Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo Trace Antique Collection’

Fall Bourbon and Rye Whiskey Limited Release Overview

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

john hansellIt’s that time of the year again, when all the major bourbon and rye whiskey producers release their limited edition whiskeys, and consumers scramble to find a bottle before they disappear. Your time and money is valuable, so I thought I’d offer some guidance on which whiskeys you should concentrate on buying.

I’ve tasted my way through the following whiskeys. My formal reviews will appear in the upcoming issue of Whisky Advocate, but here’s a quick overview of them, in no particular order.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (All $80, in theory)

My favorite of the line is the George T. Stagg (69.05%). The past two years have shown a tamer, more rounded and balanced Stagg. This one is a classic.

2014 BTACSazerac 18 yr. Rye (45%) is similar, but not identical to, previous years. And I really like it. To me, it’s still the best example of a classic ultra-aged rye that’s released on an annual basis. This is the same whiskey that has been tanked in stainless steel and released annually over the past several years. It will continue to be until a new 18 year old rye is released in 2016.

Both Eagle Rare 17 yr. (45%) and William Larue Weller (70.1%), two perennial favorites, are showing more age this year. By this, I mean there’s more wood spice and resin. They are still very nice whiskeys, but to me the extra oak is gratuitous and unnecessary.

The disappointment this year is the Thomas H. Handy Rye (64.6%). This year’s release is thinner and less complex on the palate, with unintegrated spice, botanical, and feint vegetal notes dominating. Yes, there are other flavors thrown in the mix, but it doesn’t help. It’s easily the weakest whiskey in this year’s Antique Collection.2014LESmallBatch_Front

Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.9%, $90

There’s more oak and dried spice when compared to the 2013 release (our American Whiskey of the Year last year) and, while not quite reaching that caliber — it’s not quite as seamless, drinkable, or complex — it gets close. Very impressive.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, 56.6%, $40

This is what I wish the standard Maker’s Mark would be: more mature, spicier, more complex, and with a richer finish. This was initially released in Kentucky only, but rumors are that it will get a wider distribution in the future. The best Maker’s Mark since the now extinct Maker’s Mark Black, which was released for export only. If you can track down a bottle, you won’t be disappointed. (Except for the fact that it’s only in 375 ml bottles.)

2014_OFBB_BottleMockupElijah Craig 23 year old (Barrel No. 26), 45%, $200

Yes, 23 years is a long time to age bourbon. And yes, there’s plenty of oak influence. But there’s an underlying sweetness that balances the oak spice (with this particular barrel; others may vary). I suspect that some of the barrels will be over-oaked, so be careful.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2014 release), 12 year old, 48.5%, $60

This whiskey’s signature over the last several years has been wood-dominant, with plenty of dried spice (the exception being the 2013 release which I really enjoyed—it was chock full of balancing sweetness). The 2014 release is similar to the pre-2013 releases; a dynamic bourbon, but still leaning heavily on the oak spice.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (2014 Release), 59.65%, $170

The third cask strength release and, like all Angel’s Envy bourbons, this one is finished in port barrels. When compared to the standard Angel’s Envy bourbon, this Cask Strength release is packed with more of everything: alcohol, port fruit notes, and oak. While very enjoyable, it pushes the envelope of the port finishing. If port finishing isn’t your thing, then you should think twice before buying.Parker's Heritage Collection Original Batch 63.7

I’ll throw in a bonus wheat whiskey too:

Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 year old, 63.7%, $90

Heaven Hill’s straight wheat whiskey, Bernheim Original, is a pleasant drink, but I always felt that some extra aging and a higher proof would give it additional richness and complexity to propel it to a higher level. That’s what this new whiskey accomplishes. If you like Bernheim Original, you’ll love this one.

2013: The Year of Great Premium Bourbon

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

author-hansellWhiskey prices keep climbing, and none of us are happy about it. It’s a simple matter of economics: supply vs. demand. The entire world has discovered the joy of whiskey and there isn’t enough to go around.

But if we can set aside the price issue for a moment and look at the quality of the product on the market, it’s quite apparent to me that 2013 will go down as a great year for premium and super-premium bourbon, and other American whiskeys, like rye and Tennessee. Let’s take a look at what’s been released this year.

The premium whiskeys we expect to be great every year are great again this year

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Eagle Rare 17 yr., Parker's_ALS_Promise of Hope_Bottle ShotSazerac 18 yr., and Thomas H. Handy) delivers an amazingly consistent combination of quality and variety.

Then there’s the new Parker’s Heritage Collection “Promise of Hope” bottling. While the Antique Collection might get all the attention, Parker’s new release is just great, honest, no frills bourbon that I could drink every day and never tire of it.

On top of this, we have another stunning Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch for 2013. After we gave the 2012 Limited Edition Whisky Advocate’s “American Whiskey of the Year” honors, I thought that there was no way Jim Rutledge and the team at Four Roses could ever match that one. But they did with the 2013 Small Batch release! And the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel offering is no slouch either.

