whisky review

2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Review


Easily among the most sought after whiskies year after year, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is just beginning to hit store shelves.  Okay, these whiskies don’t make it to the shelf.  It is rare when they do, especially close to the suggested retail price of $90.  They generally represent some of the finest whiskies made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  Let’s break down this year’s releases.

SAZERAC 18

The oldest whiskey in the collection, Sazerac 18-year-old rye whiskey generally represents all I love about an old rye.  This year’s release was distilled in spring 1998, and, according to Buffalo Trace, was put into a stainless steel tank to prevent further aging.  The barrels here are most likely from the same batch as last year’s release.  

The whiskey is stately and sumptuous.  There is a cornucopia of baking spices on the nose, along with brown sugar, dark fruit, leather, and oak.  The palate closely follows the aromas – dark brown sugar, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon.  The leather and oak remind me of a small wood panel-lined room full of old books.  A tannic grasp on the back palate is welcomed after what comes before it.  The long finish features notes of oak spice and caramel.

Sazerac 18 has always been a delicious whiskey, and I’m happy to say the 2017 release is no different.  From memory, this release is similar or slightly better than last year’s.  A stellar whiskey worthy of your time and attention.  Please, savour this one slowly.  9/10

GEORGE T. STAGG

Barrel proof?  Check.  Fifteen years old? Check.  A powerhouse of the Antique Collection?  You bet.  This year’s Stagg release comes in at a modest 129.2 proof.  The whiskies of this collection are generally extremely hard to find in stores, much less at or close to the suggested retail price.  Good news – 2017 is going to see a generous increase in the number of bottles of George Stagg released.  Does that mean it is going to be easier to find one?  I’d like to hope so, but the reality will likely prove otherwise.

The nose here is full and rich.  There’s lots of oak spice (though not oaky, per se), dark brown sugar, cigar box, dark fruit and burnt orange peel.  Big, bold, chewy flavors of slightly burnt sugars, spice cake, sun-baked tobacco, dark chocolate and barrel char.  This release of George Stagg isn’t overtly sweet, but does carry a nice complimentary earthiness to balance things.  One thing to note is the oak.  While an important element of Stagg’s flavor profile, this whiskey is not over-oaked whiskey this year.  Balance is key this year.  The finish is long and bittersweet, leaving hints of dark chocolate, oak spice, and dark toffee.

It’s good.  Great even.  I liked last year’s bottling of George Stagg, but this 2017 edition is a moderate improvement.  The big and bold flavors Stagg fans crave are here in a very balanced presentation.  Wow.  9/10

EAGLE RARE 17

I generally consider Eagle Rare 17 the sleeper of the collection.  It is the oldest of the three bourbons at 17-years-old.  Often overlooked by whiskey fans for some of the barrel strength offerings, Eagle Rare 17 is bottled at a modest 90 proof.  This year’s release is more limited than usual.  Thirty six barrels were selected, but there was a high evaporation loss of 89.5%.  That means only a little more than 10% of the original whiskey remained in barrels.  The angels were especially greedy.

The whiskey itself offers complex aromas of oak, dark caramel, freshly rolled cigar, vanilla and spice.  There is burnt sugar and oak spice on entry, followed by leather and firm but not dominating oak tannins.  A bit of vanilla and cloves help temper the oaky note.  The finish is dry with sweet oak and tobacco.

Eagle Rare 17 is the oakiest whiskey of the bunch, but this year’s bottling shows some restraint compared to previous releases. It is not a complete oak fest.  Balance seems to be a theme across the entire 2017 collection.  An elegant and dry ultra-aged whiskey from Buffalo Trace.  8.5/10

WILLIAM LARUE WELLER

The popular barrel strength 12-year-old bourbon is a “tame” 128.2 proof this year.  Distilled from Buffalo Trace’s wheated mash bill, William Larue Weller is usually the most balanced whiskey in the collection.  It’s also sweeter than the rest.

The rich nose shows hints of toffee, vanilla creme brûlée, cinnamon stick, dried apricots and a touch of lavender.  On the palate, brown sugar and nougat kick things off.  Waves of vanilla are contrasted by oak spice and leather.  The long, warm finish is a bit oakier than expected.

The 2017 edition of William Larue Weller is solid, but not phenomenal.  I didn’t this year’s release as complex as the last few bottlings.  The nose is fantastic, but it falls a bit short on the palate.  That said, I am not dissuaded to buy a bottle.  I would pick one up in a heartbeat if given the chance (at retail price).  8/10

THOMAS H. HANDY

This 6-year-old rye whiskey’s inclusion in the Antique Collection still baffles me.  The next youngest whiskey is double the age of this one.  There’s nothing “antique” about Thomas H. Handy Rye.  Okay, venting over.  Uncut and unfiltered, the 2017 edition of Handy is bottled at 127.2 proof. What you’re looking at is basically is select barrels of Sazerac Rye at cask strength. Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.

