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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Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand 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. First up is Benchmark Bourbon from Sazerac.

It has been 1,266 days since I last posted tasting notes for Benchmark Bourbon. It wasn't a formal review as it was part of 2015's Bottom Shelf Brackets, but for the longest time, it was all I offered. Since I was out this weekend looking around at "affordable" options for bourbon, I thought it might be time to take another look at it. See if the intervening time has been kind to it. Back in 2015, I said the following:

It may only be three years old, but there is nothing to keep this from being a nice card playing bourbon.

Since I didn't talk about it last time around, let's go over a little history of the brand. The brand was originally launched by Seagram's in the late 1960s. During the 1970s, the ads for the brand told consumers to "Measure Your Bourbon Against It." By the late 1980s, the brand was up for sale and was purchased by Sazerac who used it and Eagle Rare (also purchased from Seagram's) to get into the bourbon business

These days, though it is still owned by Sazerac, it lives on the bottom shelf. It has an age statement of 36 months. It even has a few flavored spinoffs in the forms of Apple, Brown Sugar, and Peach whiskey flavored liqueurs. 

Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon

Purchase Info: $13.49 for a 1-liter bottle at MGM Wine and Spirits, Burnsville, MN.

Details: Aged at least 36 months. 40% ABV

Nose: Green Apple Jolly Rancher candy, caramel.

Mouth: Caramel, mint, and after a little while a little spice builds up.

Finish: Short with a little lingering spice.

 IMAGE: a hand-drawn neutral face

Thoughts: My thoughts on this one have been solidly downgraded as time has gone on. With my first pour out of the current bottle, I thought it was a bit of a caramel bomb with undertones of Buffalo Trace. Pretty solid, though more of a "good enough" bourbon than a "good" one. When I did the tasting a few days later, I found it to be a little delicate in the mouth, but it was fine. Subsequent pours have just been really meh. While it might make an ok card playing or tv watching bourbon, for the price, I'd stick with Evan Williams Black or Bonded unless you really prefer those Buffalo Trace undertones. 


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1792 Bottled in Bond

I've been reading a lot of old 1950s and 1960s magazines lately. I'm reading them for the history but, as I create ads for a living, I can't help but be struck by the advertisements as well. And of course, these particular magazines have a lot of booze ads in them. 

Knowing that the bourbon crash was only a few years away, I am struck by the differences between the bourbon ads and the ads for clear spirits. The bourbon ads highlight luxury and impressing those you entertain. They are full of photos of men in tuxedos and women in fancy dresses. They look really old-fashioned. By contrast, the ads for clear spirits are fun. Even half a decade later, they still have a freshness about them. It isn't hard to see why bourbon lost the war for the 1960s and 70s drinker. 

I did find it interesting though that bourbon was advertising itself as a luxury item for the ultra-rich and swanky. When I first started drinking alcohol, you could barely give bourbon away. When I first started drinking bourbon, it was an affordable luxury. You could get something old and really delicious for $30-40. Of course, these days the pendulum has swung back again. I saw an article touting an 11-year old bourbon from a major producer for $110 today. $10 per year of age, from the big guys, seems a bit ludicrous to me, but then there is a reason I'm the guy who runs the "Bottom-Shelf Brackets."

Luckily for those of us who drink on a budget, there is one producer who seems to have found their niche producing affordable limited edition bourbons. Sazerac's Barton distillery has been quietly putting out delicious, affordable bourbon after delicious, affordable bourbon in the 1792 line. Tonight I have a glass of the 1792 Bottled-in-Bond. Let's see how it tastes. 

1792 Bottled-in-Bond

Purchase info: $39.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV. Distilled and bottled at DSP-KY-12. Non-age stated though the bottle says "well-aged."

Nose: Almond, Caramel, and cinnamon.

Mouth: Good heat with cinnamon and nutmeg followed by brown sugar and mint. 

Finish: Spicy and long with a heat that sort of creeps back up on you right in the middle of the chest.

 Image: a hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: This is a tasty bourbon. Spicy and warm, it doesn't have the almost overwhelming heat of the 1792 Full Proof. Instead, it feels like a warm blanket straight from the dryer: pure comfort. It won't knock your socks off, but then you won't need to mortgage the house to afford it either. It sums up what brought me to bourbon in the first place: a tasty, affordable, luxury. 
 


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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