Released annually by the folks at Buffalo Trace Distillery, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) features five of the most sought after American whiskies of the year both domestically and globally. The line-up typically consists of a limited-release bottling of several core Buffalo Trace brands including George T. Stagg, the older brother of Stagg Jr., William Larue Weller, a cask strength version of the wildly popular W.L. Weller brand, Eagle Rare 17, an older iteration of the classic Eagle Rare 10, Sazerac 18, a rye whiskey that’s three times the age of the standard Sazerac rye, and finally Thomas H Handy, a stand-alone cask strength rye whiskey offering that is rumouted to be a barrel proof version of the standard Sazerac. What separates the men from the boys when it comes to these five offerings is they’re drawn from select barrels that are handpicked by the powers that be in Buffalo Trace for their flavour, several are unfiltered and bottled at barrel proof , most are aged well beyond what’s typically available, they’re extremely limited due to massive evaporation rates, and each offering is for many the benchmark against which all other whiskies from the same categories (i.e. bourbon, rye, wheated bourbon) are judged.
Having waited patiently for almost two months for the information to be released my patience has finally been rewarded with a small review sample of each of this year’s offerings to review for my thirsty audience. The wait is over so let’s get straight into it!
Aged 15 yrs, 3 months – 64.6% (129.2 proof) – Estimated 37,998 bottles
Nose: The nose opens with the usual notes of dark fruit and cherries mixed with slight ethanol. Once this dissipates, intense caramel and vanilla burst to the foreground with a hint of baking spices like cinnamon and a faint touch of herbaceous oak.
Palate: The palate follows suit with sour cherries, floral vanilla, and intense caramel which yields to spicy herbaceous oak
Finish: The finish is spicy, long and tannic, with dark cherries, an aftertaste of burnt caramel, floral vanilla and minty barrel again.
Overall: This years offering towers over last years fire pit of ethanol and cherries dipped in bitter dark chocolate with lighter notes of intense vanilla and caramel whilst still pushing those notes of dark cherries throughout. A wonderful classic bourbon profile that despite being a lower proof than the previous two years still easily holds its own. Sign me up for a bottle lottery for this ASAP!
Aged 12 yrs, 6 months – 64.9% (129.8 proof) – Estimated 19,040 bottles
Nose: This year’s offering has a lot more caramel on the nose than previous years. Dark fruit and cherries are also present but not as dominant as previous two years and balance nicely with leather, vanilla pods and a touch of spicy oak.
Palate: The palate is thick and opens with sweet caramel and vanilla dripping over a solid base of cherries and oak spice in the back.
Finish: The finish is long with sour cherries, intense caramel, floral vanilla and a hefty kick of oak spice. As the aftertaste develops the cherries and the oak influence become more apparent, leaving the tongue desperate for more – obviously.
Overall: This year’s W.L.Weller is a lot more balanced than the previous years in my opinion. 2015 was all about the herbaceous barrel, 2016 about the intense cherries, whereas 2017 is thick with delicious caramel, sweetly floral vanilla and a nice balancing oak spice keep the dark fruits and cherries found in previous years in check. The 2017 W.L.Weller is also a lot smoother when drank side by side, and not as tannin intense as 2016’s W.L.Weller. With this one I have to agree with Buffalo Trace’s Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley who noted that this year’s W.L. Weller has an extra richness, which I feel has not been in the last 3 years of W.L.Weller. This one will be my main target this this year and with more bottles available I will hopefully be able to secure two bottles as it is an absolutely fabulous pour.
Aged 17 yrs, 3 months – 45% (90 proof) – Estimated 1,461 bottles
Nose: The nose opens with intense caramel and vanilla before fading to cherries, baking spices and oak spice. The nose has more kick than you’d expect from a 90 proof bourbon this year which is a good sign so far.
Palate: The palate is smooth and tame compared to the nose. Intense almost burnt caramel notes combine with slight vanilla, dried citrus peel and spicy herbaceous oak.
