Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016 Edition


Here’s a quintet of whiskeys you might have heard of once or twice. Yes, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection has arrived, which will probably be sold out before I finish typing this sentence. Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment and want to take a stab at finding one of these rarities — particularly because this year’s batch is so exceptional — read on for the reviews.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Last year’s Sazerac 18 was famously bottled from the last drops of its massive quantity of well-aged rye, which had been sitting in tanks since 1985. 2016 marks the first “new” batch of Sazerac Rye in more than a decade. Distilled in 1998, there’s no tanked spirit in this batch — and, Buffalo Trace says, there won’t be any more tanked whiskey going forward. As it should, the whiskey tastes a bit different now, quite spicy on the nose with a huge baking spice punch while hanging on to its classic notes of brandied cherries, juicy raisins, and a layer of sandalwood. Some grassiness emerges on the nose, given time . The palate is racier and drier than expected, peppery on the back of the palate while allowing its cherry core to shine and light, toasty wood notes to emerge. The finish is lasting and allows some brown sugar notes to shine through, adding some balance to the lingering lumber. It may not be the same Sazzy 18, but it’s still a beauty. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2016 edition of the classic Eagle Rare 17 has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. The nose feels racier than usual, eventually settling down to reveal some surprises: exotic and heavily tropical notes of coconut and pineapple, with a healthy dollop of vanilla on top. This highly unexpected but delightful nose spills over onto the palate, which is well-sweetened to the point where it approaches rum, although that is tempered by plenty of wood later in the game. Some more toasted coconut and almond notes emerge on the back end, alongside a modest level of barrel char. It’s at once strikingly unusual and, at the same time, a classically fruit-forward bourbon that is well worth exploring. 90 proof. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the centerpiece of the BTAC yet often overblown, this year’s Stagg is a cherry-picked compilation of 142 barrels sourced from warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Old stock, high proof, as always — this one’s over 72% abv, bruising even by Stagg standards. Notes of unlit cigars, rosemary, and cloves kick things off on rich and dense yet surprisingly balanced nose. Another surprise: At full proof the bourbon doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate with alcohol, but it is so dusty and drying on that it’s tough to cut through the massive amount of tannin to really appreciate what’s going on. Water is always Stagg’s best friend, and this year is no exception, eventually coaxing sweetness from that intense tobacco character, plus cherry fruit, loads of vanilla, torched marshmallow, and more cloves. As it opens up in the glass — again, particularly with water — it develops an intensely smoky aroma, which is a natural companion with the tobacco notes but which does tend to dull the fruit and leave your mouth a bit dry. That aside, this year’s expression is quite unique and worth some exploration, nearly earning the vaunted reputation it’s always had. 144.1 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A 13 year old expression of Weller — uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. As is becoming the norm with these BTAC Wellers, the nose is quite sweet, with (again) a butterscotch influence, plus marzipan and peppermint. The palate backs these up, but the finish takes a turn toward a more spicy, wintry character. While approachable at full, uncut proof, water may not be a bad idea, though more than a drop or two tends to dull some of the sweetness that otherwise makes this year’s Weller so compelling. One of the best expressions of W.L. Weller I’ve had in many years. 135.4 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As always, this is a good-old six year old rye, the baby of the group, this installment distilled in the spring of 2010 and aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M. This year’s expression is better than it usually is, though the relative youth comes across immediately on the nose — moderately woody, with some butterscotch underneath. The tannin hits hard on the palate — those pushy lumberyard notes really lingering at the back of the throat. Unlike with the Stagg, water doesn’t restore balance but just dilutes the whole affair, bringing forth notes of burnt toast, heavy cereal, and lots of smoky oak. The finish is dusty and slightly green. There’s nothing all that offensive here, but compared to this field (or any other top shelf whiskey) it is just very ordinary. 126.2 proof. B

$90 each /

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2016 Edition


The first Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses’ new master distiller Brent Elliott has arrived. This year’s selection is a blend of three whiskies: a 12-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OESO recipe, a 12-year-old OBSV, and a 16-year-old OESK. Per the company, it is the first time in more than seven years that the OESO recipe has appeared in a Limited Edition Small Batch. (I’ve seen it only in this private bottling.)

