Each year Buffalo Trace releases the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), which represents a cross-section of American Whiskeys spanning a wide range of ages, proofs, and styles. In the bourbon industry, BTAC is widely revered as some of the absolute best and most highly sought after American Whiskeys released each year, setting the bar high for competitors as well as subsequent releases of each expression within the Collection itself. While the expressions remain relatively consistent from year to year, each year’s vintage brings with it unique nuances relative to previous releases. Because demand for these whiskeys has greatly outpaced supply, bourbon enthusiasts frenzy to get their hands on these whiskeys each year. So just how does 2017’s Antique Collection fare? Our tasting notes and overall thoughts on each brand follow.
Baking and rye spice mix together along with faint hints of orange rind and light oak. These are met with a hearty dose of ethanol that is ever present. It’s warm and inviting but leaves no doubt that this is a youthful rye that packs a punch.
The ethanol in the nose was quite the tell, as in a word this rye is hot. Huge doses of spicy rye blend with allspice and sweeter baking spice. The heat is tremendous and this seems to be punching above its 127.2 proof that it’s bottled at.
The finish starts off hot after the sip, but it’s kept to your mouth and quickly dissipates leaving orange, cherry, and rock sugar in its wake. Additional notes of oak and youthful leather follow behind these flavors. Surprisingly, the finish lingers longer than expected with faints hints of sugared oranges floating in my mouth for quite some time.
For such a hot release, I was surprised at how enjoyable it is as a sipper. The flavors contained in the sip find a way to cut through the heat and create a really enjoyable pour. This year's version of Handy seems to be the opposite of last year’s. Whereas this is sweeter on the nose and hotter in the palate compared to last year, it still displays the classic traits that make Handy what it is. A young rye that packs a punch both in flavor and in heat.
Additionally, with every sip of this year’s bottling, as crazy as it may sound, all I could think of was how this is screaming to make a high-end high proof old fashioned with. That is what makes Handy so versatile in the BTAC groupings. It’s young enough that you don’t feel bad using it in a cocktail, but it also has enough uniqueness to enjoy as a stand alone pour. -Jordan
Peppy and bright but still showing evidence of its age. Dark fruit, vanilla, caramel, and bouts of smoke and aged wood set the stage. Rye spice is also evident, exhibiting a more forceful presence than years’ past.
Vanilla sweetness draws upfront, with tobacco, seasoned oak, and rye spice following. It turns a bit dry and tannic as I swallow, though the more potent spice and oak do a fine job counterbalancing the effect.
The spice and oak introduce the finish, with a pop of spice at the onset and oak in the background. This gives way to more prominent aged oak, followed by dark fruits and more vanilla sweetness. It’s lengthy and subtle, and there aren’t any surprises.
With almost 90% of this year’s Eagle Rare 17 Year lost to evaporation, fans can’t help but hope for some magic in that remaining 10%. It’s a fine showing, but not earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been spoiled by spending some time with 2009 and 2013 vintages, both of which exhibit more wow factor than the 2017. There aren’t any surprises here though, it’s not funky like 2016 was and the experience unfolds nicely. It’s very good but just not an epic pour, and considering the estimated 1,461 bottles, it’s hardly worth fighting over. -Nick
For clocking in at 129.2 proof, the nose is deceiving. Almost no ethanol is present and instead oaky overtones rule along with notes of dried raisins and brown sugar. Initially it’s not quite as rich as the 2013, which is similar in proof. However after letting this pour open up for a little while, the scents started to take on a richness that does remind me more of the 2013 release which brought a smile to my face.
While not as much heat as last year's Stagg, it’s still a very dominant part of the palate this year. Notes of cherry leap out and mix with rich syrupy raisins and hints of caramel. Surprisingly, hints of sweetness try to push through these flavors, but just can’t fight their way through.
The heat continues to crescendo after you finish the sip. Cherry pulls through and is met with cigar box, leather, and dried raisins. It ends on a lingering tannic note of aged oak and dried leather which lasts for a surprisingly long time, almost to the point of overstaying its welcome.
While last year's Stagg was good, it didn’t seem to live up to the reputation that it has rightfully earned in the bourbon community. However, with so many bottles of Stagg this year, it’s hard not to wonder if Buffalo Trace was going to eschew quality for quantity. Thankfully this year's version seems to live up to the standard so many have come to expect. Yes the finish transitions to a tannic note that seems to almost overstay its welcome, however the nose and palate deliver an experience that’s sure to delight everyone who is able to get their hands on a bottle. -Jordan
A very comforting blend of gingerbread, vanilla, and baking spices overtop a gentle bed of oak. The aroma has a nice presence, but is in no way assertive. Overall the nose has many of the classic qualities the older batch of Sazerac used to exhibit that last year’s release was unfortunately light on.
The first sip is rather dry and flat tasting. Further sipping brings out notes of black pepper, ginger, maple, and nutmeg. A hearty dose of seasoned wood moves in with a surprising shot of sugary sweetness. It’s quite mellow overall, which makes it stand out from many of the ryes on the market.
