Each year the distilling masters and Buffalo Trace release limited-release whiskeys that connoisseurs will want to seek out. This year’s five whiskeys, rarities that may not see store shelves come 2009, are all worth exploring in depth.
Some notes on each of the five (all officially 2008 releases) follow. (They are pictured in the order reviewed below, from left to right.) Each has a suggested retail price of $65 (though prices will vary based on demand). They are NOT sold as a set.
Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Classic, super-spicy rye, with a sugary kick. Too hot to drink straight (though a “mere” 90 proof in this lineup), it goes down a little too easily with a splash of water. Not as complex as I’d hoped, 18 years might be a little too long in the cask for a rye. Hard to say. Still, it’s a compelling spirit — definitely a good rye for the bourbon enthusiast. B+
Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – An extremely appealing bourbon, 90 proof, showing sweet honey laced with very light wood notes. Smooth finish, especially with water. About as perfect as it gets, I can’t really say anything else about it except to go get some. Now. A
George T. Stagg Bourbon – At 141.8 proof, this bourbon, aged 15 years, is a hunka hunka burning love. Emphasis on the burning. The nose is heavy with molasses and lots of wood. The wood follows over to the glass, so if oak is what you’re after, Staff should be in your glass. The darkest spirit in the bunch, this bittersweet bourbon has more complexity than most, with a complicated, lingering finish that always harkens back to the wood. A-
William Larue Weller Bourbon – Another appealing, super-hot wheat-based whiskey, this one aged 11 years (and two months) and topping out at 125.3 proof. (The last 0.3 is the killer!) Loaded with vanilla and Christmas spices, it’s maybe the sweetest bourbon in the lineup, though I preferred the Eagle Rare’s balance just a touch more. A-
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac – One last rye, this one far younger than the Sazerac 18 Year at just six years, five months in cask. Proof is another blazing hot one: 127.5, too alcoholic to sip straight but immensely approachable with water. Warming and smooth, it’s got less whiskey-ness, for lack of a better word, but this would be an amazing spirit for cocktails, particularly its namesake Sazerac. B+