In 2018, Jack Daniel’s released what could very well be my all-time favorite expression of theirs – Heritage Barrel. This limited edition, single barrel bottling is a far cry from the standard Old No. 7 Black Label. Heritage Barrel starts with a slowly toasted barrel. The whiskey then entered the barrel with a lower entry proof than usual. These heritage barrels rested on the highest floors of their warmest warehouse. The result was a richer, more robust whiskey.
This second bottling sees an additional year of maturation. Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett selected 200 of these barrels for 2019, so there’s not a lot to go around. JD Heritage Barrel is bottled at 100 proof and is available for $64.99. How does this release compare to last year’s?
The nose features deep notes of vanilla and oak spice. Like last year, maple syrup and a citrus note round out the aromas. On the palate, an underlying toasted oak note sees waves of rich caramel, baked banana, and baking spices. Sweet vanilla and orange zest meet a rum-like note. Tobacco and drying oak lead into a long, spicy caramel-vanilla finish.
Last year’s Heritage Barrel was my favorite American whiskey of 2018. This 2019 edition is certainly a contender this year with a touch more spice and complexity than the first release. If you’re not a Jack fan, let this expression change your mind. Jack Daniel’s Heritage Barrel was delicious last year and has only improved with time. 9/10
Barrell Craft Spirits is always in the process of pushing forward with their whiskies. Their latest is American Vatted Malt. The term ‘vatted malt’ was what the Scotch Blended Malt category used to be called. American Vatted Malt isn’t an official designation by the TTB, but it certainly describes what’s in the bottle. Barrell has blended malt whiskies from several American distilleries, including;
Balcones (Waco, Texas)
Hamilton Distllers Del Bac (Tuscon, Arizona)
MGP (Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Harvest Distillery (Valatie, New York)
Santa Fe Distillery (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Kings Country Distillery (Brooklyn, New York)
Malt whiskies from other unnamed distilleries are also included in this blend. As is typical with Barrell releases, American Vatted Malt is bottled at cask strength (117.5 proof) with no added color or flavor.
The nose is deep and robust, with hints of sweet malt, singed orange peel, vanilla, mesquite smoke, and seaweed. Taste-wise, creamy vanilla meets tangy orange and young malt, with a brininess quickly developing. Waves of spice and brown sugar pops in mid-palate. A satisfying tinge of mesquite smoke appears at the end. The finish is long and warming.
I can honestly say this is like no other whiskey I’ve ever tasted. The development in the nose and palate is astounding. Just when I think I’ve nailed a particular flavor, two more appear. It’s vibrant, complex, and most importantly delicious. I’m bringing this bottle to my next BBQ. 9/10
It’s that time of year, folks. I’m referring to the release of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. As always, there’s not a lot of this stuff floating around, and even less at the suggested retail pricing of $99. In my humble opinion, this collection represents some of the finest whiskey from Buffalo Trace. This year’s bottlings were mostly as great as expected. There was one stellar standout and another that didn’t quite hit the mark.
GEORGE T. STAGG
Generally my top choice of all whiskies in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, George T. Stagg sees its lowest proof ever this year at 116.9 proof. This is due to a large percentage of barrels coming from lower warehouse floors, which, due to its higher humidity, causes alcohol to evaporate faster. The 15-year-old bourbon also saw a high evaporation rate of 56% percent for this year’s batch.
The nose instantly takes me back to classic Stagg with hints of demerara sugar, figs, oak spice, dark chocolate and nougat. Taste-wise, dark brown sugar kicks off a loud rock concert on the palate. Vanilla, mocha, and cinnamon have their amps cranked up to eleven. The finish features slightly burnt caramel, pepper, and toasted oak spice. Dark, loud, and brooding – it’s what George Stagg is supposed to be. Don’t let the low proof fool you. This is one not to be missed. 9.5/10
WILLIAM LARUE WELLER
One of the most popular selections among bourbon fans, William Larue Weller features Buffalo Trace’s wheated mash bill. This batch was distilled in 2007, making it 12 years old. It is also this year’s highest proof whiskey in the collection, clocking in a 128 proof.
Hints of caramel and freshly baked coffee cake register on the nose, with sweet corn and roasted coffee bean undertones. The entry is a touch hot but still approachable at 128 proof. It’s also on the sweeter side, with big caramelized sugars, vanilla, and brioche notes. A touch of earthiness and baking spices on the back palate adds a bit of complexity. The finish is long and warming. I’ve never been let down by a WLW release, and the 2019 entry continues that streak. Bold, sweet flavors… what’s not to like? 9/10
EAGLE RARE 17-YEAR-OLD
Last year, Buffalo Trace decided to raise Eagle Rare 17’s proof from 90 to 101, a nod to the bottling proof when the brand was launched in 1974. It was one of the best decisions they ever made. At 17 years old, a bourbon’s oak flavors can completely take over. Not the case here. This year’s batch was distilled in 2002 and has matured on the first floor of Warehouse P.
If Stagg is dark and brooding, Eagle Rare 17 is refined and stately. Dark toffee, dusty oak, and dark chocolate define the nose. On the palate, we’re treated with hints of dark chocolate covered orange, cocoa, vanilla extract, toffee. A drying toasted oak note lingers throughout the palate and into the long, dry finish. We’re left with subtle hints of oak spice and caramel. From memory, last year’s Eagle Rare stood out from past bottlings. The 2019 edition continues to improve the brand’s flavor profile by ever so slightly toning down the oak notes and allowing other flavors to shine through. This is a case of my wishing the sample size was a full bottle. 9/10
SAZERAC RYE 18-YEAR-OLD
The oldest whiskey in the Antique Collection, Sazerac 18-year-old rye whiskey has long been a favorite of mine. There’s something exquisite about older rye whiskies. This batch was distilled in 2001 and matured on the second floors of Warehouse K and L.
On the nose, mellow rye spice meets hints of dark brown sugar, dried basil, and toasted oak. The palate kicks off with hints of vanilla and cocoa. A development of astringent toasted oak and baking spices appear soon after. Official tasting notes mention black pepper and spearmint on the finish, and they’re spot on. This year’s batch of Sazerac 18 is nice enough, but doesn’t quite hit the complexity of past releases. 8/10
THOMAS H. HANDY SAZERAC
We go from oldest to youngest. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye is 6-years-old, distilled back in 2013. This batch was, as always, bottled at cask strength. In this case, that’s 125.7 proof. The flavor profile of this rye generally favors the spirit versus Sazerac 18’s strong barrel influence.
The nose is fresh, featuring hints of buttered rye toast, vanilla, and cinnamon. Rye grain is the featured player on the palate. The entry kicks off with waves of caramel and sharp rye grain. Butterscotch and black peppercorn develop mid-palate. The long finish sees lingering notes of creamy caramel and a sprinkling of oak spice. This year’s batch feels vibrant and seems to showcase rye grain over past releases. Nicely done. 8.5/10