels, but I don’t believe it has to be for any specified time period.  Either way, it spent probably 18+ years more than it should have in any container.

Forget every other review you see out there, they are probably lying.

It smells like you just ran through a field of pesticide.

It tastes like you just slid into second base and got some dirt and someone else’s sweat in your mouth.

It finishes like you just drank from your dog’s water bowl after he ate an entire rawhide bone and you forced yourself to not wash it down with Cheetos.

Seriously, this is garbage.  Not that it matters.  Enjoy your wonderful sealed bottle collection.

“Man, I went over to [you or someone you know]’s house and he has a sealed collection of [any series of bourbon] and it was amazing!”…..said NO ONE EVER.

It’s more like….”Man, I went over to [hopefully you or someone you know]’s house and got to try all sorts of stuff and it was amazing!”….says EVERYONE.

 

Review of 2016 Sazerac 18

First off I would like to thank Buffalo Trace for providing me samples of the 2016 Antique Collection.  I have tried all of them, and will post the other 4 later, but I felt like Saz 18 needed its own review.

See, for starters, Sazerac 18 is my baby.  She has been my baby since we met in the Fall of 2014.  I stumbled across a store employee at Total Wine looking for shelf space for a Sazerac 18.  How and why it was making it’s way to a shelf, I will never know.  But luck was on my side, we met, she came home with me, and our relationship has been steady ever since.  Over the course of the past 2 years I’ve come across a few bottles of Saz 18, always drinking them, often with my good buddies in the neighborhood.  To me, Saz 18 was the one drink I wanted people to try when they came to my house.  Oh I have plenty of good bourbon, aged, barrel-proof, etc.  But Saz 18 was the one that always reeled them in.  Their faces when that finish hit was what I always loved seeing.

Sazerac 18 had the perfect nose, taste, and finish.  It was my favorite ‘whiskey’ since I first tried it in 2014.  By far, the best finish of anything I have ever had.     I always told people it made me think I was a termite eating a caramel wooden staircase.  The finish lasted forever.  Such a perfect whiskey.

And Buffalo Trace knew it.  Back in 2003 when they tried the Saz 18 (debatable about who actually distilled it), they knew it was perfect and immediately threw it into giant steel tanks to stop it’s aging.  Since that time, every release of Saz 18 has been the same tanked stuff.  Always awesome, always the same, until now.

The tanked Sazerac 18 ran dry last year, and this year was the first year of Buffalo Trace’s new distilled Saz.  Of all the 5 Antique Collection bottles, this one has the most interest.  And with only 2500 bottles released this year, it’s also going to be the hardest to find (not that it wasn’t already).

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When I sat down with my Saz, I went immediately for a side by side with 2015.  Buffalo Trace sends most people samples in 50ml plastic bottles (less than 2 ounces).  I knew my 3 bourbon buddies needed to try it as well, so I had very small pours.  I did a side by side the first night.  I repeated it the next night with one of my buddies.  Then two days later, I repeated it with the other 2 buddies.  I did the side by side 3 times, my other buddies each did it once.

And….

 

well…

 

It was a very disappointing conclusion.

 

The new Saz 18 is not as good as the tanked stuff, not even close.

 

None of us got a very good nose from it, there just wasn’t much there.  Contrast that to the tanked Saz that you could smell from a mile away.  It’s definitely lighter than the old stuff and has a thinner mouthfeel.  The taste is similar, and it’s good.  Nice old spice and some caramel sweetness on the palette are reminiscent of the old stuff.  But it’s the finish that really breaks down.  Whereas the tanked Saz had that wonderful finish that lingered forever, this new stuff had an almost bitter finish, and definitely ethanol is the predominant taste that lingers.  I figured something had to be wrong, so I repeated my side by side two more times and it was the exact same.  We all felt the same way.  Nose is off, taste is good, finish is bad.

