Whisky Advocate

Review: Sazerac Rye 18 year old (a 2005-2009 retrospective)

October 8th, 2009

SazeracRye18year-loThis whiskey has been around this entire decade. I still have one bottled “Summer 2000.”

However, you should know that, from the 2006 release to now (the past four vintages), it has been the same juice stored in stainless steel tanks. (Kudos to Buffalo Trace for their openness and transparency about this.) This is because it will be six or so more years before Buffalo Trace has new rye whiskey aged 18 years. They need to preserve what they have and ration it annually until the new stocks mature.

You would think that the whiskey wouldn’t change. So did I. In fact, I didn’t even review the 2006 or 2007 formally, thinking it was the same as the 2005. (I was initially led to believe that the stuff in the stainless is the same as the 2005 release. In actuality, the 2005 was a different batch of whiskey.)

But, while at Buffalo Trace a couple years back, I tasted the 2006-2007 releases and they WERE different. I realized that whiskey DOES change when stored in stainless steel. Most likely it’s oxidation, but who knows what else?

The whiskey had been stored in one big 13,500 gallon tank–plenty of room for oxidation. Recently, BT transferred they whiskey to three 2,100 gallon tanks, hoping for less oxidation, less change. What will be the impact? Who knows?

I reviewed all five vintages, from 2005-2009, live on Twitter yesterday, and here’s my summary of the whiskeys.

2009: I gave it bonus points for its balance and soothing nature. Very enjoyable.

2008: Sort of starts off like the 2009, but has a very harsh, dry, leathery finish which really distracts. Thus my lower rating.

2007: Better defined, crisper than the 2008 or 2009. More rounded, not as harsh as the 2008 on the finish. A nice whiskey!

2006: Very pleasant. Nicely rounded. Not harsh like the 2008, but the flavors are a little muted. It’s not as crisp as the 2007

Of the four “stainless steel” vintages (2006-2009), the 2007 is my favorite.

2005: Malt Advocate’s American Whiskey of the year. What can I say? A stunning whiskey. It has the balance, the crispness, the vibrancy, nothing harsh. The best of the bunch. A benchmark!

 So, my favorite vintages over the past five years are, in descending order: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2006,  2008.  There was no consistent trend with time that I could see (other than the whisky becoming intermittently softer and less vibrant), but they were all distinctively different. Ah, the mysteries of whiskey…and aging in stainless steel.

My formal review of the new 2009 vintage follows.

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $65
This whiskey has been getting intermittently softer, less vibrant since the 2005 release. Additionally, this new release is slightly sweeter on the palate too, when compared to last year’s release. Is this good or bad? That depends on how you like your rye whiskeys. Personally, I’d like to see more rye zing, but the pleasing, soothing nature (for a rye) in this new release makes up for it. Notes of toffee, cinnamon, creamy vanilla, date, mocha, bramble, glazed citrus and soft mint, and dusty spice (nutmeg, cocoa), with a dry, polished leather finish.  I like it slightly better than last year’s release, which I rated an “87.” That was my least favorite vintage over the past five years. This new vintage is still not in the class of those classic Sazerac 18’s bottled in the first half of this decade (which I consistently rated 95 and higher), but it is still a very nice whiskey.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

15 Responses to “Review: Sazerac Rye 18 year old (a 2005-2009 retrospective)”

  1. gal says:

    so, u do think its quite good.
    i though u totally disagreed with murray on it.

  2. I haven’t had a chance to taste the Sazerac yet, so I can’t comment on the Rye itself. But I am not surprised at all that spirits (not only whisk[e]y) undergo certain changes even in steel tanks. There is always some air that can have an oxidation effect, even if the tank is full. And then there are plenty of chemical compounds that will react with each other. The alcohol slows down this process but it still happens, just like in a sealed bottle. Spirits are by no means chemically inert.

  3. John Hansell says:

    gal, Jim’s Whiskey of the Year was the 2008 release–my least favorite of the five.

    Olover, yes, it is all very logical in hindsight.

