Whisky Advocate

Don’t buy this whiskey!

December 12th, 2011

Now that the Buffalo Trace Distillery is deep into their Single Oak Project, with quarterly releases of 12 different whiskeys over the next few years, I was wondering if they were still going to continue with their ongoing “Experimental Collection” releases. I got the answer to that question last week, when two new review samples showed up.

That’s the good news. I like trying new whiskeys and I really like all the experimenting going on at Buffalo Trace.

Before I continue, let me set the stage here about Buffalo Trace’s EC whiskeys. They are just that: experiments. There have been a bunch of releases over the past several years. I really liked some, thought others were okay, and disliked some too. But, one of the two new releases (shown here) has to be the worst. To me, the taste of it is borderline unpleasant!

The experiment with the two new releases involve the mash bill. Most bourbons are made with corn, malted barley, and rye. Some distilleries, like Maker’s Mark, replace the rye with wheat. These two new EC whiskeys replace they rye with rice and oats.

Now to the bad news. The EC release with rice in the mashbill is okay enough–not great, just okay. It’s a peculiar whisky, but not overly complex or inspiring.

In all fairness, the nose on the EC release made with oats isn’t all that bad either. Even on the palate, the whiskey begins pleasantly sweet. But then it turns aggressive and harsh, becoming rapidly unappealing.

I’m not really sure of the exact cause of the unpleasantness. Both of these whiskeys were aged for 9 years, 5 months, and in the same warehouse, but only the oat experiment comes across so harsh towards the finish. Could it be the oats? The length of aging? A combination of the two? Or perhaps even something else?

I’m really not sure. The one thing I am sure of: I could randomly pick any bourbon priced at $10 or more from any retailers’ shelf and be pretty confident I will like it more than this. And, with a suggested price of $46.35 for a 375 ml, bottle, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this whiskey.

P.S. I’ve now tasted this whiskey on three separate occassions and feel the same about it.

54 Responses to “Don’t buy this whiskey!”

  1. ev says:

    tell us how you REALLY feel, John!

  2. Rick Duff says:

    Thank you John for the honest opinion and warnings!

  3. John Hansell says:

    The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection retails for about the same price. All the bottles in that collection are excellent. And they are full-size bottless–some at very high proofs. I’d put my hard-earned money on one of those beauties instead.

  4. MrTH says:

    Of course, some will buy it out of pure perversity now. Hey, might be good for cooking–you know, in oat cuisine. Pour it on your haggis.

    • John Hansell says:

      I think it would be great if 10 people went in on a bottle of each one (oats and rice), tasted them, compared them to wheat and rye-spiced bourbons, and discussed them. It would be worth the price of admission. But to drop $46 for a half-bottle? No way.

      • John, this is how some friends and I have been digesting the Single Oak Project. They’re far too expensive to do solo if you want to taste them all (and isn’t that the point)? We realized this is the way to approach these experimentals as well. That 375 breaks down nicely to 6 2oz samples (buy in, nearly $8, about what you’d pay in a bar) or 3 4 oz samples if you want to go deeper.

        The buy-in for the Single Oak project ends up being close to the buy-in for a premium bottle of bourbon. Given the fun of the experience it’s worth it if you can find a handful of like-minded people.

        As wildly off the mark as some of these experiments can go – and let’s be honest, some have been ridiculously off the mark – I applaud Buffalo Trace for continuing to try and find what’s new and what works. I feel like there’s more constant innovation in bourbon with mashbills, barrels, etc. Not every experiment is going to be a success – many will be failures. But the attempts are great and a healthy sign that they’re not content to sit on past successes. (And I’d argue a decent sign of some financial stability).

        Better there to be a real stinker than for the industry to get starchy, stiff, and formalize its product and have its only real source of innovation being ever more exotic barrel finishes.

        I know you’re not arguing against experimentation at all. I just wanted to throw my voice in supporting the experiments… I think there’s a large contingent that sees the experimental releases as nothing more than a nakedly capitalistic cash grab to see what can be foisted off on consumers. I’d rather they be able to finance the experiments because who knows what’s around the next corner?

        • John Hansell says:

          That’s the way to do it. Get a group of friends and have fun with it.

        • Pudge72 says:

          I’m with you RC on the concept of the experiments. This sort of work can only benefit the whisk(e)y industry in general, in the long run. It is also very interesting to read about the wide range of products (and (lack of) quality) that are generated through these processes…the failures should ultimately enhance the quality of the final products that make the grade for full market release.

          Thank you John for an interesting and honest review.

        • Mary says:

          I agree – it’s all very interesting & we knew there would be some stinkers, didn’t we?

          • Chris says:

            It’s inevitable that there will be some failures, given how many experiments they run. At least we know they are continually pushing the envelope and trying new things. Who knows what will turn out well unless you actually try it.

