Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (2009 release)October 13th, 2009
Once again, the Antique Collection is really impressive. Compared to last year’s release, I’m seeing improvements across the board, with the exception of Eagle Rare.
(I previously reviewed the Eagle Rare and Sazerac Rye live on Twitter over the past two weeks and also posted up those reviews on WDJK. I’m including them here again, along with the three new reviews, so you have my reviews of the entire collection in one location.)
96 William Larue Weller, 67.4%, $65
This whiskey has improved greatly over the past two years. (I thought that the 2007 release was almost too easy-going, as some wheated bourbons can be.) A little more oak spice has added balance, complexity and depth. Very clean on the palate. Layered sweetness (toffee, caramel, maples syrup, elegant rum) provide a foundation for warming cinnamon, bramble, blueberry tart, sultana, light candy corn, herbal tea and subtle marzipan. A soft, dry, polished oak finish ropes in all the sweetness, keeping me wanting more. Excellent!
95 George T. Stagg, 70.7%, $65
Like the William Larue Weller releases a couple years back, I felt like the Stagg releases (after you brought them down in strength) were almost too easy-going. And like the new Weller release, this bourbon is had improved greatly to classic status. Clean, balanced notes of toffee, molasses, nougat, polished leather, dates, roasted nuts, cinnamon, subtle summer fruits, teasing mint, ground coffee, nutmeg, and a hint of tobacco. Long, balanced finish. An outstanding bourbon!
92 Thomas H. Handy, 64.5%, $65
Distilled in 2002, this is the youngest of the Antique collection, allowing the vibrancy and boldness of the rye grain to shine through (and an interesting comparison to the Sazerac 18 year old). Lush fruit, Seville orange, gin botanicals, fresh mint, golden raisin, dried pineapple, coconut, and honeydew melon, tamed by soothing caramel and vanilla. Lingering dried fruit and spice finish. Not excessively aggressive like some young ryes I’ve tasted. I really like the dark sugar notes and lushness in this year’s release that provide balance. One of the best Handys.
91 Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $65
This whisky 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).
84 Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $65
Dry, spicy, and leathery on the nose, with candied fruit and toffee. Similar on the palate, but the dryness takes a more demonstrable role, especially towards the finish—leather, dried vanilla, warming cinnamon, brittle mint, with some candied fruit, toffee and molasses struggling to prop it all up. Bottom line here: this year’s offering has less of the richness, fullness, lush fruitiness and sweetness that balanced all the dried spice and leather notes the past two years (which I rated both a 94). Still a nice bourbon, but a slight setback for Eagle Rare 17 yr. old.