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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


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


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


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


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


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

Chasing the rye unicorn… (Review of Sazerac 18)


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.


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.


It burns a little… (First Impression – 2014 William Larue Weller)

(Unnecessary Disclaimer: I don’t think it’s fair to review something I’ve only tried once, so I’ll post First Impressions instead of Reviews until I’ve had time to properly try something multiple times).

There is a phrase that bourbonites say when they drink really strong stuff, the phrase is, “it burns a little”.  I thought that sounded really cool.  It burns a little.  I can handle a little burn now and then, I’m a big boy.  Plus all I ever hear about from the big bourbonites is barrel proof, cask strength, put-hair-on-your-chest type bourbons that are the new craze.  EH Taylor Barrel Proof, Elijah Craig barrel proof, Four Roses barrel proof, barrel proof this, Cask Strength that, if I want to hang with the big boys of bourbon land, I must learn to drink with them.  And there I was at a steakhouse in Atlanta when my waiter stated, “we just got William Larue Weller in.  It’s 140 proof and only $12 a glass”.   “Damn!!” I thought, as I reached down to pull up my big boy britches.

And what a meal that had been up to that point.  We were at Chops Steakhouse in Atlanta.   I had consumed an amazing steak, a ridiculous spinach salad (made at the table no less), and thrown back 2 really awesome Manhattans, both of which were served with a delicious piece of smoked bacon btw).  And then I asked for the bourbon menu.  “We do not have a bourbon menu….but let me tell you about something special…” said the waiter.  Then he told me about the WLW.  It was a no-brainer.  Feeling like I have become a boss in my 2 months of bourboning, I asked for it neat with a second glass with a few ice cubes.

The glass arrived and I will admit it’s a pretty color.  A darker amber, nice looking consistency.  It also had a nice nose to it, it smelled like caramel and also like a nice wood fire.  I decided to try a sip neat.  It hit my tongue and my throat and I waited for some sort of flavor.  Instead, all I got was a brief searing pain.  I sat with my mouth open as I contemplated the damage I had just done to my nerve endings.  It’s the same sensation I used to get with Listerine if I hadn’t used it in awhile.  I threw in 2 ice cubes and gave it a few minutes.  Then I took another sip.  Nothing changed.  It is as if I had just swallowed a mixture of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, and mercurochrome.  Mercurochrome was this stuff my grandmother used to have.  It was bright red and she would put it on cuts and scrapes.  As little boys do, I had the dumb idea of putting that stuff on my lips one day.  Not only were they bright red, but I got the taste of it too.  And it wasn’t good.  Perhaps the Mercury in it wasn’t meant for human bodies….who knows.

I continued to add more ice and let it melt.  And again I tried to drink it.  My last sip wasn’t too bad I guess.  I got nice hints of leather, oak, honey, and something…..[suddenly interrupted by a blast of acid reflux].  Forget how it felt going down, the brief reflux I had was the worst burning sensation I can ever remember in my throat.  It is as if the 140 proof quickly aged in my stomach and exploded back up in a fiery volcanic rage.  The big bang theory was just proven to be true within the means of my esophagus.   I mean no water, no left over bread pudding, nothing could help the charring on the back of my throat.  In fact, as I finish this almost 14 hours later, it’s still not normal again.  William Larue Weller and a bone-in Ribeye were the catalysts for the creation of our universe.  Who knew?

Now to be honest, there is a reason this juice is so highly spoken of.  Had I properly had time to water it down to the right level, I bet it’s really good stuff.  That’s why I won’t call this a review, and also I will try it again at some point.  My experience was bad, but I really have to blame myself for it.  I will rise again one day and conquer the William Larue Weller.  Until then, I’ll stick with the 80-90 proof stuff, especially after a big meal, and leave my underoos on for now.