Review: Sazerac Rye 18 year old (a 2005-2009 retrospective)October 8th, 2009
This 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