Finish: The finish is medium length and gives a rush of caramel, floral vanilla, slightly bitter dried orange peel, and a hint of herbaceous minty oak. The aftertaste explores the minty herbaceous note and gives a very pleasant flavor profile as it fades.
Overall: I have to say I prefer this year’s offering to previous years as it comes across as a lot livelier than the previous two expressions and more akin to the 10 year old expression. The same burnt caramel, floral vanilla, dried citrus and oak spice are present as in the 10, but seem ramped up in this year’s offering. As well as this the hints of old barrel are also present, but are more minty and herbaceous than previous years. Overall, this year’s offering is a bit more flavour intensive, and I’m glad for it, but it still falls third on my list of BTAC bottles to hunt this year. One to savour, as there are some delicate but amazing bourbon notes in there, but isn’t a show stopper.
Aged 6 yrs, 5 months – 63.2% (127.2 proof) – Estimated 14.021 bottles
Nose: The nose features intense caramel, baking spices, citrus and spicy oak that all mingle with ethanol to produce a beautifully complex nose with a reasonable burn.
Palate: The palate leads with intense, sweet caramel which quickly leads to a wave of hot rye spice mixed with cinnamon that floods the palate and burns far hotter than the 127.2 proof it’s labelled at.
Finish: The finish is long and follows from the palate with a wave of rye spice that fades to intense caramel, faint dark fruits and red apples, and citrus. The aftertaste continues with sweet burnt caramel and baking spices as well as hot and dry oak.
Overall: This year’s batch outperforms previous years and like the other offerings gives a more balanced whiskey overall. As you sip this there’s no question that it’s a lively and spicy rye whiskey with plenty of character and complexity once the heat has dissipated. In the past I’ve been offered bottles of Thomas H Handy but have never been able to justify the price for such a young rye whiskey. However, this year if this was offered to me instead of WLW, Stagg, or Eagle Rare 17 I’d definitely take the shot.
Aged 18 yrs – 45% (90 proof) – Estimated 2,367 bottles
Nose: On the nose this leads with deep caramel, candied citrus, light notes of stewed red apples covered in baking spices, wood spice, a touch of floral vanilla and hint of earthy rye.
Palate: The palate is quite delicate and light but leads with herbaceous oak, deep caramel covered red apples which fade to sweet vanilla pods and a very faint hint of charred oak and rye spice.
Finish: The finish has a medium length with sweet floral vanilla, red apples with cinnamon, and oak spice that leaves an dry tannic aftertaste with more red apples and light dried citrus peel.
Overall: Overall this doesn’t scream rye whiskey from the get go but is all together still a light and beautifully complex pour. The rye makes its presence felt through the notes of sweet apples found throughout and the faint baking spices also present. I haven’t yet tried the 2016 Sazerac 18 but this year’s offering is getting closer to the tanked Sazerac 18 we saw in 2015 albeit a softer version. On its own you might not place it as a rye whiskey straight away but it’s still a rye I’d like to have a bottle of.
When it comes to reviewing or rating the BTAC in order of preference the difficulty is always that you have to rank 5 incredible whiskies against whiskies of different proofs and categories – which always results in a deeply personal result. I honestly would love a bottle of each, but if I had to spend the money that these bottles command outside of RRP my money would be well spent on either William Larue Weller, Geroge T. Stagg, or the Eagle Rare 17-in that order. All three of these bourbons have shown themselves to be excellent examples of why the BTAC is so popular, and as such I’d happily buy them all. When it comes to the rye expressions, I’d definitely take this years flavourful Thomas H. Handy over the subdued Sazerac 18. However, realistically, and for the same money, I could definitely have two bottles of a cheaper rye that I’d probably much more prefer – it’s a matter of personal taste I guess. Another important factor in this year’s release is the amount of bottles having increased for all except the Eagle Rare 17 this year and this hopefully translates into more bottles landing in the hands of those who have never had the opportunity to own a bottle. Best of luck hunting!
On a final note, I’m not ignorant to the honor it is to be one of the first people to review some of the most sought after whiskies of the year so my full thanks go out to the team at Buffalo Trace for making this possible!