Now, if I wasn’t comparing to the tanked stuff, maybe it would be ok.  I didn’t have enough to try in that way.  A 50ml sample bottle doesn’t go far in my house (and after this review I may never get any more anyway).  All I know is what I love is gone, and what’s left is not something I care to continue a relationship with.

Overall Score: C+

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An unexpected surprise on the Bourbon Trail

The alarm went off at 7:40am on our first full day on the bourbon trail.  6 hours earlier we had just gone to bed completely full on pizza.  Groggy, still full, still half drunk, we all got dressed and stumbled downstairs for some breakfast (because we needed more carbs obviously).  Our big appointment of the day was 11:00 am at the Four Roses Bottling location for a barrel selection.  Early last week however, while finishing up some planning for the trip, I had asked Michter’s if it would be possible to stop by at some point over the weekend.  A friend of mine said he had had a great tour there, so I thought it would be neat to stop by, even if just for an hour.  They are only open Monday through Friday, but told me they could see us at 9:00 am on Friday.  We agreed to it and though we had considered sleeping in the night before, we made it up and out on time.

Michter’s is located in a southern suburb of Louisville called Shively.  Shively is also home to Brown Foreman, and previously was the home of Stitzel Weller (and I guess reopened now through Diageo).  The drive up to the location is pretty underwhelming.  Old, run down buildings are scattered in between some new developments, some farm land, some factories, but it mostly looks frozen in time.  Upon arriving, it looked like we had hit their corporate office and not a distillery, as all we could see was a 2-3 story square office building with windows.  We weren’t quite sure if we were in the right place, but we walked into the front door and had no idea how much our expectations were about to be blown away.

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We were met inside by Andrea Wilson, Vice President and General Manager, Jamie Alvey, SE Regional Director of Sales, and Dan McKee, the Distillery Manager.  Our first stop was a conference room where they had brought in someone to make us Kentucky coffee (coffee and bourbon of course) with some sort of tasty whipped cream on top.  There was also a giant box of fresh donuts for us.  For the first time in my life, and probably all of our lives, we were simply unable to eat a donut.  I believe the excessive carb intake over a 12 hour period had been more than we could take.  I still can’t believe we all passed up donuts, it gave the false impression that we ate healthy when really we all just had yeast billowing from our pores already.  I do know the coffee was delicious, and a great start to our morning.  It tasted like well, coffee and bourbon, two things I love.

We spent a little time learning about the history of Michter’s before the tour.  I digress at this point about the history of the distillery because I am aware that some old school bourbon guys have an issue with the name Michter’s and how the name moved from PA to KY or whatever.  I really don’t care.  I wasn’t drinking bourbon until a few years ago, and what I know now about Michter’s is what I see and what I drink today, not 15+ years ago.  I also learned that the name Michter’s itself came from the names of one of the original owner’s sons Michael and Peter.  I thought that was cool.

The tour itself was great.  Michter’s began distilling about a year ago, so everything is still really clean and new looking.  Everything is also housed within the same general area and indoors, which would make this visit doable in bad weather.  We saw the giant steel tanks holding the rare older aged bourbons.  We saw the bottling line which just happened to be bottling M20 the day we were there.  We saw the fermenters which stay sealed unlike other distilleries (I always felt a little weird seeing everyone stick their hands in the fermenter  at other places, even if it’s totally sanitary).  The original pot still is located here in the back, with plans to move it into a visitor center.  We saw the lab, we saw the rack house, pretty much the entire thing in about an hour since we didn’t have unlimited time.