          • Mr Manhattan says:

            It fine for them to try different approaches to making whiskey—it doesn’t mean I need to be the one to try the results and it certainly doesn’t mean I should be asked to pay for the “privilege.”

            If someone makes a product that fails to perform as expected, why would it be reasonable to expect that anyone would buy it? Imagine if John were reviewing a vacuum cleaner and he said that it it barely functioned as such. (More or less what’s being said here.) Would any of you really be interested in buying it?

            OK, well, maybe food and beverage items are a bit different…

            If this were a kind of cheese that cost $50 a pound and John said it had an off putting smell and he never wanted to taste it again after trying it, would you really want to buy a piece yourself?

            I don’t want to come off as a jerk here and everyone is of course entitled to their opinions. I guess I am a bit tweaked by the fact that BT feels it’s OK to release a product like this at all. We’re already all scrambling for bottles of Pappy and BTAC every year. Does this mean they think we’ll simply snap up anything they put out on the market at this point? It almost comes across that way.


          • Chris says:

            Nobody’s telling you you should buy it. BT obviously thinks it’s better than John does or they wouldn’t have released it. And yes, vacuum cleaners are different from food/drink. Saying that an appliance does not function as intended is NOT the same as saying that you do not find the smell/taste of a whisky unpleasant. I find Ardbeg, Laphroiag, and Lagavulin to be pretty vile. However, it’s pretty clear that not everyone feels this way, and that’s fine. The point is that all whisky reviews are subjective. And to your example, if I know that John really dislikes a kind of cheese that I really love, I might be even more inclined to try it after he gives it a bad review. It’s about knowing how your likes/dislikes compare with a reviewers’.

        • Jason Beatty says:

          If anyone wants to get a group and purchase an entire barrel where many of us could sample, count me in for at least 10 bottles each time! 15, 20, or 28 Year Willett at Cask Strength… Let’s all pitch in!

        • Scribe says:

          RC, I took the easy way out: I think in his review, John said he liked bottle #67 best…so that’s the one I bought! It’s good enough…but not exceptional…it was consistent with John’s review. Yes, overpriced…but worth trying as a novelty as much as anything. Agree with John and others, too: The BTAC remains a true bargain, truth be told, for what you get!

  5. Morgan Steele says:

    Hopefully, BT is candid about these items on their packaging. Otherwise, they risk alienating new customers towards their brand (and otherwise fine products).

  6. howardf says:

    Thanks for your candid opinion!

  7. Vince says:

    Thanks for the review John! I purchased an experimental last year (which was the Old Charter Bourbon) and really enjoyed it. I will definitely pass on these!

  8. Mike Dereszynski says:

    It may be the age of my eyes,but I’m looking at your photo of the B.T. Bottle and I’m reading either:
    “made with cats” or “mace with cats”! Perhaps that’s why you don’t like this edition of the Experimentals.
    At least it wasn’t aged in a Herring Barrel.

  9. lawschooldrunk says:

    My chance to finally buy something that rivals Loch Dhu!

    • John Hansell says:

      I had a bottle of Loch Dhu. It tasted like a blend of scotch, bourbon and rum. It was weird (and a waste of perfectly good Mannochmore), but I could still drink it. (I wish I hadn’t opened it, but rather sold it at auction for a few hundred bucks.)

  10. sam k says:

    Go figure. With the addition of oats (or cats, as the case may be) I’d have guessed that we’d have something closer to an American version of Irish pure pot still than lighter fluid. That, plus I really like High West’s Silver Oat, but there’s no corn interaction there.

    Hats off to Buffalo Trace for trying!

  11. Mr Manhattan says:

    I dunno: with all the different things they seem to be trying, it’s hard to imagine the motivation for releasing anything that’s so terrifically wide of the mark (*), especially given what they charge for these things.

    I think the proper market response would be to leave these on the shelves. BT, much as I love ’em, could use a dose of humility.


    (*) – the mark here being whiskey good enough to actually want to finish the bottle.

  12. Paul M. says:

    I find it interesting that you say “the nose on the EC release made with oats isn’t all that bad”. I guess it goes to show that you can’t always trust your nose. I have had many whiskys that nose differently than they taste. So many people put such an emphasis on the nose that they often miss either a wonderful, or or get a horrible, taste.

  13. PeteR says:

    Very close to how I feel about this year’s Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Rye experiment. I feel cheated. And they didn’t supposedly do anything as “special” other than this being their first crack at a rye. Nice looking bottles though…

    • M Lange says:

      It is special not only because it is their first rye, but because it is 100% rye, which none of the big distilleries (and only a few small ones) have ever done. That at the ability to try the exact same whiskey subjected to two different barrel (fresh and refill).
      That said, I haven’t tried this whiskey, and if it stinks i’d feel cheated too.

