Chasing the rye unicorn… (Review of Sazerac 18)

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Ok so first off, this review does not matter.  It does not matter than I am deeply, madly in love with this aged rye.  It does not matter that of the all of the strong southern-named men on my shelves like Rip Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Elmer T. Lee, are not my baby.   Saz 18 is my baby.  But it doesn’t matter, you won’t find a bottle, not by walking into a liquor store.  Oh you may be a professional hunter; perhaps a Craig’s List seeker, or perhaps you got one by trading away your left kidney, but you still probably had to sweeten the deal.  Right now, if you happened across one in the secondary market, you will pay about $375.  In May, you may be paying a lot more.  Part of me feels bad for reviewing such unattainable goodness, but I just need to declare my love for this stuff and then I can move on to stuff you can actually find.

So how did I find this nectar of the gods?  Through absolute sheer luck.  I found my way into a liquor store in Atlanta during a lunch break from work one afternoon.  I was looking for plain Sazerac Rye (called baby Saz).  It’s also rare, but still findable as it gets released several times over the year.  I walked over to the rye whiskey section and ask a nice man if he had any Sazerac Rye.  In his hands was a bottle of Sazerac 18.  He told me he was looking for a place on the shelf to place this item.  Realizing what I was seeing, I squeezed my buttcheeks together to prevent sudden accidental leakage and asked if I could purchase the bottle.  He handed it to me and I quickly and prompty paid and left the store before he or anyone else could change their mind.  I sat in my car for awhile and looked at this beauty.  I had fallen in love.

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As most of you know, or some of you may not, Buffalo Traces releases a limited collection of 5 Bourbons every fall called the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  With names like George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, and Thomas H. Handy, this collection has become increasingly more popular and harder to find.  The bottles are beautiful and really allow the juice inside to shine through.  If you are lucky enough to get a hold of one or two, you know you have scored a nice treasure.    Two of the five antique collection releases are rye whiskeys (meaning at least 51% of the mash bill is made up of rye).  One is called Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye.  It is a rye whiskey that is aged for 6 years and bottled directly from the barrel with a proof this year of 129.2.  The other is a rye whiskey that has been aged for 18 years before it is bottled at 90 proof.  Now, word on the street is that in 2006, master distillers at Buffalo Trace tasted some Sazerac that had aged for 18 years and decided it was at its peak and removed it from the oak barrels and put into metal containers.  The metal containers stopped the aging process and every Sazerac 18 since then has been the exact same.  The Sazerac 18 from 2014 tasted the same as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  Regardless of how and where or when this stuff was made or bottled, it is beautiful, like angels dancing in my mouth

What’s interesting to me about Saz 18 is that the nose totally doesn’t match the taste.  To me, the nose is kind of flat.   It smells to me more like a bourbon than a rye whiskey.  A whiff of 6 year Sazerac (baby Saz) reveals more of the sweeter rye smell that I am used to.  I actually smell a good bit of corn on the 18, some rye, and some tobacco.  A deep inhale burned just a little, like some peppermint.  Again though, the nose just doesn’t set the tone for what follows.

The palate is nice.  The flavor of the rye permeates along with a minty flavor and a sweetness, like sugar or honey.  It’s so pleasant, but it quickly gets replaced by that finish….

Holy shit that finish.  This is where this thing shines.  It’s like a leathery, oaky, caramel thickness that doesn’t burn even slightly going down.  It’s so amazing.  It’s like I’m a termite and I’m eating a delicious wooden stair that has caramel spilt all over it.  In the process I also accidentally chewed up a little bit of leather and tobacco and swallowed it all down at once.  I actually don’t even taste the rye at all once it goes down, just this amazing finish that sends me into the world of termites and leather straps and wooden steps.  It’s messed up I know, but my brain just works in mysterious ways.

It is going to be a sad day in my life when I finish this bottle, for a I may not see it again until next year.  Heck even then I may not see it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try.  My baby will always be out there, and I will always be looking.

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