Whiskey Review: Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old

antique-saz18Editor’s Note: Today we bring you the second in a five week series of reviews on each of the individual whiskies from Buffalo Trace’s 2016 Antique Collection. Expect the reviews to appear in this time slot each Wednesday. Last week we touched upon Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old. As a bonus, we will also be embedding at the end of each review the annual release letter tied to each expression. This will give you a lot more specifics to consider.

All of these whiskies were provided to us as free samples to review by Buffalo Trace upon request. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

For the last several years, Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old release has been more or less the same whiskey. Instead of letting stocks rest in their barrels, aging along with the rest of us, Buffalo Trace decided to decant the whiskey that would be bottled as Sazerac 18-Year-Old into stainless steel tanks to halt its aging. The tanked whiskey was sold for three years, and while it did halt maturation some tasters say they discerned subtle differences between the three, due perhaps to oxidation.

This year, however, Buffalo Trace is releasing a new batch, drawn from just 24 barrels filled in April of 1998. According to marketing materials, a whopping 72.1% of the whiskey was lost to evaporation over the years, making this a very scarce spirit indeed.

The Sazerac brand is named after a famous bar in New Orleans, and a famous cocktail of the same name. While cocktail history is a notoriously foggy branch of the discipline, here’s how the brand tells the story of how the Sazerac cocktail came to be synonymous with New Orleans.

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In 1838, a bartender by the name of Antoine Peychaud started making a cocktail that combined French brandy with house-made, red-hued bitters. The drink proliferated, becoming popular at numerous local watering holes, including the Sazerac Coffee House. After phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France, Cognac became hard to find, so rye whiskey was used instead. Pastis – first absinthe, then Herbsaint, also entered the picture at some point, bringing the modern Sazerac into focus.

If you’re looking for a rye to use in a Sazerac, this isn’t it – unless maybe you can snag it at the MSRP of $90. Otherwise, you’re looking at one very expensive cocktail, since secondary market pricing for Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old routinely enters into the four figures. Alas – I’m sure it’d be delicious.

Tasting Notes: Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old

Vital Stats: 18 years old, 90 proof, $90 MSRP but you’re likely to pay more.

Appearance: Coppery apricot

 Nose: A very pure nose. Nice, bold rye immediately – pumpernickel bread, mint, and a strange but pronounced note of pineapple, including the skin. I love this – feels honest and straightforward.

Palate: Just pure rye character here too, through and through. There’s a moderate sweetness, on the sweeter side for rye, which really gives the impression of delicious spiced baked goods. It’s very grainy, without a ton of fruit character. Exhaling after a sip is like biting into a piece of warm whole-grain gingerbread cake, spices and all.

I find this relatively easy-going, despite a moderate alcohol warmth and a good amount of tannic structure – you can really feel the oak on the sides of your tongue.

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Final Thoughts:

Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old is a little simple, to be frank, but I like its straightforward delivery of rye flavor with a pleasant, rich sweetness. It doesn’t really feel like a special occasion whiskey, but if it was an option, I’d drink this all the time. 

Score: 90/100 [SHOP FOR A BOTTLE OF SAZERAC 18-YEAR-OLD]

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