Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Buffalo Trace. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
This is one of the most talked about line-ups in the bourbon community. The Antique Collection has been bringing a seasonal anticipation to bourbon lovers since the early 2000s, and will likely continue to do so based on popularity. As you likely know, getting these by the bottle at retail is a daunting and often way over expensive task, so if you can find them at cost or close to that you are one lucky person. The best way to try them is to find a ‘top shelf Tuesday’ or ‘whiskey Wednesday’ type of bar that sells them. Or, if you’re in the know, have each of your friends buy a bottle and taste them all – they’re the most fun side by side.
I’m always a fan of transparency. One of the best things about the Antiques is that they have detailed descriptions on how they are made, aged and bottled. That includes which floor the barrels were aged on, barrel entry proof, grain types and so on. For the true nerds, this is like having your cake and eating it too. For the less interested, it doesn’t matter because it’s still really good whiskey.
Be careful if you try these all at once unless you’re really sipping. They clock in at up to 128 proof or 64% ABV. It took me a couple sittings to get through them properly. I made sure to revisit a couple times with a fresh palate. Well, cheers are in order no doubt!
All of these were nosed in Glencairn glassware, with the Weller and Thomas H. Handy also nosed in rocks glasses to aid with the high proof.
Tasting Notes: Eagle Rare 17 Year
Vital Stats: 17 year and 3 months, Kentucky straight bourbon, 101 proof, 66% angel’s share, rye is secondary grain, #4 charred barrels. MSRP around $100, but secondary market and many retail outlets will push this higher, perhaps way, way higher.
Appearance: Golden honey.
Nose: Sweet honey crisps and fresh plums. Slightly herbal and minty. Wood comes through with a wisp of smoke.
Palate: Chalky on the teeth as you contemplate the sweetness and the overall balance. Herbal qualities are balanced by sweet red fruits. Dry and spicy finish.
Final Thoughts: This whiskey is perfect for the classic bourbon lover. It hits all the right notes and would be easily picked out as a favorite when put up against the standard back bar picks. The 101 proof is also a sweet spot that doesn’t burn but allows some wiggle room if you prefer your whiskey on ice. Having said that, it’s not terribly exciting. It tastes great, but leaves you wanting more. It is, on a positive note, the friendliest of the bunch.
Tasting Notes: George T. Stagg
Vital Stats: Uncut, unfiltered Kentucky straight bourbon, aged 15 years and 3 months, 56% angel’s share, rye is secondary grain, #4 charred barrels. MSRP around $100, but secondary market and many retail outlets will push this higher, perhaps way, way higher.
Nose: Raspberry and cashews, lemon peel, musty limestone, vanilla and a bit of cinnamon spice.
Palate: Cashews and pecans, under-ripe figs, a touch of coffee, plenty of spice like clove, nutmeg and black pepper. A hint of lighter more tropical flavors dance in the background, and the palate is left tingling from the proof and dried by the wood tannins.
Final Thoughts: The George T. Stagg makes your mouth water for more. There is plenty to keep your palate and your nose entertained for a couple pours. The surprising background flavors are my favorite here, but there is plenty to discover in the forefront. To score a 5, I would want for a slightly longer and more developed finish.
Tasting Notes: William Larue Weller
Vital Stats: Uncut, unfiltered Kentucky straight bourbon, aged 12 years and 6 months, 56% angel’s share, wheat is secondary grain, #4 charred barrels. MSRP around $100, but secondary market and many retail outlets will push this higher, perhaps way, way higher.
Appearance: Rusty amber.
Nose: Cereal comes through nicely with a nice wheat characteristic. Yogurt, coconut and a slight floral element. This is the most interesting nose of the three bourbons in my opinion.
Palate: Cooked fruit, walnuts and heat come first. That’s a lot of mouth-watering alcohol! After my palate cooled I added some water and tried again. Much sweeter in flavor, with fleshy stone fruits like nectarines. Dry cacao and spearmint. The cereals come out a bit as well now, providing a soft sipping experience.
Final Thoughts: This is one for a big cube for sure. Too hot to experience by itself, and definitely better in a wide mouthed glass if you are going in without water or ice. This one is primed for a long sit where it can develop as the ice melts and you contemplate where the 57% angel’s share actually ends up.
Tasting Notes: Sazerac Rye 18
Vital Stats: Kentucky straight rye whiskey, aged 18 years and 4 months, 83.5% angel’s share, corn is secondary grain, #4 charred barrels. MSRP around $100, but secondary market and many retail outlets will push this higher, perhaps way, way higher.
Appearance: Light straw.
Nose: The most aromatic of the bunch in a very pleasant way. Licorice and tobacco, leather, mint, pepper, and apple. Slight breadiness, like a chocolate croissant.
Palate: Shockingly light on the palate. Marshmallows, Bartlett pears, orange flower, with backings of wet tobacco, butterscotch and macadamia nut. Still, slightly flat compared to its higher proofed friends.
Final Thoughts: I would pair this with a light cigar such as an Ashton. The nose is absolutely fantastic; perhaps the lower proof makes it more approachable and easily analyzed. While complex enough, the overall flavor is lacking in comparison to all the others. I believe the chill filtration and proof lead to it feeling a bit flat; it could use more soul. This one has the highest angel’s share, which I found interesting given the final product.
Tasting Notes: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac
Vital Stats: Uncut, unfiltered Kentucky straight rye whiskey, aged 6 years and 2 months, corn is secondary grain, 26% angel’s share, #4 charred barrels. MSRP around $100, but secondary market and many retail outlets will push this higher, perhaps way, way higher.
Appearance: Copper penny.
Nose: The higher proof is best in a rocks glass. Nutty, with smokey spice, a touch of vanilla and plenty of maple.
Palate: Chocolate covered cherries and sour grains like if you put rice crispies in your yogurt. Great structure with enough wood bite to keep everything in check. Cocoa and orange, coffee and cedar, vanilla and anise. This one is fun!
Final Thoughts: No need for water on this one, so have a try before adding your ice. This whiskey has it all. The nose is enticing, the palate is exciting and it doesn’t burn your face off on the first sip. It doesn’t necessarily benefit from water – only changes, which is how a high proof whiskey should behave. Hands down my pick from the line up.
User Review0 (0 votes)
After graduating with an engineering degree in Colorado, Cameron Holck discovered his passion for hospitality. He followed his love of the outdoors into the Pacific Northwest where he continues his dedication to bartending, and as a sales representative for Four Roses Bourbon. He warmly welcomes the fact that a night...