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A few notes about the distillery before moving to the tasting:

  1. Everyone we met on the tour was friendly as can be.  The lab guy wanted to talk more than we had time for.  A warehouse manager joked about us trying to run out with an M20.   It looked like a great place to work.  Dan the Distillery Manager was clearly proud of the work that he and everyone else was doing at Michter’s.  I kept thinking of that commercial that said “Happy Chickens make Happy Eggs” or in this case,  “Happy People make Happy Bourbon (and rye).”
  2. Apparently in the winter, barrels do not age in outdoor rack houses because of the cold weather not moving the bourbon around.  By heating their rack house in the winter, they feel that they can get more age out of the bourbon.  It makes sense in theory, will be interesting to see how it compares in a few years (indoor vs outdoor aged).
  3. I did not see a DSP on the steel tanks with the Michter’s 20, sorry guys.  🙂

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We got to end the tour with a tasting with the man himself, Willie Pratt, master distiller of Michter’s.  He may be referred to as “Dr No”, but he was just as friendly as can be with us.  He knows his bourbon too.  We got to try all the regular Michter’s products, the M10 bourbon and rye, the barrel strength rye, and the pinnacle of them all, Michter’s 20.  We were all a little bummed that we only had 20 minutes for the tasting because we really would have loved to talk more bourbon with Willie and spend a little more time with the products.  I have never had the standard Sour Mash offering, but we really liked it for an everyday bourbon.  We had to run out pretty quickly, but not before getting a cool engraved Michter’s copper mug as a parting gift.

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As we went through the rest of the weekend from distillery to warehouse to restaurant to bar to casino boat and to wherever else we ended up, we kept talking about how great our Michter’s visit was.  They made an impression on us in a short amount of time.  It’s hard not to be a fan of a company willing to roll out a red carpet to 4 guys from Atlanta who wouldn’t even eat their donuts.  I cannot wait to see and taste the products that come out of this distillery now and into the future.  Cheers Michter’s!

 

 

Buffalo Trace responds to some rumors regarding some of their products [Press Release]

For Immediate Release

BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY CONTINUES TO EXPAND
TO MEET RISING DEMAND WITH $200 MILLION INVESTMENT

Growth Needed as Buffalo Trace Provides 4TH Annual Bourbon Supply Update

FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (May 19, 2016) Buffalo Trace Distillery is happy to be a part of bourbon’s continued rise in popularity, but this National Historic Landmark Distillery has been struggling to keep up with demand, and has made several expansions, with more planned, in response to the bourbon boom.
A significant capital investment of more than $200 million to expand the distilling operations will take place over the next seven years, including new investments in cooking, fermenting, bottling, land, and additional barrel warehouses.

