Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2018

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank the folks at Buffalo Trace for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts are just my opinion.

I recently got samples of this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This post will be long enough, so tonight I’m going to forgo all the extremely witty banter I normally provide before the review and instead jump straight into the reviews.

But first, a moment of silence for my sample of Sazerac Rye 18 year old. I knew something was wrong when the box UPS handed me was wet. Not being one to cry over spilled whiskey, I posted the photo on Instagram and got a few likes. I thought briefly about tasting the foam padding but decided that a tongue full of glass probably wouldn’t taste all that good, even though it smelled delicious. I guess sometimes the Whiskey Fairy just wants a dram for herself.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old

Purchase Info: This sample was generously provided by Buffalo Trace for review purposes. Suggested retail is $99.99 per 750 mL bottle.

Details: 17 years old. 101° proof (up from previous years’ 90° proof). Distilled in the Spring of 2000. Aged on floors 1, 2, and 5 of Warehouse C.

Nose: Caramel candy, allspice, cinnamon candies, and almond.

Mouth: Nice mouthfeel with floral, caramel, leather and oak notes.

Finish: Nice and long. Ripe berries and floral notes transition to oaky notes of tobacco and dark chocolate.

Thoughts: I like this, but I don’t love it. I’m not a huge fan of bourbons once they reach their lower- to mid-teens. I am loving the floral notes on it, but there is a bit too much oak on this for my palate (my wife loved it though, she’s a fan of old oaky bourbons).

William Larue Weller

Purchase Info: This sample was generously provided by Buffalo Trace for review purposes. Suggested retail is $99.99 per 750 mL bottle.

Details: 125.7° proof. Distilled in Winter 2006. Aged in Warehouses C, I, K, L, M and Q.

Nose: Very sweet. Chocolate covered cherries, the nougat from a Milky Way bar, vanilla, cinnamon.

Mouth: Cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, oak and campfire smoke.

Finish: Long and warm. Cinnamon and chocolate covered cherries linger.

Thoughts: Nice and warm. Very sweet. I like this one even though I’m not typically a fan of wheated bourbons.

George T. Stagg

Purchase Info: This sample was generously provided by Buffalo Trace for review purposes. Suggested retail is $99.99 per 750 mL bottle.

Details: 124.9° proof. Distilled in Spring 2003. Aged in Warehouses C, H, I, K, P and Q.

Nose: Caramel, rich leather, ripe berries and pipe tobacco.

Mouth: Sweet with caramel, brown sugar, leather and pipe tobacco.

Finish: Long and warm. Very sweet. Lingering smoke and tobacco.

Thoughts: Rich is the first word that comes to mind on this one. Delicious is the second. I really like this one. It’s my favorite of the three bourbons.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Purchase Info: This sample was generously provided by Buffalo Trace for review purposes. Suggested retail is $99.99 per 750 mL bottle.

Details: 128.8° proof. Distilled in Spring 2012. Aged in Warehouses I and L.

Nose: Spearmint, cinnamon, hints of anise and banana bread.

Mouth: Caramel, spearmint, very hot, great mouthfeel.

Finish: Long and warm. Spearmint, baking spices and just a touch of dill linger.

Thoughts: This is my favorite of the four. The bourbons were mostly sweet and this is a nice change of pace from that. It’s very warm, but not overpoweringly so even at full strength. I like this one a lot.

Thoughts:

This was my first time sitting down and tasting across the BTAC lineup (or, more accurately, 4/5th of the lineup). I’d had most of them in the past, but only one at a time. It was interesting to see how similar the bourbons were, even though there was a difference in proof and mash bill. There is some “Buffalo Trace Flavor” that comes through on each of them. It’s a testament to their quality control that the “house” flavor is present in both the bourbons distilled in our current decade and in the bourbons that were distilled in the decade previous. It means they aren’t messing around with things.