Even the “hit and miss” annual releases are great this year

2013 saw two different Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection releases, six bottles in total—four different wheated bourbonsOldForBDay2013 that experimented with barrel entry proof and two 15 year old bourbons that varied the barrel stave seasoning times. All four wheated bourbons, while tasting quite different, were very good to excellent. The 15 year old bourbon with the extended 13 month stave drying time blew me away with enriched sweet, creamy notes that balanced the dried oak spice that comes with 15 years of aging, without the harsh tannins often found in bourbon that old.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release for 2013 was the best in many years. And my Elijah Craig 21 year old Single Barrel rocked! (Mine was from Barrel No. 42 if you’re keeping track. I did taste whiskey from other barrels and they were still good, but not quite of the stature of No. 42.)

George Dickel gets into the act too!
Dickel Hand Selected Barrel 9
After wishing for years that George Dickel would put out some great super-premium Tennessee whiskeys, they finally did. I was thrilled to see them introduce to retailers the new single cask “hand selected barrel” offerings at both 9 and 14 years of age—and higher proof! I particularly enjoyed the 9 year old samples I tasted. There’s so much untapped potential there at Dickel. Let’s start tapping it.

The new stuff is also exciting

Angel’s Envy Rye was like a breath of fresh air, combining rye spice with the rummy notes gained from being finished off in rum barrels. Beam came out with a new Distiller’s Masterpiece finished in PX casks and two new “Signature Craft” releases; one a standard 12 year old, the other finished with Spanish brandy. Wild Turkey Forgiven married bourbon with rye whiskeys. Okay, so maybe some of this new stuff isn’t of the caliber of the other whiskeys I mentioned above, but it was the icing on the cake of a really great year.

Sure, there’s still some ho-hum whiskeys

The Stagg Jr. I reviewed was a bit harsh and aggressive on the finish, and I could take or leave the two new Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Limited Edition Malt releases. Still, these were the exceptions to what otherwise was an outstanding year for premium and super-premium American whiskey.

All this, and not one mention of Pappy…

The ten highest rated whiskies in Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2012 issue

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The ten highest-rated whiskies of Whisky Advocate’s winter issue are being revealed right here, today, before the magazine hits the streets. Our list begins with the #10 whisky and ends with the #1 rated whisky of the issue. (P.S. In case you’re wondering where the best whiskeys for the price are coming from right now, this should help to clarify.)

#10: Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release 2012, 52%,  $624

Lagavulin from a first-fill sherry butt? There’s unusual. This is huge, fluxing, and complex, mixing saddles and dark chocolate, pu-erh tea and smothered kiln, geranium and velvet, gamey venison and treacle. The smoke is integrated, the fires ember-like, the oak there but not oppressively so. Massive, dense, layered, and complex, this needs time to open. In short, a distillation of Islay and up alongside last year’s Jazz Festival bottling. — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#9: Elijah Craig Single Barrel (Barrel No. 13) 20 year old, 45%, $130

All the current Elijah Craig 20 year old releases in distribution are single barrel offerings. I’ve tasted a few, and they vary to a degree. This is my favorite so far. Yes, there’s a lot of oak here (resinous, spicy, leathery, tobacco-tinged), but it’s on a bed of layered sweetness (nutty toffee, caramel fudge, maple syrup) that supports and marries with the oak. An ideal postprandial bourbon. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#8: Compass Box Oak Cross, 46%, $50

This has long been a core whisky for Compass Box, but the latest version of it is spicier and fresher than I recall, and without doubt, it’s my new best friend. Virgin French oak heads help to contribute oriental and aromatic spices on the nose, with hints of melon and pineapple candy sweets. The taste is a delight, with spearmint, soft toffee, sweet citrus fruit, lemonade mixed with beer, and strawberry wafers. An array of spices from cinnamon to chili to ginger dominate the finish. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#7: Brora 35 year old Special Release 2012, 48.1%, $645

Previous Broras in the Diageo Special Release series have set the bar remarkably high, and this, the eleventh such bottling, does not disappoint. The component whiskies were distilled during 1976 and 1977 and matured in refill American oak casks. The nose offers lemon and contrasting vanilla and honeycomb aromas. Musty malt and coal in the background. The citrus and honey themes continue into the slightly earthy, peppery palate, while French mustard and coal figure in the drying finish. 1,566 bottles. — Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#6: Eagle Rare 17 year old (bottled Spring 2012), 45%, $70

Usually the least talked-about in the Antique Collection, but in my opinion certainly of the same caliber. This year’s release proves my point: nutty toffee and rummy molasses notes balanced nicely with dried fruit, cinnamon, polished oak, subtle leather, and tobacco. The oak is kept in check for such an age, and all the flavors work well together. Nicely done! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#5: Johnnie Walker The Casks Edition, 55.8%, $300

