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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O.Z. Tyler, Bourbon and Rye

When I was a kid, Walt Disney's Bambi taught me two things.

1) The mom will always die in a Disney cartoon.
2) "If you can't say anything nice, don't say nothin' at all"

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OZ Tyler Bourbon and Rye

Purchase Info: $0.99 each for 50mL bottles from Liquor Barn Middletown, Louisville, KY

Details: 45% ABV. Processed using the TerrePURE fast filtering process.
Bourbon: "Aged a minimum of a year and a day in new charred oak."
Rye: "Aged a minimum of six months in new charred oak."

Nose: 
Bourbon: Caramel Corn. Smells very young.
Rye: Buttered corn initially. A hint of rye spice appears after a bit.

Mouth: 
Bourbon:
Gentle spice (mostly alcohol tingle), Sweet corn. 
Rye: Thin and cool in the mouth. After holding it in the mouth for a while, rye spices appear. Slightly sweet with a hint of citrus.

Finish:
Bourbon:
The finish really reminds me of the sips of Seagrams 7 and 7-up that I'd steal from my dad as a kid. Thin, grainy and just a bit longer than you'd hope for given the flavors.
Rye: Gentle and short with hints of rye spice that fade quickly.

IMAGE: A hand drawn face with a frown, tongue sticking out and x's for eyes.

Thoughts: It is my understanding that most of the TerrePURE whiskey is being either sold as bulk whiskey or bottled as store brands. Given that, you can be sure that it will end up in plenty of private labels near you. I know that Total Wine has multiple of their own brands that are made from TerrePURE whiskey. I've tried a couple. I haven't found one yet I could recommend. I bought this thinking that since this was a brand being released by the producers, that it might be a good representation of the best that they could do.

I still decided to only risk $4.

If this is representative of TerrePURE whiskey, then "Distilled in Indiana" will become the mark to look for on unknown bourbon instead of "Distilled in Kentucky." This bourbon gives Kentucky bourbon a bad name. Luckily most of the TerrePURE whiskeys I've had have been labeled as such. But maybe we should avoid all store brand Kentucky bourbons, just in case. And in case it wasn't obvious, I really do not like this. At all.

IMAGE: A hand drawn neutral face

The rye is pretty meh. It's light on rye flavor. Doesn't have the punch you'd expect from even young rye. But, hey, it is much better than the bourbon. So there is that.


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Rossville Union Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

I'm generally not a proof-chaser. 100 proof is about my limit for whiskey before I stop trying to drink it neat and start adding water or a small piece of ice to it. I like my whiskey to be comforting, and I don't find that burning my tongue on alcohol is all that comforting. 

That isn't to say that I dislike high proof whiskeys. I usually like them quite a bit. I just also usually dilute them a little. Notice the use of the word usually there? That's because every once in a while a whiskey hides it's proof a bit. It's got some bite and burn to it, but not enough to make you want to dilute it too much. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I like to drink whiskey neat when I can so that's good. But if it drinks like a whiskey 20 proof points lower...that could make for a rough next morning if you aren't careful.

Rossville Union Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: $69.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 56.3% ABV. A blend of the MGP 95% rye and the MGP 51% Rye mashbills aged 5-6 years (according to their PR firm). Made from a batch of 83 barrels.

Nose: Spearmint, pipe tobacco, oak. 

Mouth: Spicy with nutmeg, clove, and honey sweetness. Spearmint as it moves back. 

Finish: Long and warm. Spearmint, citrus, and pipe tobacco. 

IMAGE: A hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: I like this. I really like this. When neat, this is an exceedingly drinkable whiskey for a 112° proof. There is burn, but I've had the same in whiskeys of a lower proof. How does this compare to the 94° proof version? About how you'd expect. The 94° proof expression is more approachable than the Barrel Proof. They both have a similar backbone to them. I find that the influence of the 95% rye is a bit more pronounced in the 112° proof. But that's ok. I'm a big fan of those flavors, so that doesn't bother me in the least. If you are a fan of MGP ryes, I highly recommend giving this one a shot.


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Rossville Union Master Crafted Rye Whiskey

We all know that MGP makes a good chunk of the rye whiskey on the market. And I don't know about you, but I've always loved that 95% Rye, no matter who is bottling it. 

When it was first announced that MGP was buying the Remus brand and bringing it in-house, I wondered how they planned on negotiating the fact that they were basically competing with their clients. But when I tasted it, I knew. They were going to put out a solid product that didn't have the "middle-man markup" in the price. Which made me curious if they were going to try a rye. 