Thomas H. Handy is simultaneously the only one of the line I’d never tasted and the only one of the line I’ve ever seen on a retail shelf (years ago, before this year’s release was even distilled). It is a big, bold rye that has all the minty and herbal notes that I look for in a good rye. I was really impressed with it.

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I was impressed with them all in fact. I think they are worth every penny that Buffalo Trace is recommending they sell for. But based on the relative availability and quality of other bourbons in that price range, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable paying inflated retail or secondary prices for them.


UPDATE:

Buffalo Trace was kind enough to ship me a replacement bottle of the 18-year-old Sazerac Rye. My notes for it are below:

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

Purchase Info: This sample was generously provided by Buffalo Trace for review purposes. Suggested retail is $99.99 per 750 mL bottle.

Details: 90° proof. Barrels filled in 1998.

Nose: Mint, bubble gum and almond.

Mouth: Follows the nose with mint, bubblegum and almond, then adds cardamom and nutmeg.

Finish: Long and warm with lingering mint, cardamom and almond.

Thoughts: I preferred the Handy Rye over this, as I preferred the relative “brightness” that it’s youth provided. That said, I also like this one a lot. When compared to the others in the range it is in the lower half.


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Angel's Envy Distillery Tour, Louisville, KY

On my last visit to Kentucky, I made a point to visit a few of the distilleries that had popped up in the last few years. It had been a few years since I had gone on a distillery tour (there are only so many distilleries that are worth touring) so I figured that they time had come to visit a couple newbies.

Upon entering the Angel’s Envy distillery, you are greeted at a desk, checked into your tour and invited to wander the gift shop until your tour starts. It really is a lovely gift shop with exposed brick, honey color wood, and black ironwork. There is a story about why the elevator in the back has the name Vermont American above it. Apparently parts of this building used to be a Vermont American plant.

Fun fact, my father worked for a Vermont American plant in northern Wisconsin making drill bits for many years before the plant was shut down and the jobs moved elsewhere.

The tour starts by taking the elevator under the Vermont American sign up to the cooking and fermentation area. The exposed brick of original factory is still a major design element, accented by the wood and metalwork from the gift shop.

The fermenters are closed fermenters, though they will open one up for you to look in.

If you turn around while they are describing the cooking and fermentation process, you get a nice look at their column still. More on that area later.

The mashbill for Angel’s Envy is (very coincidentally, wink wink) the same as Old Forester and Woodford Reserve. I guess it makes sense that it would be since Angel’s Envy was founded by the former Master Distiller of Old Forester, Lincoln Henderson. It was what he liked, knew, and reportedly the whiskey he bought to make the sourced version of Angel’s Envy that is currently for sale (aged stock from this distillery won’t be ready for a while).

After going through the cooking and fermentation area, we were taken to the still room. If you aren’t looking at the still, you will see a nice view of the Downtown Louisville skyline from the window.

The still area is dominated by the copper “Spirit Safe” style display. It was designed to be in the shape of an Angel’s Envy bottle and if all the computers go down, you could crack that thing open along the seam and stick a hydrometer in if need be.

After the still area, we made our way over to the barrel filling area. This is one of the tanks that hold the new make as it comes off the still. I liked the phrase stenciled on it. I feel like that would make a good tee shirt for me.

As you walk out of the barrel filling area, you will notice the barrels waiting to be filled. They do not have an aging area on site, so these will be trucked to another location to age after they are filled.

Here the tour steps a little out of order on the process. The bottling line is between the filling and dumping areas. It wasn’t being run very fast while I was there. Sounds like that might be a usual thing for them.

Of course, the thing that makes Angel’s Envy what it is, is the barrel finishing that the bourbon goes through before bottling. The aged bourbon is brought to the facility and put into barrels that had previously been used to age port wine. In this stage, they leave it for a relatively short period of time (think months not years) stacked on pallets. This step is done on site.

I love being able to see barrels being dumped. I’m not sure why but it always gives me a little thrill. We were lucky enough to catch them dumping some just as we left the barrel finishing area.

