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: 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: Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey

Yellow Rose Distilling - Straight Rye Whiskey

We last encountered Houston, Texas-based Yellow Rose Distillery in 2013. Today we pick up the thread with Yellow Rose’s straight rye, an Indiana-sourced product made from 95% rye grain (in keeping with a number of other MGP ryes on the market). Yellow Rose says this product was recently reformulated, but I don’t have any information on how this version differs from what was available in the past other than that the current version is at least four years old.

I’ve encountered plenty of MGP 95% rye over the years, but this expression isn’t my favorite by far. The nose comes across as hot, youthful, and over-wooded, folding in notes of eucalyptus with a significant amount of petrol and furniture polish character. The palate is initially a little thin, at first offering fresh grain notes tempered by vanilla, brown sugar, and notes of orange blossoms. Some walnut character emerges in time, but it is sadly overshadowed by those heavy, rough-hewn notes of raw wood and, again, oily furniture polish notes. The finish is pungent and lasting, again echoing a heavy lumberyard character before a reprise of sweetness makes a brief reappearance.

All told, it’s passable rye at best, but it remains significantly flawed.

90 proof.

B- / $38 /

Review: Templeton Rye 6 Years Old

templeton 6 years old

It’s hard to believe that Templeton Rye first arrived on the scene 10 years ago (to generally wide acclaim, including from yours truly) — and it’s taken 10 years for the company to release its second expression, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old.

Templeton has been in the news of late, caught up in the backlash against folks who use terms like “small batch” and, in Templeton’s case, “Prohibition Era recipe” on the label. The problem, of course, is that Templeton is actually made in Indiana, not Iowa, by MGP. As part of the settlement terms, customers who bought Templeton bottles can get a few bucks by way of a refund, and Templeton doesn’t get to use its Prohibition or Small Batch taglines any more.

Anyway, Templeton Rye 6 Years Old is a limited edition, higher proof, age-statemented version of Templeton — still 95% rye, 5% barley. Though Templeton is building a distillery in Iowa, this is still MGP juice, but it now carries the new Templeton tagline: “The Good Stuff.”

As for Templeton 6, it’s good enough, though given the phalanx of top-shelf ryes that have emerged since Templeton first hit the scene in 2006, it’s not exactly a scene stealer. The nose is loaded with sweetness — butterscotch, creme brulee, lots of sugar, with some vegetal, carrot-like hints lingering in the background. If the nose is loaded with sugar, the body is damn near overloaded with it at first, offering notes of cake frosting, more butterscotch, and candy corn notes. This is tempered by some notes of scorched lumber, pencil lead, and a finish that is surprisingly bitter, with additional notes of burnt rubber. The conclusion is quite drying, at times uncomfortably so.

The slow swing from sweet to quite bitter takes some time, and offers more complexity and curiosity than you might think, though on the whole it doesn’t exactly reinvent (or do much to elevate) the category.

91.5 proof.

B / $50 /

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers


Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

Review: Canadian Club 100% Rye

canadian club 100 rye

I don’t remember the last time we saw something new from Canadian Club (turns out it was 2011), but with absolutely no warning or fanfare the blender has released a new whisky. As the name fairly freely suggests, it’s 100% rye, produced by the rye giants at Alberta Distillers Ltd.

As a reminder, “rye” whiskey need only be 51% rye (the remainder being comprised of corn and other grains), and rye as we know it tends to be all over the map, mashbill-wise. This bottling is, of course, unadulterated rye, and while there’s no age information offered, we do know it is blended from three different barrel types: new white oak, once-used bourbon barrels, and refill Canadian whisky barrels.

Despite the “100%” moniker, this is an entry-level rye. The nose kicks things off with fairly heavy granary notes, with some brown butter, heavy-char wood, and some darker floral elements. The aroma comes across as relatively immature, lacking in the spicier elements inherent in a great rye.

The palate shows modest improvement, tempering the grain — still considerable — with butterscotch, caramel corn, and notes of burlap. These notes all fade away quite quickly though, finishing the experience rapidly and cleanly. That grainy focus sticks with you however, though not in an oppressive or unsatisfying way. Rather, it serves as a gentle reminder that no matter what grain or grains you put in the mash, it’s the time in the barrel that really matters.

80 proof.

B / $20 /

Review: Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” 2016

Booker's Rye Bottle + Box Lifestyle Shot

It is easily the most notorious whiskey release of the year, but Booker Noe — otherwise known exclusively for bourbon — couldn’t have predicted such when he decided to lay down some rye barrels in 2003. (Noe died in 2004, but his name has lived on in his namesake bourbon.) Apparently he took the mashbill information on this whiskey — believed to be about 70% rye — with him.

Now, 13 years (and 1 month and 12 days) later — roughly double the time that Booker’s Bourbon spends in cask — Beam Suntory has turned out those barrels and bottled them at cask strength. It is the first and so far only rye whiskey released under the Booker’s name, a very well-aged, one-off release that is turning heads mainly because of one thing: A $300 price tag.

Rye is red hot right now, but this release now has observers wondering whether we’ve hit “Peak Rye.” Even cult-level rye bottlings like WhistlePig’s rare bottlings don’t command that kind of coin. You have to look at the tiny number of Sazerac 18 Year Old bottles out there if you want to find any competition in the price range.

Ah well, let’s see what’s inside these ritzy bottles, shall we?

The nose is intense, one of the richest and most powerful I’ve encountered in an American whiskey in a long time. Huge aromas of toffee, barrel char, and licorice are backed by notes of orange marmalade, ginger, and torched brown sugar. The nose just goes and goes — it’s one of those rare whiskeys that is intensely enjoyable without ever taking a sip.

And yet, sip we must, and said sip is glorious. At 68% alcohol, Booker’s Rye ought to be a blazer, but it’s surprisingly gentle and easily approachable even at full strength. The body is complex and soaked through with notes of molasses-dark caramel, flambeed banana, tons of cloves, and Port wine. While it isn’t required, water doesn’t hurt, coaxing out more up-front sweetness to endure on the finish. All told, it’s a dramatic, powerful, and beautiful whiskey, perfectly aged and well worth sampling should you manage to encounter one of the few bottles that were produced.

Have we arrived at Peak Rye? You better believe it. Does it matter? As long as the whiskey turns out this amazingly: No.

136.2 proof.

A / $300 /