We’re a few short months away from the 2020 New Orleans Bourbon Festival (NOBF), but that hasn’t stopped founders Barbara Hirsch-Napolitano and Tracy Napolitano from visiting the country’s distilleries to pick barrels. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
I’ve had the pleasure of joining Barbara and Tracy for NOBF barrel picks before, and was actually scheduled to visit WhistlePig distillery for this one. However, my clumsy ass badly sprained my ankle just two weeks before the visit, tearing a ligament in the process. Talk about bad timing. So it was with great anticipation I awaited this release – the fruits of their labors.
WhistlePig “The Deuce” is about 12 and a half years old, bottled at 119.6 proof. It’s 100% rye distilled in Canada and aged in Vermont. I’m a big fan of WhistlePig’s standard 10-year-old bottling. It’s a big, satisfying rye whiskey. “The Deuce” takes that standard profile and cranks it up a notch or two.
The nose carries lots of butterscotch alongside hints of rye spice, vanilla, and cardamom. Sweet cane syrup hits the palate first, soon followed by waves of spiced caramel and juicy red fruit. Rye spice slowly ramps up and makes headway in the mid-to-back palate. A touch of toasted oak appears just before the long, warming finish. Vermont hugs are just as warming and welcoming as Kentucky hugs.
Not only is WhistlePig my favorite release from the brand, it’s also my favorite New Orleans Bourbon Festival barrel pick. The rye whiskey is big and bold, sweet and spicy, and has just enough flavor components in-between. It’s complex, but more importantly it’s tasty as hell. You can pick up this bottle for about $75 in high-end New Orleans-area retail shops. I think I’d better grab a second bottle. Totally worth it.
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
Starting this September, the 13th edition of Parker’s Heritage Collection will hit shelves. The 2019 limited edition release from Heaven Hill Distillery is a rye whiskey aged in heavily charred barrels. As with the past few Parker’s Heritage Collection releases, Heaven Hill will contribute a portion of the proceeds from each bottle to the ALS Association in honor of late Master Distiller Parker Beam.
Typically, the distillery utilizes a Level 3 char, but the barrels used in this release saw a Level 5 char. That equates to about 50 seconds more charring compared to a Level 3 char. The distillery states the intense charring allows the whiskey to penetrate deeper into each barrel stave.
The whiskey itself is made from the distillery’s standard rye mash bill and aged eight years and nine months] on the seventh floor of Rickhouse Y. Additionally, this release was bottled at 105 proof and non-chill filtered.
Let’s dig in.
The aromatic nose features a heavy helping of baking spices, including the usual suspects – cinnamon sticks, candied ginger, and cardamom. Those spices are complemented by dark caramel, vanilla bean, and oak as well as toasted rye grain. Dark and spicy, but not overly so. Taste-wise, we’re looking at more of the same. Initial waves of slightly burnt caramel intermingle with oak spice and freshly baked rye bread. Creamy vanilla custard adds weight. Slightly astringent oak tannins grip the back palate and the bittersweet and spicy medium-long finish.
Compared to the distillery’s Pikesville Rye, which is only two years younger, this Heavy Char Rye Whiskey is darker, heavier, spicier, and more oak driven. It’s also about $100 more expensive, priced at $149.99. I really dug my initial casual pour. However, I didn’t find the whiskey as complex as expected when tasted under scrutiny. While I found the heavy char experiment interesting, the resulting whiskey didn’t quite captivate me. The nose was great, but the palate seemed to be missing a bit of vibrancy that would have made all the difference in the world.
As it stands, Parker’s Heritage Collection Heavy Char Rye Whiskey is an interesting, enjoyable whiskey, but is it worth $150? I’d rather grab a pour of the very balanced Pikesville Rye. 7.5/10