The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has just started shipping out, which means stores will start holding lotteries or calling a handful of loyal customers with the news. Three bourbons and two ryes make up Buffalo Trace Distillery’s most anticipated special releases. Suggested retail pricing is $99 for each bottle, though I think the number of stores offering these bottlings near that price dwindles with each passing year.
GEORGE T. STAGG
Usually my favorite of the bunch, George T. Stagg is a 15-year-old powerhouse of a bourbon. This year’s proof is one of its lowest ever at 124.9. Barrels were laid down in 2003 in warehouses C, H, I, K, P, and Q. The batch consisted of 284 barrels, but with a 51.15% evaporation loss, there’s not a lot to go around. The nose features dark sweets, cocoa, cigar box, and oak spice. Dark and potent, Stagg starts with a dark chocolate-flavored caramel chew which then develops lovely notes of nutmeg and allspice, toasted oak, and coffee liqueur. There is sweet tobacco on the long finish. Big, dark, and chewy while remaining balanced is how I’d describe this Stagg release. Don’t let the lower proof deter you from a purchase. 9/10
EAGLE RARE 17-YEAR-OLD
Harkening back to the brand’s launch proof, this year’s Eagle Rare 17 is bottled at 101 proof instead of the usual 90. Only 45 barrels from three floors in Warehouse C were selected for this release. 89.5% of the original whiskey was lost to evaporation. Is there a lot to go around? You do the math. Eagle Rare 17 (actually 18 years old at the time of bottling) features hints of spiced caramel, butterscotch, orange curaçao, and old oak on the nose. Taste-wise, this bourbon plays it dark and dry – and not in a bad way. A bittersweet dark chocolate kicks things off, with oak spice and vanilla pod following. French roast coffee beans develop soon after, ushering in a wave of drying oak. The finish is dry, with sweet oak and a touch of fresh mint. The higher proof has made a special whiskey even better. Beautifully aged and exquisitely bottled, Eagle Rare 17 is simply delicious. 9.5/10
SAZERAC 18-YEAR-OLD RYE
Some bottlings of this ultra-aged rye whiskey can be very special. This year’s release, distilled in 1998 and assumingely tanked for the last couple of releases, is bottled at 90 proof. That means Sazerac 18 is the lowest proof whiskey in the entire collection. On the nose, rye spice combines with a slew of baking spices, along with hints of brown sugar and oak. The palate is stately and dry, with hints of toasted oak, tobacco, vanilla pod, and oak spice. The finish is dry and spicy. This year’s release is nice overall, but falters a bit on the palate – which seems a bit too oaky compared to past releases. That said, I’d still look for a bottle. 8/10
WILLIAM LARUE WELLER
It seems that in recent years, this barrel proof Weller has been one of the most sought after whiskies of the collection. This year’s edition comes in at 125.7 proof. One hundred forty nine hand-picked barrels make up this release, though slightly more than half of the original whiskey was lost of the angel’s share. The nose reminds me a bit of a confectionary shop, with hints of dried fruit, vanilla toffee, brown sugar, and spice cake. Weller tastes of brown sugar, fruit preserves, oak spice, cinnamon, and vanilla pod. The long finish carries a hint of slightly burnt sugar and mint. Wow. I agree with Fred Minnick in that Weller might be the star of this year’s superb collection. 9.5/10
THOMAS H. HANDY SAZERAC RYE
The youngling of the collection, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye is no slouch. This year’s release is comprised of 73 barrels. At only 6-years-old, does it really belong in something called the Antique Collection? Nonetheless, the 128.8 proof rye is pretty good. The nose is full of aromatic rye spice, vanilla, and some botanicals. Aromatic bitters, even. Taste-wise, brown sugar and spice lead the charge, followed by waves of vanilla, cloves, and allspice. There’s a vibrancy here missing in the rest of the collection, but it’s not as “green” as the couple of past releases. The long finish features black pepper, cardamom, and a touch of caramel. 8/10
For this year’s collection, the bourbons shined. Weller is phenomenal and top of the class, Stagg remains steadfast, while an improved Eagle Rare 17 is exquisitely matured. The two rye whiskies were just a notch below, but still utterly delicious. All five whiskies of the 2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection come highly recommended.
Thanks to Buffalo Trace for the samples. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.