The 2015 Antique Collection is Here!

The Weller 2015's got legs! Photo by Amanda Schuster.
The Weller 2015's got legs! Photo by Amanda Schuster.

For most people, the portent of fall signals a longing for crisp weather, comfy sweaters, the crunch of leaves, earth tones and pumpkin spiced everything. For me, I feel a special quiver knowing new whiskey is on its way during Bourbon Heritage Month. One of the most anticipated releases is from Buffalo Trace in Kentucky, the Fab Five of whiskey, the bourbons and ryes known as the Antique Collection.

As I reported last year, these are issued in very limited quantities and are some of the most highly coveted whiskeys of the year, allocated by just a couple of bottles each to bars and retail establishments. If you’re lucky enough to spot them in the wild, it’s worth the treat. The suggested retail price is set at $80 each, however, because of their rarity, many establishments get away with charging more for them. For various reasons, some of the Antiques yielded even fewer bottles this season, so expect some greedy pricing out there.

How does this year’s lineup compare? Here are some tasting notes:

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon: There’s a freshness to it this time with ripe apples appearing on both the nose and palate. It’s also more floral, giving off orange blossom and sharp baking spices - ginger, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. The characteristic leathery mustiness shows up at the end as the Eagle glides out into the sunset. 90 proof.

Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye: Soft, sweet and buttery like homemade brown bread. The spices are toned down a bit but still very much present, leaning toward the cinnamon and allspice with just a hint of pepper. This is the last batch of fully matured Saz 18 that was put into stainless steel a few years back for safekeeping to prevent further aging. A portion of it has been bottled each year since then, although each release manages to have its own flair. Next year, the whiskey will be bottled from barrels filled in April 1998. Go nuts, collectors (personally, I’d rather drink it!) 90 proof.

Last year's lineup, same bottle design, different proofs.
Last year's lineup, same bottle design, different proofs.

George T. Stagg Bourbon: This uncut and unfiltered cask strength bruiser tends to be the most highly sought after of the bunch, however the one I am often least drawn to. I was pleasantly surprised by this season’s offering, which to me tastes more balanced and nuanced. It’s still full, bold and sweet, but also creamier and slightly fresher. There’s loads of honey, milk chocolate malt, rich caramel, sweet and hot spices with leathery bourbon goodness tempered by a delicate floral note. It weighs in at 138.2 proof and of course there’s some serious heat to it, but it’s meant to be sipped with a big rock to fully appreciate what it has to offer. It's even more precious this season. 128 barrels were reserved for it, but some very thirsty angels reportedly “shared” 84% of the whiskey from them!

William Larue Weller Bourbon: This is the wheated recipe named for the genius 19th century distiller who first used wheat instead of rye in the mashbill. Pretty much any whiskeys in the Weller lineup are excellent. This one is stellar. It was distilled in the spring of 2003, aged on the second and sixth floors of Warehouses I, K and L. Have you ever tasted tonka beans? This whiskey contains that same heavenly all-in-one mixture of vanilla, almond, nutmeg and cherry and then imagine if it were sprinkled on soft, buttery shortbread. Lemon oil and honeysuckle round it out. Like last year, it’s at one of its highest proofs - registering at 134.6!

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye: This cask strength rye is named for the visionary 19th century New Orleans bartender who is credited with introducing a rye variation on the Sazerac cocktail (previously made with Cognac.) It’s like drinking the whiskey equivalent of a malty, spiced cocoa, with a hint of acidity and tartness to balance it out. This batch was distilled in the spring of 2009, and aged on the fourth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K and L. Beware - though it sips super smooth, it still carries a whopping 126.9 proof.