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2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Review

There’s been a lot written about how great and rare Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection is. Every fall a new batch is released to a never ending number of accolades. Everyone then complains how hard it is to find a bottle and then further rants about the inflated prices on the grey market.

What you don’t hear much of is the back story behind the collection. Why does it exist? Who are George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller and Thomas H. Handy? What the heck is a Eagle Rare or a Sazerac?

To help to better understand this we’ll take a look at the back story of each bottle and how they came to be part of the “Antique Collection.” We’ll also describe each bottle’s tasting notes and how they differ from the other bottles in the collection.

Buffalo Trace is the distiller of all of the brands in the Antique Collection. The company wasn’t always called that, which leads us into the first bottle of the Antique Collection...

George T. Stagg

Nose: Sitting with this bourbon for the first time you're instantly hit with a sense that this is a sophisticated bourbon. A smell of aged wood, raisin, caramel and a hint of corn dance across your nose, transporting you right to the middle of an aging warehouse on a warm spring day in Kentucky. While the alcohol wants to initially jump out of the nose, the overall the balance of the wood smell evens this bourbon out nicely. Let this one sit for a few minutes and the smell becomes even more delicious.

Palate: Initially a sweet taste of caramel hits your tongue that instantly is replaced with a taste of all-spice and leather. The palate hits quick and to the point.

Finish: It's a nice long finish that stays with you for a while. Due to the high proof you might be inclined to say it’s a sharp harsh finish; when in reality, that’s just the alcohol dissipating from your mouth. As it mellows, you get hints of candy corn and rubber, finishing on a note of wet wood and tobacco. It's definitely a strange combination, however, it works in this case.

William Larue Weller

Nose: The strong alcohol smell is quickly overtaken by an intense wood scent. The sweet wheat aroma is accompanied by hints of orange and minor hits of maple and caramel.

Palate: Aggressive. Although that is to be expected of a 136 proof bourbon, what’s surprising is its less than expected burn. An intense load of flavors hits your tongue at first sip; so much so, it’s almost hard to pick it apart. This rich flavor isn’t overpowered by the alcohol, but rather it overpowers the alcohol. There are so many flavors that hit your tongue all at once it can be a shock. It opens with caramel, honey and butterscotch, but quickly gives way to its oaky foundation with hints of tobacco.

Finish: Long. Very long. Rich and complex flavors swirl with wood being the easiest to name first. The burn has a way of lingering much like the flavors do. Even the smallest of sips pack a flavor punch. Deep profile indeed.

Thomas H. Handy

Nose:
I can feel the alcohol as it burns my nostrils, but fruit and citrus aromas emerge beyond the initial sting.

Palate: Spicy cinnamon, caramel, and maple syrup are followed by a sweet kick with intense fruit - raisins, plums, and apricots. There is quite a bit of wonderful, flavorful punch here.

Finish: A long lingering spicy-sweetness with a hint of black licorice. Leaves me wanted to take another sip every time.

Sazerac 18 Year

Nose:
Almost perfect. Vanilla, citrus, and cinnamon take the forefront with a hint of old wood on the back end. There is no burn. If it tastes as good as it smells we’re in for an epic pour. This is one of the best smelling whiskeys I’ve ever had. Typically I’m done sniffing after the initial few noses then on to sipping. This one is so layered in complexity and delightful it actually enhances each sip to take a sniff first.

Palate: Much less spicy than would be expected for a rye. Dry and sweet, with an amazing balance. Just like the nose there is little if any burn here. Vanilla, maple, and citrus lightly mingle together, with no single element overpowering another. Smokey wood enters towards the end but does not overpower the other flavors as you might anticipate from 18 long years in a barrel. Maybe it’s the age or maybe it’s just low on rye in the mashbill, either way this does not have that kick you get with most ryes.

Finish: One of the longest and most complex finishes of any whiskey I’ve had. Outstanding. It ends as amazingly as it starts, as perfectly balanced wood, fruit, and spice linger for minutes after the sip. It fades away elegantly maintaining balance even as the flavors dissipate over time. Wood is more evident here than the nose or palate, but still perfectly balanced.

Eagle Rare 17 Year

Nose: Mellow. Nothing smacks you as being overpowering. Hints of vanilla and cherries. Near the back end: oak and almond develops. It begins to open up with time, almost like a fine wine.

Palate: Mellow again. It seems like every other new bourbon on the market today is over 100 proof. At 90 proof, Eagle Rare 17 comes off as an easy drinker. It’s profile is very rounded. Its age (19 years) does provide some oak backbone, yet comes no where near overpowering any of the flavors. Those flavors include some minor vanilla notes, caramel, cereal, black pepper and even some raisins.

Finish: 19 year old bourbon. Taste that oak? For a bourbon this old, the oak rounds out the flavor profile more than it dominates it. Some of this may have to do with the 90 proof point, but even then much more would come through. This is a carefully aged bourbon that puts a premium on balance.

Conclusion

As you can see, Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection is all about the different people, companies and rich history that formed Buffalo Trace. They represent the best-of-the-best expression from the company's premium brands. The best barrels are hand picked by their master distillers and put towards these bottles. Each expression in the collection is unique and provides a snapshot of how different whiskeys can be from each other.\

George T. Stagg - Delicious nose with a bold body to back it up.

William Larue Weller - Bold, Flavorful, Interesting, Fun

Thomas H. Handy - Bold, Rich, Spicy, Fruity

Sazerac - Epic nose and finish, balanced throughout but subtle in all regards

Eagle Rare - Well-rounded, Mellow, Oaky, gimmick-free

At a retail price of $70.00, the Antique Collection is spot on. There isn’t a bottle on the market cheaper than these that can touch their quality and value. Sophisticated, layered, flavorful and balance all artfully describe the bottles in this collection. These are the cream of the crop, not only for Buffalo Trace’s products, but for the majority of U.S. whiskeys on the market. The Antique Collection is worth the search, your money and your time. This is quality in a bottle.

Written By: Eric

April 10, 2014
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2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Review
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