The nose is hot at first.  A little airtime reveals rye spice, vanilla, toffee and dill.  Taste-wise, the vibrant whiskey features hints of buttered rye toast, cinnamon, cloves, and maple syrup.  There is a slightly sharp note here I find in a lot of young rye whiskies.  The finish definitely warms the chest, leaving behind sweet and spicy notes.

On its own, Thomas H. Handy is fine as a barrel strength version of Sazerac Rye.  As part of the Antique Collection, Handy is definitely the weakest entry.  The 2013 release still sets the standard, and the 2017 bottling falls a bit short.  Though it’s tasty, there isn’t a lot of complexity here.  Otherwise, it does make a helluva Sazerac cocktail.  7/10

Thanks to Buffalo Trace for the samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Highland Park Valkyrie Single Malt Whiskey Review


There's something about the way Highland Park intermingles sherry casks and their signature heather-filled peat that excites me. It's one of my favorite flavor combinations. With their new Valkyrie release, the folks at Highland Park have ramped up the smokiness with the addition of more peated malt. Though Highland Park traditionally use only ex-sherry casks for its whiskies, Valkyrie sees a majority American Oak sherry-seasoned casks and ex-bourbon casks.

The bottle was designed by Danish designer Jim Lynvgild, who turned to Viking mythology as inspiration. Orkney, Highland Park's home, probably has more in common with its Nordic ancestry than it does with its Scottish one. Highland Park has fully embraced the Viking culture over the last several years, even redesigning its core bottles in 2017 to reinforce its Nordic heritage.

The nose here carries the classic HP aromas of sweet malt, dried fruits, heather and some freshly squeezed lemon juice. A touch of orchard fruit pops out of hiding from time to time. Those smoky and fruity notes are alive and well on the palate as well. An initial burst of red fruits lead to spice, dried fruit, figs, heather, and fresh ginger. A moderate wisp of smoke builds. The finish is long, with lingering notes of spiced fruit and light smoke.

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. Cranking up the smoke characteristics over the sherried malt base simply works. I like this NAS offering more than Dark Origins. Valkyrie doesn't come across as vibrant as that other expression, mainly due to its slightly lower abv (it is 45.9% here, by the way), but feels richer and more complex. It reminds me most of the 12-year-old expression with a little more zing. Nicely done! 8.5/10

highlandparkwhisky.com

A Review of The Singleton of Glendullan Series


The Singleton brand of whiskies refers to several Speyside distilleries, including Glen Ord, Dufftown, and Glendullan.  It’s a bit of odd branding, and I can see where it can be a touch confusing.  Here we’re looking at the Glendullan portfolio, newly available in the US market.  Glendullan isn’t a well-known distillery, though it’s not new.  It was founded back in 1897 in Dufftown.  Most of the whisky is matured in American oak, though some European oak is also used.  I love tasting through a distillery’s whiskey portfolio side-by-side.  It’s a great way to dive into the distillery style, giving you an intimate look at how the spirit matures over time.  

All whiskies in the distillery’s US portfolio (12-, 15-, and 18-year-old) are bottled at 40% abv.  At the moment, they’re only available in CA, FL, NY, CO, TX, PA, WA and NJ markets.  

GLENDULLAN 12

The youngest and lightest of the bunch, Glendullan 12-year-old is very reminiscent of Glenlivet 12.  The nose features hints of slightly caramelized orchard fruits, lemon zest, honey and very light spice.  The entry is a bit subdued, but opens to welcoming crisp apples and orange blossom honey, with vanilla pod and light spices developing.  The finish is short and leaves a spiced honey note.  This is an uncomplicated, easy-sipping entry level whisky.  $34.99  7/10

GLENDULLAN 15

A couple more years of maturation add a bit more richness.  That means more refined fruits on the nose, as well as toffee, fig preserves and spice.  I find the 15 doesn’t have as much citrus zestiness on the nose as the 12.  Taste-wise, the low abv means a slightly watered down entry.  In terms of flavors, honeyed tree fruit, dried fruits and candied pecans dominate, accented by some oak spice and mulled wine notes.  The finish is a bit longer than its younger brother, with hints of zesty malt, honey and spice.  Overall, a bit darker and richer malt that features more dried fruits and spice.  $49.99  7.5/10

GLENDULLAN 18

Described as “balanced, light and elegant” on the bottle, Glendullan 18 is the oldest of the distillery’s US offerings.  The nose is full of rich and spicy cinnamon cake, stewed apples & pears, and dried figs & raisins.  Hints of vanilla, toasted almonds and seville oranges with a touch of dried tobacco.  The palate is the richest of the three expressions, with wave after wave of dark caramel and dried fruits with hints of vanilla creme brulee, peanut brittle and leather.  The finish is long, featuring dark fruit jam and spices, turning a bit dry.  I think the 18-year-old mark is where this whisky starts to find its sweet spot.  Glendullan 18 is rich and full of dried fruits and spice.  Nicely done.  $79.99  8.5/10

Thanks to Diageo for the samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.