You don’t mess with the Johnnie Walker brand name casually, so we expect greatness, and boy, do we get it here. This has a dusty, smoky nose with dried apricot and grape, and the whisky is gossamer-soft on the palate, with sweet pear and honey evolving on top of an oaky rich heart before a tidal wave of pepper and peat, and a delightful spice smoke and oak conclusion. Magnificent. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#4: Sazerac 18 year old (bottled Fall 2012), 45%, $70

A perennial classic. Not aggressively bold like its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy), but this is a rye of distinction and class. Still quite vibrant for its age, with plenty of spice (cinnamon, soft evergreen, vanilla, hint of nutmeg) softened and balanced by sweet notes (caramel, toffee), glazed citrus, and dried oak on the finish. This remains the benchmark for what a mature rye whiskey should taste like. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#3: William Larue Weller, 61.7%, $70

The key to bourbons that use wheat instead of rye (like this Weller), is to get the right amount of wood influence to balance the sweet notes and add depth. This whiskey does a great job of it. Notes of dark fruit (blackberry, plum, blueberry), layered sweetness (maple syrup, toffee, caramel), and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Soft, pleasant finish. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#2: George T. Stagg, 71.4%, $70

Another excellent Stagg, and considering its alcohol level, it’s also a good value if you can get it at this price. Notes of toffee, pot still rum, nougat, dates, tobacco, roasted nuts, polished oak, and leather. Great depth and nicely balanced. A masculine bourbon of character and structure.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

# 1: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.7%, $90

A marriage of four different bourbons, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco.  Soft, clean, polished oak finish. A very versatile bourbon! Your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

 

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

We still have no power at the Whisky Advocate offices in PA, thanks to the record-breaking snow storm. But, since tonight is WhiskyFest New York, we are in New York where there is power, Internet access, and WHISKEY! So, I am finally able to post a review.

The eagerly awaited annual release from Buffalo Trace distillery is out. Last year’s release was one of their best. This year is a repeat performance. Well done!

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the bunch, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa).

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the family. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “American Whiskey of the Year”: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (2010 Release)

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Roll these names off your tongue: Stagg. Handy. Weller. Sazerac. Eagle Rare. Now wrap it all up with Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Collectively, these are the bottles that American whiskey lovers go nuts for every year, tracking them down on shelves three or four states away, swapping and trading for them.

They drink them, they don’t just collect them, because these are really good whiskeys. Any one of them — three bourbons, two ryes — has the potential to snag this award in any given year, and some years they have. But one’s usually a lot better, and sometimes one is under par that year, and that’s kind of good: you don’t have to buy all of them.

This year, though…the stars are aligned, and you’d better get out your checkbook. This is probably the strongest Antique Collection as a collection since Buffalo Trace started sending out allocations of these five excellent spirits. Weller: layers of lusciousness. Stagg: finely-carved power. Eagle Rare: beautifully balanced corn and oak. Handy: barely-restrained youth. Sazerac: smoothly spicy. (See full tasting notes here.)

Can we pick five whiskeys as “best”? Of course we can. When they’re all this good, when the Collection comes together like this, how can we do anything else?

photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery

The “Canadian Whisky of the Year” will be announced tomorrow. Stay tuned!

New Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a winner!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Several of you have already been emailing me for my thoughts on the new release. Yesterday I tasted the entire (soon to be released) Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2010 release side-by-side with the entire 2009 release to see how they changed.

I don’t have formal tasting notes written up yet, but I can tell you my general thoughts on the new release. In short: wonderful!

The only true setback last year was with Eagle Rare 17 yr. old (which I rated an 84), because it was showing too much wood (especially compared to the 2007-2008 releases). I’m happy to report that the 2010 is back on track and will score somewhere in the mid 90s.

My second lowest rated whiskey from 2009 was Sazerac 18 yr. old rye whiskey, which came in with a 91 rating. A very nice whiskey, but lost a lot of its zing from earlier years. The 2010 does show more character. Surprisingly, I’m tasting more wood notes in this year’s release. I say surprisingly, because it was my impression that this whiskey over the past few years has been aged in Stainless Steel tanks. This year’s release still doesn’t have the vibrancy of some earlier releases, but it’s a very nice whiskey, which I will rate somewhere in the low to mid 90s.

The William Larue Weller, put simply, is wonderful, just like last year (which I rated a 96). And very similar in profile. (Perhaps just a bit less spicy?) Once again, I will score this somewhere in the mid 90s.

The same goes for George T. Stagg. I loved last year’s release, giving it a 95. This year’s release is very similar–perhaps just a bit less complex, but I am splitting hairs here. I’ll be rating this somewhere in the 93-95 range.

Finally, the Thomas H. Handy rye whiskey, which I gave a 92 to last year, is also very similar this year–perhaps even a little better overall in complexity. I’ll be scoring this at least a 92 and most likely a couple of points higher than that when my formal reviews are done.

So, the bottom line here: we’re looking at five great whiskeys–all classics, or pretty close to classic.

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (2009 release)

Tuesday, 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.