This is a fruity whiskey, offering a malty character at times that tempers the notes of over-ripe apple and peach with notes of sweet breakfast cereal. On the palate, the whiskey is a touch gummy, an issue that is compounded by the heavy fruit character. Here it comes across with notes of candied apricot, canned pineapple, apple-scented bubble gum, and cotton candy. The finish is long and sweet and more than a little cloying, coating the palate before ending on somewhat bitter oak notes.

As those notes should indicate, this is not my favorite Four Roses Small Batch expression, and in fact may be my least favorite of them all from the last six-plus releases. While its unique fruitiness is not something I can complain about, the whiskey itself is out of balance and just comes across as weird on the palate, with a finish I can’t really get behind.

Compare to the 2016 Four Roses Single Barrel release.

111.2 proof. 9,258 bottles on sale in the U.S.

B- / $90 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Limited Edition Whiskey


Tennessee’s iconic Jack Daniel’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion it’s releasing a special edition of Old No. 7. Production on this release is the same, but JD offers some variations on how (or rather where) it was aged, and it’s bottled at 50% abv instead of 40%. No age statement is provided.

Some additional minutiae from the distillery:

True to the process established by its founder, the grain bill for the anniversary whiskey is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, consisting of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. Each drop was then mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey.

Once filled, the barrels were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrelhouses at the Distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates the perfect climate for the greatest interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

The nose is an iconic example of (high proof) Tennessee whiskey, offering ample alcoholic heat, plus aromas of maple syrup, toasted marshmallow, and some barrel char notes. There might be a bit too much heat on the nose, so give it a a drop of water or, at least, some time in glass to help it showcase its wares.

The palate isn’t nearly as racy as the nose would indicate, showing off a fruitier side of Jack, with notes of cinnamon-spiced apples, orange peel, and peaches. There’s ample vanilla, some chocolate-caramel notes, and a moderately dry finish that echoes the charred wood found on the nose. It doesn’t all come together quite perfectly, its tannic notes lingering a bit, but it’s an altogether impressive bottling from one of the biggest names in American whiskey.

100 proof.

A- / $100 (one liter) /

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

blood oath pact 2

Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 /

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016 Edition


It’s the 15th edition of Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, and I’m happy to report this year’s installment is one of the best in recent memory.

But first, a little detail from OldFo on this, a 12 year old bourbon, which is fully in keeping with the distillery’s history:

Each barrel in the Birthday Bourbon selections annually are drawn from the same day of production, this year’s on June 4, 2004, leading to the ‘vintage-dated’ reference. The 2016 release of 93 barrels uniquely matured together on the 5th floor of Warehouse K at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville, KY. The lot was positioned near a window facing west allowing them to be sun kissed, yielding a deeper oak mouthfeel. This warm location provides this year’s release with a deep, rich, oak forward personality.

That “official” description seems awfully backwards to me, and critically it misses what’s best about this whiskey. The 2016 Birthday Bourbon is fresh and fruity, definitively not woody, particularly on the nose, which exudes notes of cloves, spiced gingerbread, and muddled cherries. These engaging aromas come alongside a more gentle, encompassing lacing of barrel notes, which feels a bit winey at times. The palate is quite luscious, offering bright cherry fruit (I was immediately reminded of Baker’s Bourbon), dark chocolate, more cloves, and a hint of licorice. The finish is drying and bittersweet, but not especially influenced by traditional, classic barrel flavors.

All told this is a gem of a whiskey — getting more expensive every year, to be sure, but worth it at least for 2016. Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon releases are rarely my favorites, but Chris Morris and Co. have come up with a surprising delight that goes against the distillery’s often hoary style and manages to really engage with a fresh and enlightened style.

97 proof. 14,400 bottles produced.