Two additional barrel warehouses have already taken shape; recently acquired buildings adjacent to Buffalo Trace Distillery have been converted back to their original purpose as barrel warehouses, called “T” and “U,” which hold 50,000 barrels of bourbon each. “T” is completely full, with “U” expected to be full by June 2016.  Next up are two more barrel warehouses to be filled in the next 12 months, “R” and “S,” which will hold an additional 100,000 aging barrels total.  The buildings had been sold off in the 1980s and used as office buildings after the collapse of the bourbon industry in the late 1970s.  “It is very gratifying to see the buildings once again being used for their original purpose,” commented Mark Brown, president of Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Warehouses “N,” “O,” and “P” are also being converted back to barrel aging warehouses, now that construction is complete on the Distillery’s new distribution center, which opened last summer. Those warehouses had been used to store finished goods for many years. Now with the new distribution center, those warehouses can be filled with new bourbon barrels.  Each floor in those warehouses will hold 10,000 barrels.
In addition, Buffalo Trace Distillery will begin building new barrel warehouses in 2017 on the additional 200 acres of farmland it purchased a few years ago. A total of 30 warehouses are planned, with one new warehouse being built every five months for the next 10 years if everything goes according to plan.
All of this is in an effort to respond to the growing demand for bourbon. As far as the current inventory of bourbon at Buffalo Trace Distillery mature enough to bottle, things are marginally better than they were three years ago.  “We’re still looking at shortages across the board for all of brands, and although the volumes are increasing, allocations will continue,” said Kris Comstock, distillery spokesperson.
Unlike most distilleries, Buffalo Trace began allocating its bourbons every month across the United States to ensure each state receives some bourbon monthly. “We spread what we have around as best we can. In many instances, we are literally waiting for barrels to come of age since we aren’t willing to compromise on quality and taste,” added Comstock.
There will be more Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, and E.H. Taylor, Jr. this year. Volumes of Elmer T. Lee, Stagg Jr, and W.L. Weller bourbons will remain about the same. Hopefully barrels of George T. Stagg and Van Winkle bourbon will yield a bit more this fall than last autumn.
Buffalo Trace Distillery would like to stress that while the bourbon shortages are prevalent in all of their brands, they speak only for themselves, not for the entire bourbon industry.  “This is not some marketing tactic to scare consumers to buy more, or something we are making up. We wish we had distilled more years ago. The shortage is a real problem,” added Comstock. “We get requests for more daily. Believe me, I wish we had more to sell too!”
Due to the shortages of Buffalo Trace’s products, rumors abound. Most of these rumors have been addressed before, but still many persist, such as:
• Elmer T. Lee or Weller 12 Bourbons are going away.  False.  Both of these brands are not going anywhere. Elmer T. Lee did not take the secret mashbill to his grave, it is not becoming part of the Antique Collection, and there is no lawsuit with his heirs over the brand. What is true is that both brands have become more popular over the years, making them harder to find, but there are no plans to discontinue either brand.
• Eagle Rare Bourbon 10 Year Old age statement is going away. False. The age statement remains on the back of the bottle and there are no plans to remove it.  Due to increased production and bottling equipment limitations, the neck wrap has simply been eliminated from the packaging and the age statement was moved to the back of the bottle.
•  Other age statements on brands going away. False. There are no plans to remove any age statements from any brands produced at Buffalo Trace Distillery.
• The reason you can’t find various Buffalo Trace bourbons in stores is because they are shipping it all to China and Japan. False. While a very modest amount is sent overseas, the overwhelming majority is sold in the United States.

So while the good news is Buffalo Trace is planning full steam ahead for the future, and there will be marginally more bourbon this year than before; the bad news is that allocations will continue, with no foreseeable end in sight.  Buffalo Trace Distillery would like to thank its customers for their continued support of its whiskeys, they are doing their best to catch up to demand as quickly as they can, but time and Mother Nature cannot be rushed!

About Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery is an American family-owned company based in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. The Distillery’s rich tradition dates back to 1786 and includes such legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee.  Buffalo Trace Distillery is a fully operational Distillery producing bourbon, rye and vodka on site and is a National Historic Landmark as well as is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Distillery has won seven distillery titles since 2000 from such notable publications as Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It was named Whisky Magazine 2010 World Icons of Whisky “Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year.” Buffalo Trace Distillery has also garnered more than 200 awards for its wide range of premium whiskies. To learn more about Buffalo Trace Distillery visit www.buffalotracedistillery.com.  To download images from Buffalo Trace Distillery visit http://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/media

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Very interesting that they responded to some of those rumors.  I love transparency with this company.  And yes, hopefully those rare barrels yield more this year.  🙂

Top 10 signs you have been bit by the bourbon collecting bug.