  14. sku says:

    Hmm, I’m strangely interested in trying this one now.

    • sam k says:

      I’ll bet John would send you some, since “There’s no way he will finish that bottle!”

      • lawschooldrunk says:

        John, can you send me the rest and I’ll pay for shipping?

        • John Hansell says:

          Can’t do that, LSD. I keep whiskeys I don’t like for reference purposes. Back in my earlier days, I just used to dump them down the drain. But I later regretted not being able to go back a use them as reference points. This one will sit here and collect dust for a while. And I suppose, for curious friends who visit, I will share both the oat and rice experiments with them.

  15. Jason Beatty says:

    I was wondering for a minute if I wanted to spend money on these but then realized that the bottle of the White Oak Project was VERY disappointing and I feel cheated out of my money. I wish they would discontinue these lines and only do them in house. My idea of experimenting is sitting in front of the bar at Bourbons Bistro with 160 bottles to choose from and hooking up the bartender!!!

  16. Par Caldenby says:

    I think it is both great and rather boldby Buffalo Trace to release such an entire (?) line of experimental casks as bottlings. Experiments are going on in many places outwith the industries that are whisky/whiskey – but rarely do they ever get into the public light. Commendable! The fact that this one had a truly disgraceful finish just makes the experiment more worthwhile and educational. Now, I am not a big fan of Bourbons, really, though I find great pleasure in using good quality ex Bourbon casks to good effect. But this experiment is really making me happy – and wanting to try the entire line, warts and all!

  17. Louis says:

    At least this is one area that the craft distilleries have an easier time with the experimental stuff. Since they use (mostly) small casks, they don’t have to wait nine years or so to find out if it works. And while BT does have some small experimental barrels, in the interest of changing only one thing at a time, most of the attempts will be with the larger barrels.

  18. Bob Siddoway says:

    I guess there’s a reason why they don’t make whiskey with oats…

    And oddly, like some others here, I now want to try it more than ever.

    • Louis says:

      I tried the Koval Dark (i.e. aged longer) Oat Whiskey at Whiskyfest. It tasted more like bread than oatmeal.

      • Mark says:

        Koval distills all of their whiskey above 160, this can make a huge difference when compared to a spirit at or below 160. The Koval dark products are actually aged in a different barrel then the regular whiskey, not longer.

  19. Yossi Hatton says:

    The sadist inside me (if there is one) wants to buy these to taste how bad they really are! The power of a negative review!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Don’t you mean “the masochist inside you,” Yossi? 🙂 But in some respects I can relate– Whenever I hear something, anything, getting intensely maligned, I’m always inclined to go check it out. Not just for novelty’s sake either. It’s more that popularly maligned things quickly become things that very few people experience first-hand and ultimately things that very few people remember– They fall through the cracks and into the sub-zone of the unknown. Whether it’s movies, whisky, books, or whatever this sub-zone is always an interesting space to explore. Usually, however, part of the fun of exploring it is that it’s cheap…

      I’m certainly not about to drop 50$ on this. I can wait until this gets steeply discounted after its sales are crushed by John’s damning post or until I get a free taste somewhere.

      • Yossi Hatton says:

        I think you’re right Red – the masochist it is! I sometimes like to pour (for others) some “bad” stuff in a tasting just so they can experience the difference between a good whisk(e)y and a bad one. Helps to put things in perspective…

  20. John Hansell says:

    One thing to keep in mind. BT has “failed” experiments that they won’t bottle. Lew Bryson writes about this in the new issue of Whisky Advocate. I don’t think they would have bottled this if they didn’t think it met a certain minimum standard. Given the fact that they think this whiskey is better than I do, maybe you will too?

    I coompletely expect some of you, if you do get a chance to taste it, to say something like “I see where you’re coming from John, but I didn’t think it is as bad as you do.” Or something like that. Our palates are all different. We’ll see, I guess. But this whiskey is not for me. That I know.

  21. Luke says:

    Thank you John, we need more unbiased reportage like this.

    Keep up the Good Work!

      • Tom D says:

        This is easily one of my favorite reviews of all time, whisky or otherwise, as few industry experts have the courage to put out such a clear and strong statement. Positive or negative, the truth is always best.

        I also loved the fact that you noted some people may enjoy it. All things regarding taste are subjective. For some reason, Jura bottlings and I do not seem to get along very well.

  22. Tom D says:

    Was there any comment from Buffalo Trace after this blog entry?

    • John Hansell says:

      All is quiet from Kentucky. But I don’t usually hear from them when I rate one of their whiskeys highly, so this is not unusual.

      • Jason Beatty says:

        When you rate their whiskeys highly they place a plaque on the wall, in the room to the right of the gift shop entrance where they sell their Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, made at a creamery in NY.

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