  4. Davindek says:

    Hi John,
    I am so pleased to hear your assessment that the Sazerac changes when stored in stainless steel. I have just returned from Alsace where they mature eau-de-vie in glass from day one. At a distillation museum I saw a photo of an eau-de-vie- maturation warehouse (in an attic) and it was packed full of glass carboys of maturing spirit. The story that whisky does not mature in glass is just not true. Some of us have been saying that for years. Now I’ve seen it with eau-de-vie, and now again, you confirm the same happens with stainless. Robert Hicks told me he could taste the changes in whisky that had been bottled for a few years. I also agree with your assessment that it is likely due to oxidation.

  5. John Hansell says:

    Davin, and Robert Hicks is one smart guy too! When he talks, I listen.

  6. osu33jp says:

    Hi John,
    First of all, I really enjoy your comment and admire the passion to the whisky.
    Regarding changing its profile in the stainless tank storage condition, I think that the Buffaloe Trace are enjoying this changes. I am saying this because it is commonly known that filling with inert gas such as nitrogen gas can stop its oxidation and they didn’t. I don’t know the truth, but I am very curious. Is there any way you can confirm with them?

  7. John Hansell says:

    OSU, I can confirm that BT is not using an inert gas. I asked Mark Brown, CEO, that question.

    Hmmm….Mark’s a clever guy. Yes, maybe this was intentional, just to give us all something to talk about? Well, if it was intentional, he succeeded.

  8. Birdman says:

    I believe Murry actually had a bottle of the 2008 Saz 18 on which he awarded Whiskey of the year for 2010, or Did I read that wrong?

  9. John Hansell says:

    Birdman, yes Jim was reviewing the 2008 release in his 2010 book. I think you’ll have to wait another year for the 2011 book to get his thoughts on the 2009 release.

  10. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks for the reviews and the musing on metal.I also have an older Saz 2002 left in my locker.You mentioned reviews where can I find your thoughts on these other Saz is it archived on your sight?
    Also a comment on the J.M.Bible,I love Jim’s book,try to get at least one each year.Few people get to see one let alone taste each of the Rittenhouse Rye barrels.But,I too find his choices confusing at times.Just one example(unless it was a type error),
    Jims Japanese Whisky of the Year is SMWS 116.4(Yoichi).I agree its an extraordinary whisky,I still have a bottle,but I got it in Leith at the SMWS several years ago!
    It makes life interesting and drinking a pleasure.
    Keep doing what you’re doing and sharing your knowledge and thoughts and if you see Jim thank him for doing the same.

  11. Joe M says:

    I believe something similar happened with the A.H. Hirsch 16 (Michters). Bottles purchased more recently are sometimes not as good as the older, blue wax edition.

  12. Jeff A says:

    Thanks for the review. Its amazing how many factors go into the flavor of whiskey, I guess oxidation is one of them! I wish I could get my hands on the Sazerac (or any of the BT antique collection for that matter) in Iowa.

  13. H.Diaz says:

    John, it’s more better when you can include a photo(s). Like in this Sazerac 18, for instance. Thanks.

  14. Mike says:

    Aging in the bottle: As other posters have pointed out, this does happen with several types of spirits (all wine, beer, and spirits?), especially bottles that have been opened, and double especially after some juice has been decanted. I wanted to relate an anecdote about a Ukrainian friend who is fond of making home liqueur. This generally involves combining Everclear and a fresh squeezed fruit juice- the best I’ve had were plum and sour cherries. These are bottled at 50-60% ABV with a screw top (former Ukrainian vodka bottle in fact). If you taste it right away, it’s barely swallowable stuff. After about 6 months it’s actually an OK sipping drink. After 1-2 years it makes for an enjoyable dram whenever you feel like it. After 3+ years is becomes this amazing elixir that I would pay good aged whisky prices to have on hand for special toasts. All in all a pretty neat process, and certainly the result of a very slow chemical process in refilled bottles. I don’t think there’s a perceivable volume loss during this time (due to imperfect bottle sealing), but I would have to keep very careful track.

  15. Frank says:

    I’d like to find out if the 2010/2011 releases are new batches or still coming from those stainless steel tanks.

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