Whiskey Tasting: Antique Collection, Fall 2018

 courtesy Buffalo Trace

courtesy Buffalo Trace

What to expect from this year’s special release of limited edition bourbon and rye from Buffalo Trace.

With whiskey season off to a festive start already, it’s time for one of the most anticipated releases of the year - well five of them - the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection! This rock star status collection of mature bourbon and rye is selected each year from carefully chosen barrels across different warehouse locations at the distillery, all of which present differing climate conditions during maturation. The whiskeys are further distinguished by variances in recipe, age statement and proof.

As always, because yields of these whiskeys tend to be low, they are highly allocated to just one or two bottles each at most on and off premise locations. As a yearly reminder, retailers typically have a wait list. The suggested selling price set by Buffalo Trace - NOT the retailers - is $99 per bottle of each expression, though most purveyors equate value with demand, and prices are often set much higher. Finding them at good whiskey bars is another matter. What makes it “good” besides selection? A good bar will offer tastes of these highly coveted expressions at reasonable prices, because fine whiskey is meant to be enjoyed. To those establishments, you know who you are, I raise a toast.

So how is the Fall 2018 lineup? Let’s get tasting! Note: Sadly, this year the Sazerac 18 Year sample did not survive the shipment (although I can say it smelled awfully good), and I can’t review it here. Hope I get to taste it down the road.

The Bourbon

Eagle Rare 17 Year, 101 proof: This big story with the Antiques this year is that this whiskey has been released in its original 1974 debut strength, which is a noticeable improvement that I am told will be permanent henceforth. It was distilled in the spring of 2000 and aged in the 1st, 2nd and 5th floors of Warehouse C. There’s a pleasant tension of flavor here - with candy apples, dried apricot, unsweetened cocoa and walnut that has this surprising floral accent to it. The brawny and bittersweet textures of this whiskey mixed with that flowery element are so poetic, tasting it conjures images of flowers popping up in unexpected places, like in the middle of a sidewalk.

George T. Stagg, 124.9 proof: The ever-popular and mighty bruiser of the collection - and the hardest to spot in the wild - was filled in the spring of 2003 from a batch of 284 barrels selected from warehouses, C, H, I, K, P and Q. The hefty proof manages to retain a creamy weight to the bourbon that doesn’t dissipate too much with the heat. I taste toffee, pear and pineapple with a bit of coffee, saloon smoke and leather. A bit of water further meshes these flavors together.

William LaRue Weller, 125.7: This wheated recipe was distilled in the winter of 2006 and aged in warehouses C, I, K, L, M and Q. Of all the whiskeys this one, to me, always exhibits the most variation from year to year - that Weller is so full of surprises! This year’s release feels the most iconically wheat cereal to me, tasting like a bowl of cocoa-dusted wheat flakes with dried fruits - although much more exotic ones than raisins. Think dried figs, dates and sour cherries, with that acidity keeping the sweetness in check.

Rye

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, 128.8 proof: This season’s uncut and unfiltered straight rye made me nostalgic for old timey general stores and soda fountains. There’s a bit less of a cocoa element this time, but its citrusy flavors reminded me of lemon drop candy. It also has this delicate, sweet herbal note that triggered very specific memories for this veteran New Yorker raised on deli soul food, with a flavor that is unmistakably reminiscent of Cel-ray soda (trust me, that’s a good thing). A sharp bakery spiciness pulls the whole thing together for this whiskey that was distilled in the spring of 2012 and aged in warehouses I and L.

To compare notes from last year, which include the Sazerac Rye 18 Year, please click here.