And of course the tour ended with a tasting. They only taste the standard Angel’s envy release. But they give you a generous pour (for a tour) before inviting you to put a message into a tube in their wall, buy a cocktail in the on-site cocktail lounge or wander around the tasting area.

The tasting area is dominated by a very large split log table. Two tables were carved from this one log that had been ripped down the center. It was an impressive sight. The tasting room followed the same honey wood and black metal work as the rest of the distillery. It was beautifully done.

I was super impressed with the Angel’s Envy tour. They were very transparent about both the sourced whiskey they are currently bottling as well as the stuff they are making now. I felt extremely welcome on the tour. It was entertaining and beautiful. All in all, I’d recommend this one.


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Booker's Bourbon: Batch 2018-03 "Kentucky Chew"

It’s the last post of Bourbon Heritage Month. Tonight we finish up the month by revisiting a bourbon that was provided to me specifically to coincide with Bourbon Heritage Month.

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank Jim Beam for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. As always, all thoughts are just my opinion and should be taken as just that.

Do you ever get the feeling that life is flying by? That maybe life is too short to hold grudges? I do, and I have for a while. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to stop me from holding a few grudges anyway. Which seemed odd to me, until I come to the realization that I’d been hiding the grudge, even from myself. Let me set the stage for you.

It was 2016. I, like many bourbon lovers, had been getting frustrated by the rising prices and disappearing age statements for a while. It felt like one punch in the gut after another as one previously affordable bourbon after another either disappeared, lost their identity (age), or just plain became priced out of reach. Affordable luxury was how I, and many others, had always thought of bourbon. And then the announcement of the 2017 Booker’s Price Increase (from $59.99 to $99.99) came. There was understandable anger. It had been communicated in such a way that almost made it sound as if the near doubling of the price was being done just because they could.

But the company either changed their mind or their messaging (maybe both) and though a price increase was still there, it wasn’t as big. It was actually reasonable. From an MSRP of $59.99 to somewhere between $69.99 and $74.99 wasn’t terrible considering the newly supplied explanation of constrained supplies and reduced numbers of batches. Unlike many others, I wasn’t angry. That’s capitalism, I thought. They are free to charge what they want and I am free to either buy it or not based on if I think the price is fair.

But unfortunately, even though I thought that the latter price increase wasn’t too bad, a funny thing had occurred: the first announcement stuck in my head. And as such, in my mind, Booker’s moved from an affordable luxury at $50-60 (depending on the retailer) to a bottle that was priced in the range of limited edition bourbons that I only bought once per year or less.

It wasn’t true, but that’s what I mean about hiding the grudge from myself. Obviously just by looking at the shelf I knew that I wasn’t going to need to drop a hundred bucks on a bottle. But for some reason, I never thought of it because that $99.99 price was stuck in my brain along with the hard feelings that came with how it had been originally communicated.

But time passes. Grudges, even hidden ones, lose their sharp edges. And when the PR folks for Beam Suntory reached out to me to see what I was planning to do for Bourbon Heritage Month and offered a review sample of Booker’s, I took it. It had been a few years since I had purchased one and I thought it might be nice to see how it was coming along.

This particular batch was named for the now famous “Kentucky Chew” method of evaluating a bourbon originally made famous by the brand’s namesake Booker Noe. It is essentially the practice of moving the bourbon all around your mouth so it gets into all the little nooks and crannies, with the effect of making it looking like you’re chewing your bourbon. The batch was released in August 2018.

Booker’s Bourbon: Batch 2018-03 “Kentucky Chew”

Purchase Info: This sample was graciously provided by Beam Suntory. The suggested retail price is between $69.99 and $74.99 for a 750 mL bottle. 

Details: 63.35% ABV. Aged for 6 years, 4 months, 12 days.

Nose: Oaky notes of leather and vanilla. Spicy notes of allspice and cinnamon. Sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel.