A / $80 /

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016), High-Rye 9 Years Old, and Bourbon 9 Years Old

redemption bourbon aged barrel proof 9 years old

In late 2015/early 2016, Redemption Rye took the unexpected move of releasing three well-aged straight rye whiskies, all “honey barrels” representing the brand at 7, 8, and 10 years of age.

Now Redemption is back again with three more entries into its Aged Barrel Proof line. The twist: Only one is a straight rye; the other two are bourbons, one from a high-rye mashbill and one from a lower-rye mash.

We got the entire trio to review, and without further ado, let’s hop right into it. Technical specs on each whiskey can be found in its respective writeup.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old (2016) – Note: This is a newly batched rye with a slightly higher proof than the 2015 version of the 8 Year Old Straight Rye. It is still however made from a mash of 95% rye, 5% barley. Bigger butterscotch notes lead things off on the nose, with aromas of black and cayenne pepper. Considering the age, there’s a surprising level of granary character on the palate here, with an almost pungent level of savory, dried herbs bringing up the rear. The finish is spicy and heavy with notes of leather and fresh asphalt. A serious letdown over last year’s rendition. 122.2 proof. B-

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof High-Rye Bourbon 9 Years Old – This whiskey is made from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley. Nice color here, a pretty, heavy amber. On the nose, the rye is evident, with clear granary notes, red pepper, and licorice. The palate is a bit more subtle, still laden with brooding spices but less pushy with its heavy grain notes, offering a fruitiness that the straight rye doesn’t feature. The finish takes things back in the direction of tar and grain, though it’s tempered by some interesting notes of baking spice and gingerbread. 109.2 proof. B+

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old – And now, to contrast, this is a bourbon made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley. Though the proof level isn’t much different than the High-Rye, it initally comes across as a much hotter spirit, scorching the palate while pushing aromas of well-roasted grains, baking spice, and coffee bean. Ample wood leads the way on the palate, again showcasing crackling grain, caramel corn, and some savory herbal character. While it’s burly with lumberyard overtones, the wood isn’t overdone, and the various elements gel into a fairly cohesive whole. The finish is warming but not as hot as the initial attack, ultimately making for a fine, though fairly orthodox bourbon. 110.6 proof. B+

each $100 /

Review: George Dickel Distillery Reserve Collection 17 Years Old


Geo Dickel_F

Who doesn’t love a good backstory on a whiskey? Here’s how Tennessee’s George Dickel positions this new 17 year old limited edition release, which is available only at Dickel’s visitor’s center and at a few Tennessee retailers.

When Distiller Allisa Henley first discovered George Dickel Tennessee Whisky’s newest 17-Year Old addition to the portfolio, she wasn’t really even looking for it.  At the time, she was searching George Dickel’s single story barrel warehouses for 9-Year Old whisky to use in the Hand Selected Barrel Program she’d launched in 2014.  However, after pulling a sample from a row of 17-Year Old barrels near the back of one of the warehouses, she knew it was too good not to share as the extra time in the barrel had resulted in a perfectly balanced, flavorful sipping whisky.

The whiskey is made from Dickel’s standard mash — 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. Its only real difference it sees vs. No. 8 and No. 12 is its time in barrel.

Let’s sample what’s in the bottle.

The nose offers some curious aromas: Old wood, scorched mint, and clove-studded oranges. There’s vanilla sweetness deep down in there, but it’s underneath a thick layer of austerity. On the palate, sweet butterscotch and maple syrup quickly emerge; exposure to air dulls things fast, leaving behind heavy notes of leather, peppercorns, and burnt newspaper. The wood is intense from the start, and this gets stronger as the palate and the finish develop, to the point where it becomes nearly overwhelming.

Old bourbon can be dicey, either soulful and supple or overblown with too much wood. Dickel 17 isn’t quite a bust in the latter category, but it’s definitely getting there. On the plus side: At least Dickel pulled it out of barrel when it did. A few more months and one feels this would have been too far gone to drink.

87 proof.

B / $75 (375ml) /