  1. You have started to find strange locations to store unopened bottles.  The dogs crate?  She never goes in there any more.  That shelf in the basement that has your Halloween costume from 1996?  There’s plenty of space behind this clown outfit.
  2. You scroll through the photo gallery on your iPhone, and it’s more pictures of bourbon bottles than of your own family.
  3. Your Facebook news feed is all bourbon related stuff.  You missed the pregnancy announcement from your best friend because you never check real world FB any more.
  4. At some point you do post something relevant on your FB wall, and get likes from people that you don’t know or remember friending.  You then realize how many bourbon-related Facebook friends you have.
  5. You visited 4 liquor stores during your lunch break and didn’t buy a single bottle.  You are very specific in your hunting.  The old man running one of those stores recognizes you now as the strange guy who always comes in looking for dusties but never buys anything.  He is considering calling the police next time you come in.
  6. Speaking of that, you take pictures of bottles with actual dust on them and send them to friends.  “Is this dusty?”  Yes, it’s dusty as hell, but no it’s not worth anything, ok?
  7. You begin to consider a part time job to pay off your credit card bill from all the bourbon purchases lately.  Seriously, how hard could it be to be a barrista at Starbucks?  You never sleep anyway.
  8. You have bottles shipped to your work, and you sneak them downstairs into the basement so the wife can’t see.  She will never look under this couch…
  9. You may have forgotten to pack your toothbrush and your razor for your trip, but you definitely remembered to take a zip lock bag with several 2oz samples, or at a minimum you packed a bottle in your luggage.
  10. When you decide to pour a bourbon, this is you standing at your own bar for 10 minutes:

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2016 Michter’s 10 Review (from both my dog and I)

My review:

First off let me say this.  Some of the Distilleries and Non Producing Distilleries have exceptional customer support.  Buffalo Trace, Smooth Ambler, and Willett are ones that come to mind, always going above and beyond to keep their customers happy.  I had not known until recently that Michter’s is easily in this company of exceptional support.  A friend of mine discovered a crack in the wax of a very old Michter’s bottle he owned, contacted them, and they sent him a replacement immediately.  Another friend of mine had some questions about one of the products, and the President set him up with a phone call with the master distiller, Willie Pratt.  And personally from my standpoint, the company is always very responsive about product info, product samples, and are just generally friendly, good people.  I love that about a company and it makes me want to support their products even more.

I will admit I was not a big fan of the 2015 Michter’s 10.  It had a beautiful nose, but the taste and finish just didn’t match that aspect.  I thought it tasted particularly young for a 10 year old bourbon, and the finish did not linger long enough for me.  I tried it multiple times, but it just never came around for me.

When I first tried the 2016 version of Michter’s 10, I had the same feeling as the 2015.  Awesome nose, not enough on the palette and finish.  But I revisited this bottle a few times since then, and I was relieved to find that this one had opened up with air.  The nose is what you would expect from a single barrel 10 year bourbon, that nice and smooth caramel, butterscotch smell that we all have come to know and love with bourbon.  At 94.4 proof, the entry is smooth, with very little burn.  Honey and oak are easy words that come to mind on this one, and play together quite well.  Pepper comes to play on the mid palette, with a nice subtle burn, just enough proof for it to linger a little before making way to a maple syrup kind of finish.  At $120, it’s quite a hefty price tag for this bottle.  I can’t say if it’s worth it value wise, that’s for you to decide.  I can say that it opens up nicer than 2015, and I am enjoying it now.  It’s also one of the nicest looking bottles around, I love the shape and look of it, it makes a nice addition to any bar.

Coco’s Review:

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I have grown accustomed to by owner’s cologne, as every time I near him these days he smells like this stuff.  It’s not a bad smell, it’s just not what I prefer.  I prefer more of the rear end……Is that a squirrel over there?……..anyway, I think it smells ok, but I like that it makes my owner eat and drop Doritos on the floor…..Did I just hear something?……anyway back to my review.  I licked the glass when my owner set it down to go get more and I have to admit I don’t care for it.  Though not picky when it comes to solid foods, I really only like delicious toilet water.  Sweet nectar of the gods right there.  The Doritos bag is coming out, gotta go!

 

More information about Michter’s and it’s long history can be found here.

A visual review of Woodford Reserve 1838 Style White Corn

NOSE:

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TASTE:

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FINISH:

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OVERALL IMPRESSION:

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2015 Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Review

Look I get it, we all want people to rip apart Pappy in reviews.  So far this year I have seen several people say this year’s Pappy 20 wasn’t very good.  One called it terrible.  We see these few comments and we pass it on.  Why?  Because we are tired of the hype.  We are sick of the over pricing that used to happen after retail, but now appears to have diluted the retail market as well.  We hate seeing the pictures of people camping out for days at a shot of Pappy, then we hate seeing them post the bottles for sale on Craig’s List or on many of the trading sites.  We all want that bubble to burst, for the every day money flipper to move onto a new market.  We love when people open their Pappy and drink it, but we want to hear it isn’t good.