Mouth: Brown sugar and baking spices.

Finish: Nice and long with a good “bloom” of heat and flavor after swallowing. Lingering notes of of green apple and baking spices.

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: This is a great whiskey. Compared to other bourbons in it’s price range, this is still one of the best “regularly available” bourbons on the market. I think this bottle finally laid the last remnants of that hidden grudge to rest. I’ll be adding Booker’s back into the rotation of barrel-proof bourbons I buy.


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Old Forester Distillery Tour at the Old Forester Distilling Co., Louisville, KY

It's Bourbon Heritage Month and I just got back from Kentucky so I thought it might be a good time to highlight some Bourbon Fun. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the Old Forester Distilling Co. A new visitor experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville, KY.

Hey! I’m back from my annual trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival…only this year, I really didn’t go to the Festival all that much. I only went to two events that were officially part of the Festival, and only one was a paid, ticketed event. It’s odd, but I might be falling out of love with the KBF. All of the prices have increased to the point where I just don’t want to pay them anymore. Which, on one hand, really sucks. I don’t like to be priced out of things I enjoy (welcome to bourbon in 2018…amirite?) But on the other, it did allow me to have a lot of other experiences that I normally wouldn’t have had time for.

Experiences like tours of some of the new distilleries (or distillery-like experiences) that have popped up since I last took the time to wander away from Bardstown. One of the tours I took was of the new Old Forester Distilling Co. experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville.

When you walk in the door, you are immediately greeted by a large brick and wood room that contains a desk for checking into your tour (or buying tickets) and a waiting area. This is where your tour will start. Depending on how early you arrive, you may decide to visit the gift shop. they will certainly let you, but in true Disneyland fashion, you will also exit the tour into the gift shop as well. So when you give them your money is up to you.

If you choose to visit the Gift Shop before you take your tour, you will be greeted with the best view of the tall copper column still (as well as branded merchandise and multiple bottles that are available for purchase).

By a strange coincidence, one of my fellow tour-takers was a distiller from England who was there as a guest of Brown-Forman and Campbell Brown, the President of Old Forester (who also tagged along for a good portion of the tour as well). This meant that not only were there a few more geeky questions than you normally find on a typical bourbon distillery tour, but we also got a few more candid and honest answers than you would usual too.

Above is the entry to the official “tour area” this area talks about their mash bill and the benefit of Kentucky water.

One of the especially candid answers we received on the tour related to the fermenters (shown above). When the English Distiller (whose name or company I have forgotten) asked why they had open fermenters instead of closed ones, Mr. Brown answered that it was because it provided a better visitor experience and that they have closed fermenters in the big distillery. I enjoyed the candor. It’s refreshing to go on a distillery tour and not be overloaded with marketing speak.

When we stopped to take a look at the still, which I had already seen in the gift shop, I turned around and looked at the other wall which featured these windows showing where spirit at various parts of the distilling run would be visible. One thing I liked about the tour, was that it was really set up to be an education in to how bourbon is made for the average consumer. They wouldn’t have had to have made all the extra graphics to explain what was going on, but they took the time to do it. Nice touch.

Of course the highlight of the tour was the barrel making area. And not just because we happened to have one of the cooper’s grandfather and other older relatives on the tour with us (though watching the young kid sneak up to surprise an elderly great-aunt with a hug was heartwarming as well). Once again, they showed all the steps and let us know which pieces of equipment were state-of-the-art and which were from a previous era of barrel making. More refreshing candor. Some things were just there because it made a better show on a small scale, not because they were efficient on a large scale.

This was our tour guide (I forget her name because her hair covered her name tag and I’m bad with remembering names at the best of times). In any case, she was excellent. Normally, I have a conversation with myself regarding the things they are over simplifying or just plain getting wrong. I didn’t have that conversation here. She was very knowledgeable and I don’t remember a single of noticeable error.