Like I said above, the MGP style 95% rye was the first rye I fell in love with. Not the first that I'd had, but the first that I'd loved. And I was excited when I learned they were going to start producing multiple styles of rye whiskey a few years ago. These days in addition to their famous 95% rye/5% barley mash whiskey, they also produce a 51% rye/49% barley whiskey (named 49% barley in their product list) and a 51% rye/45% corn/4% barley one (named 51% rye in the product list). 

So how will they stand out from a market full of MGP rye that isn't being bottled by them? Easy. Combine more than one of their ryes, call it Rossville Union, and sell that. So what is Rossville Union Rye? It is a blend (mingling) of the 95% rye and the 51% rye mashbills that have been aged for 5-6 years. Sounds interesting to me, let's give it a shot. 

Rossville Union Master Crafted Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: $39.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 47% ABV. A blend of the MGP 95% rye and the MGP 51% Rye mashbills aged 5-6 years (according to their PR firm).

Nose: Bubblegum, spearmint, pencil shavings, and fleeting hints of dill. 

Mouth: Good rye spice. Baking spice, spearmint, and a light white sugar sweetness.

Finish: Medium length and warm. Lingering notes of spearmint and baking spices. 

Thoughts: Well, they did it. This is both similar to and very different from the 95% Rye that everyone else and their uncle bottles. I like it a lot. It has a good mouthfeel and decent spice. But not too much spice. Very approachable. I'd buy another bottle. 


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A pair of Knob Creek Rye Single Barrel picks

Almost on a whim, I decided to go to Kentucky this past weekend. I was officially going to pick up the bottle of Wilderness Trail Family Reserve Bottled in Bond Bourbon (that we had been on "the list" to get for over four years). But honestly, the bourbon was a perfect excuse to get away and spend a long weekend with my wife. And maybe meet up with a few friends while we were at it. 

As I do every time I go to Kentucky, I did a little shopping. This time around, I was specifically on the outlook for private selections from stores where I had good luck in the past. And I did well this time around. I think I brought back around four or five different store picks. I got an Elijah Craig, a Four Roses and, some Limestone Branch Wheated Bourbon. What I didn't see was a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Rye. 

Knob Creek Single Barrel Rye is, as you might have guessed, a single barrel version of Knob Creek Rye. And much like the single barrel version of Knob Creek Bourbon, this rye comes in at a higher proof than it's batched brother. 115° proof to be exact. 

Though I can get the standard, batched version of Knob Creek Rye for $25 per 750 mL bottle, I splurged on the two-pack from Ace Spirits a while ago. $95 for two 750 bottles. Let's see if barrel selection and a 15° proof bump are worth twice the price.

Knob Creek Rye, Single Barrel: Barrels #5722 and #5858

Purchase Info: $94.98 for the pair of 750 mL bottles at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 57.5% ABV. 6 years old (not listed, but I asked Louis, the owner at Ace, for the age and he confirmed both of these are six years old, he just declined to have the info put on the bottle). 

5722 Nose: Spicy with backing spices, mint, caramel, and oak.
5858 Nose: Dusty oak and spearmint.

5722 Mouth: Mint, sharp oak, peanut, and baking spices. Quite hot. 
5858 Mouth: Nice mouthfeel. Sweet honey, mint, strong baking spices and oak. 

5722 Finish: Very warm and long. Lingering peanut butter and baking spice. 
5858 Finish: Warm and long. Lingering sharp oak, baking spice, and peanut.

Image: hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: Both of these are good, doubly so if you are a Knob Creek Rye fan. I am getting a lot more peanut in them than I would have expected, especially since I don't remember ever getting that on the batched version. As for how they compare, 5722 has a much richer nose and is hotter with a lot of peanut notes. 5858 is sweeter with a nicer mouthfeel, but the nose isn't as nice as 5722. I'm happy to have bought either of these. If I were buying just one, I'd get the 5858. 

One of the reasons I buy Rye is to use it in cocktails. I found that this one didn't work as well in typical Rye Cocktails, but worked great in ones that often call for bourbon. When I made a Sazerac, I would often mix it in a 50/50 ratio with Bulleit Rye to up the Rye notes.

As to the question of if either of these is worth twice the recent local price of the standard Knob Creek Rye. I'll just say, I'm happy to have purchased both of these once, but I'd be hard-pressed to justify a second bottle of either at current prices. If Knob Creek Rye goes back to its regular price, that might change though.


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