This year, a good internet based friend (IBF) of mine sent me a large sample of Pappy 20 for me to try.  He had no sample bottles, so he ended up using this to send it to me…

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Some people might be appalled by that, I think it was absolutely awesome.  For starters, there were pills in the container, not liquid, and the container was washed out well before shipping.  Plus, it creates memories, which is the best part of sharing this stuff.  It ended up being a 3oz container so I tried some 3 nights in a row and shared some with friends.  I couldn’t wait to declare it overrated AND have soft poop, but neither happened.

For starters, the nose is absolutely amazing.  Everyone who smelled it (including my wife who hates bourbon) all said the same thing, caramel.  Oak and caramel to me.  No alcohol burn.  Awesome.

It’s as delicious as it smells.    So smooth and easy to drink with no burn.  Soft wheat and caramel with some vanilla.  The finish stays with you for a little while, and it’s really just perfect.  It’s got that nice wheated bourbon finish that I like, hard to describe, but it lingers without any burn.

I’m not going to get into the debate of ‘Pappy isn’t worth secondary cost’, because to me no bottle of bourbon is worth more than a couple hundred, no matter how good it is.   No, I’d rather get into the ‘should I trade up for a Pappy 20’, or the ‘I scored one at retail and I’m not sure if I should open or trade it’ discussion.  I can’t choose for you, but make no mistake, this years’ Pappy 20 year is an amazing bourbon, one you shouldn’t be afraid to open and drink.

Grade: A/A+

 

2015 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Review

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

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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.

Score: B-

2015 George T Stagg

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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.

Grade: A+

2015 William Larue Weller

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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.

Grade: A-

2015 Thomas Handy

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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.

Grade: C+

2015 Sazerac 18

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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.

Grade: A

Why I stopped writing reviews.

Back in October when I had the idea of writing a blog, I had all sorts of enthusiasm for my new hobby.  Every bottle I bought excited me, and the unopened bottle barely survived a day before I opened it and tried it.  Samples filled my mailbox on a weekly basis, as I had begun swapping samples on Reddit.  Enough reviews and posts had landed me a few samples from distillers and marketing companies.  I was thrilled with my new hobby, it couldn’t get any better and I was hooked.

Review after review came, a few stories in between.  One of my earliest reviews had been William Larue Weller 2014.  I hated it.  It burned my mouth and my tongue and I thought I would never appreciate it.  Then I had another sample of it a few weeks ago and thought it was absolutely amazing.  Another early review of mine was Jefferson’s Ocean.  I gave it glowing praise and absolutely loved it.  I revisited my bottle recently and found that not only did I not like it, I actually poured it out.

I couldn’t understand what was going on.  Was my palette for bourbon going through some sort of metamorphosis?  Was I maturing in my tastes?  Was I not experienced enough to blog reviews?  I was a little embarrassed.  I felt like I had misguided people with my reviews, and I took some time off to expand my palate, grow my tastes, and feel like my tasting notes came from experience, not from ‘the experience’.

It took a little while to figure it out, but it isn’t really going to matter what I say.  Saying that I love something, or I hate something, or that a bourbon I tried had notes of tiramisu with brandy on top isn’t going to change your mind either way.  It’s just informational.  It’s just a way of me connecting to other enthusiasts.  At the end of the day, this is a hobby, it’s not a job.  I give my review because it’s fun.  Seeing your response to my review is just as fun.  Reading other reviews is fun.  And isn’t that what this is all about?  Fun.  Well that and getting a nice little buzz from some delicious juice.

I’m back baby.  See you soon.