Editor’s Note: Today we begin 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. 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.
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.
For a period of time in my mid-20s, Eagle Rare was my go-to bourbon order, especially if I was out at a bar with somebody I wanted to impress. I was too broke to order anything truly impressive, but Eagle Rare has a certain respectability despite its relatively low price, enough to make even the most snobbish drinking companion nod sagely and say “that’s a pretty good whiskey.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Eagle Rare is one of the many brands from the Buffalo Trace distillery, which does indeed seem to know something about making pretty good whiskey. As my tastes evolved, I learned that I loved many bourbons from Buffalo Trace: Col. E. H. Taylor, Elmer T Lee, Sazerac, Weller, Van Winkle, and the eponymous Buffalo Trace expression itself – all great in their own way.
While my days of ordering Eagle Rare on every date are behind me, I still have a soft spot for the brand, so I was excited to taste this year’s Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old expression, part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection. The release is aged 17 years, and Buffalo Trace reports the barrels used to make this edition were aged on the first, second, and third floors of warehouses H and K.
Warehouse H is four stories high, and is constructed from wood and sided with corrugated metal, which has poor insulating value. This allows the temperatures inside to swing dramatically over time, encouraging robust barrel interaction. Red White and Bourbon interprets, saying “the advantage of Warehouse H is that you can age a barrel quickly, reaching a very mature profile after just 6 to 8 years where it might take 10 to 12 years in a warehouse like Warehouse D. The disadvantage is that a barrel of Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old and Pappy Van Winkle 20 would suffocate in oak if they spent that long in Warehouse H.”
To avoid that “suffocation,” Buffalo Trace tempered its Warehouse H stock with liquid from Warehouse K. Warehouse K is nine stories high, and constructed from brick, which has a higher insulating value and thermal mass, stabilizing the internal temperature of the warehouse. In a press release from 2014, Buffalo Trace described whiskeys aged on the lower levels of Warehouse K as delicate and subtly sweet, with a mild oak taste.
So, does this year’s Eagle Rare 17 combine such diverse stocks with delicacy and finesse? I’ve got high hopes, but let’s find out.
Tasting Notes: Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old
Vital Stats: 17 years old, 90 proof, $90 MSRP for a 750ml bottle – but you’ll likely pay more, much more.
Appearance: Warm amber
Nose: Mmmm… Slightly overripe apricots, crisp peanut brittle, and buttery well-browned pie crust. There’s a bit more ethanol in the nose than I’d have expected for its relatively low proof. Despite its age, it retains a surprising, herbaceous freshness that reminds me of garden sage. Water really brings out a Sweetart, Smartie candy kind of aroma
Palate: The entry is quite punchy and a little odd tasting, with some flashes of spicy fresh wood atop the integrated leather-and-smoke of the old. But the finish is delightful, all dusty potpourri and rose petals, with a long, lingering aftertaste of vanilla, fresh coconut, and fenugreek.
There isn’t much sweetness here – it’s pretty lean, although as it sits for 20 minutes or so a bit of subtle sweetness emerges, like a slightly underripe plum. Unimproved by water.
This is a yummy whiskey, but not what I would call truly seductive. The nose is lovely, and the finish is outstanding, but the entry and mid-palate fall a bit short of perfection. I’m left pining for a little sweetness to balance the aromatics – but still, a treat.
Score: 88/100 [SHOP FOR A BOTTLE OF EAGLE RARE 17-YEAR-OLD]
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...