This was a pretty cool machine. It was a hydraulic press that put the hoops on the barrel. I don’t remember seeing anything like this when I toured Independent Stave a few years ago, but my memory is notoriously bad (and it may have been behind the scenes as well). Still, having been a metal-stamping press operator for a few years after high school, this looked like much more fun (and much less noisy) than those were. It even had a JoyStick!

Of course after you build a barrel, you need to test it. And this was where my fellow tour taker’s nephew/grandson came in. He basically adds some water, fills it with air and looks for bubbles.

This is a fairly small distillery by big bourbon standards, but it is a working distillery none-the-less. And they say that some of the liquid that is being made on sight is also being aged on site. Not sure how I’d feel about all that flammable liquid being there, if I was Duluth Trading Company next door.

And this is a bottling line. Once again, it seemed like it was there so you could see a bottling line and learn what they do. It was running pretty slowly compared to others I’ve seen in other distilleries.

And no tour would be complete without a tasting at the end. This tour offered tastes of Old Forester 86 proof, Old Forester Statesman, and Old Forester 1897 bottled in Bond.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. There was little, to no, “Marketing BS” and the entire place was set up not only to show you how bourbon was made, but also to help you learn about how bourbon is made. Plus it was fun! And honestly, that’s just as important at the end of the day.


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Corner Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon: Revisited

It's the first week of Bourbon Heritage Month so I thought I'd take a look back and revisit a couple of older brands. Tonight's is Corner Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Though Corner Creek is older for a "modern" bourbon brand, it isn't a historic one. The brand has been around since 1988. In his 2004 book, Bourbon Straight, Chuck Cowdery wrote about it being a "4-grain" bourbon. Though he admitted it was likely a mix of Rye and Wheated styles. He liked it when he wrote the book.

I did not agree when I published my first review in 2012. 2,088 days ago to be exact, on December 19, 2012. It was only the 8th whiskey review I'd published on the site. But it might have been one of the earlier sets of tasting notes that I'd put down to paper since in that post I was publishing tasting notes from a year prior to that. At the time, I was not a fan. Though I was too timid in yet to say so and gave it a "meh" rating. 

At the time of my review, it was sold in a tinted green wine bottle. It was still sold that way when I purchased my first bottles sometime in 2010/2011. I'm not sure who the brand owner was at the time, but the label was submitted for approval by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (Willett) out of Bardstown, KY. Not surprising since they did a nice bit of business sourcing whiskey and bottling it for brands other than their own. 

These days, the wine bottle is still around, but it is now clear. I'm still not sure who the brand owner is, but the most recent label approval was submitted by Kentucky Artisan Distillers out of Crestwood, KY. These are the same folks who house the Jefferson's Bourbon Visitor Center and, I assume, have a hand in that brand as well. The name has changed slightly in the intervening years as well. Until the most recent label approval, this was always known as Corner Creek Reserve Bourbon Whiskey. Now it is Corner Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Corner Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Purchase Info: $29.99 for a 750 mL bottle at MGM Wine and Spirits, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 44% ABV. Non-age Stated. 

Nose: Fruity and aromatic. You can catch the fruitiness on this one as you pour it into the glass. Along with that are dried grass, mint, and caramel. 

Mouth: Slightly underripe peaches (just before they turn into a sweet juicy mess), caramel and nutmeg. 

Finish: Medium length and dry. Lingering fruit and nutmeg.

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: I like this much more than I did 6 years ago. And I don't think that is as much of a reflection on the relative bourbons as it is on how my palate has changed while I've been writing here. I'm much more open to flavor profiles that are out of the ordinary than I was back then.

This is certainly a "change-of-pace" bourbon, but it isn't a bad one. In that respect, it reminds me of Jefferson's. Both are a little outside the typical bourbon flavor gamut. It is very fruity, almost reminding more of a fruit brandy than a bourbon. Overall, I like it. I'm upgrading this to a "Like" rating.


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