Whiskey Review: 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Judging by the late summer signage, most of the American population seems to be gearing up for pumpkin spiced everything. Well, you can have your Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (yes, that is an actual thing), but the for the rest of us, this means the release of the new Antique Collection whiskey from Buffalo Trace! Each year at this time, these super limited edition whiskies hit the shelves. Rather, some shelves. Because of their low yields, which are always blamed on thirsty angels in the warehouse, they are highly allocated to just a couple of bottles each at most locations, and those stores tend to have a wait list with a hefty price markup to match (the recommended selling price is $90 each, but good luck finding any of them anywhere near that mark). However, a good whiskey bar will also stock them for a special pour, and these are much easier to find if you know where to look. The warehouse conditions, blends and proof of the whiskeys vary each year, which makes it exciting to try the latest batch and compare notes. If you’d like to reference reviews of the past couple of years for comparison, you can find 2015 here and 2014 here.

Let’s start with the rye

Sazerac 18 Year: Previous releases were put into stainless steel tanks after their initial barrel aging. This is the first of the editions which from now on will be bottled directly from the barrel, rather than from a holding tank. There is a remarkable difference here too. The nose is immediately more woody, with lots of dusty spice cabinet aromas and leather. The palate is all spicy spice - ginger, black pepper, clove and nutmeg, though not so much cinnamon. A hint of red apple adds some fruit. It’s the driest I’ve tasted so far, but also possibly the most elegant. 90 proof

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye: This is the Sazerac rye straight from the barrel with no added water or filtration, named for the 19th century New Orleans bartender credited with changing the base spirit of the Sazerac cocktail from Cognac to rye. This year’s batch was distilled in the spring of 2010 and napped on the 4th, 5th and 7th floors of BT warehouses I, K and M. At 126.2 proof this needs some help to open up, perhaps more so than usual. It’s much more tart than in the past couple of years, getting the sides of the mouth salivating with flavors of apricot and lemon. A tight fistful of spice gets tossed in with some cocoa. It mellows out in the glass, though, especially with a big ice cube.

Now for the bourbon

Eagle Rare 17 Year: The chosen barrels for this release were aged on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors of Warehouses H and K. This one has some real weight to it, with an unexpected fruit salad of flavors - apple, pear, tart berries, banana and lemon. A dry walnut and sweet spice keeps these in check. To me, this one is often the least interesting of the bunch, but this year seems to have shed much of its shyness to keep coming back to. 90 proof

George T. Stagg: This is not only the coveted, perennial bruiser of the collection, it’s also the one that will be the toughest to find in the wild with a demand triumphing greatly over supply. It was aged in barrels stored across warehouses M, N, H, L and K which were filled in the spring of 2001. The powerful 144.1 proof of this uncut and unfiltered whiskey is so heavy I nearly pitched forward when I first tasted it. The aromas from the glass gives up lots of wood and char with some forest pinecone nuances. On the mouth, tart fruits, white chocolate and old spice (not the cologne, but ones that have sat in the cabinet for a few seasons) manage to swim through its viscous texture. It’s a real hot rod this year - watch out!

W.L. Weller: Weller bourbon with the “W.L” (for William Larue) is the limited release of this brand of bourbons. Writer Chuck Cowdery recently did some digging into the claim that they're named for the first person to add wheat into his recipe. As he points out, that wording is a bit misleading. Let’s say he was part of a company that released one of the first bourbons on the market to be a wheater, though not as its head distiller. Either way, this is typically my true crush of the lineup, and this year’s edition did not disappoint. While it also wears a super high proof (135.4), it feels the most resolved in depth of flavor and weight. That forest pine that is present in some of the others adds a pretty accent to chewy fudge and caramel, with fresh baking spices and ginger. It’s also the least tart of the bunch, though some citrus does come through like in a well made Southern pie recipe.  

Happy whiskey hunting, everyone!