Overly dry and heavy on oak. The finish unravels a lot of the positives the palate brought to the glass. There isn’t much to the finish overall, as the flavor profile becomes more one-dimensional and its heat factor increases a small degree. An unsatisfying conclusion.
After last year’s so-so Sazerac offering, disappointed fans could find serenity in the fact that it was a one-time batch. Unlike previous years where Buffalo Trace continually pulled from the same steel tanked batch, going forward, Sazerac 18 Year will be drawn directly from barrels put away 18 years ago, versus using any tanked whiskey. Unfortunately, plans changed and Buffalo Trace tanked extra barrels of 2016’s batch to pull from this year. While this year’s edition isn’t a drastic improvement over last year’s, there are some improvements. The brand still sports some of the classic flavors that made Sazerac 18 Year so special years ago, the problem is they come across too muted against the oakier and dryer aspects of the pour. It’s worth noting the bombastic palate of last year’s batch is also toned down this year to more manageable levels and more on par of the original steel tanked batch. Sazerac 18 Year, despite its faults, still offers aspects that few other rye whiskeys can: smoothness and age. Unfortunately the brand seems to still be going through some growing pains and while it’s still a good pour, it may take some time for it to return to its former glory. -Eric
Rich and intense notes of cinnamon, dark cherries, and leather draw out against a trace of aged oak. It’s full and warming and interesting all at the same time.
Big sugary sweetness upfront gives way to a wonderfully rich dark cherry note that bursts forth with intensity taking center stage. Behind it lies traces of cinnamon, leather, and raw sugar sweetness. It’s a fantastic showing of flavor, and so thick you can almost chew it.
After the burst of flavor in the palate there aren’t any surprises here. The cinnamon and sugary sweetness take over with the dark cherry note receding to the background. The mouthfeel sticks with you making its presence known long after the sip.
William Larue Weller has always been one of my favorite Antique Collection whiskeys, and this year is no exception. It’s a cherry bomb in every sense of the term, and it’s executed with a satisfying intensity. Sometimes it’s a flavor versus proof situation as you push up into the higher proofs, where heat can overpower the wonderful flavors hiding underneath. Being a lower proof than we’ve seen in recent years (though not necessarily a lower proof for the brand as a whole), flavor is the obvious winner this year as the heat is there only to complement an explosion of goodness. Some may struggle with its more one-dimensional palate, making it more polarizing than usual. But if it’s wow factor you’re looking for, this most certainly delivers. This is not one to hoard, flip, or trade, but one to open and enjoy. I’m glad there is so much more of it this year, as I will certainly be on the hunt for as much as I can find. -Nick
As a whole the Antique Collection’s quality is improved from last year, and with a substantial increase in overall bottle count, fans should be happy to have a better chance of scoring a bottle this year.
2017 BTAC saw a massive increase in overall bottle count, with George T. Stagg production so high it made us wonder if there was a typo. There wasn’t. The increase is real, and so is the increase in William Larue Weller production which, while not as shocking as the Stagg, is also a pretty significant and noteworthy increase. Unfortunately, production for Sazerac 18 stayed about the same and due to excessive evaporation loss Eagle Rare 17 actually decreased. Both saw minimal bottle counts to begin with and as a result few will get the chance to experience them. Being the youngest of the bunch by a wide margin, it’s surprising production of Thomas H. Handy hasn’t ramped up more significantly, though it did see a fair increase this year over last.
On the quality side, the Collection, while better than last year, as a whole is still not at the heights it was a few years ago. The new batch of Sazerac 18 Year is still a shadow of its former self, but showed some improvements over last year. Eagle Rare 17 Year with its disappointing bottle count, probably isn’t worth the trouble it will take to procure one this year based on what’s in the bottle. George T. Stagg seems to have become the Collection’s wild card from year to year. After last year’s poor showing, it bounced back this year, but not to the height many diehard Stagg fans will want. Thomas H. Handy and William Larue Weller are still the rocks of the Collection. Your own personal taste preference will most likely have a bigger impact on your favorites from year to year as opposed to basing it on the bottle’s overall quality. As the two releases in the Collection only marginally changing in overall quality from year to year, you really can’t go wrong with either.
BTAC always offers something different with each release and because Buffalo Trace maintains a reasonable MSRP, they’re impossible to pass up given the chance to purchase. Because of its impressive track record and now legendary status, BTAC will always be compared to previous years’ releases and judged according. Maybe that isn’t always fair, but when the Collection has set the benchmark as high as it has for bourbon as a whole to live up to, it unfortunately also has to live up to it. As we saw last year and now to a degree this year, that isn’t always such an easy thing to do. With the majority of the releases back on track this year, the Collection offers fans a range of quality whiskeys more than worthy of their MSRP.
Happy hunting this bourbon season!
The samples used for this review were provided at no cost courtesy of Buffalo Trace. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.