It’s hard to believe but this is our 16th round with Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, which we’ve been reviewing annually since the site got its start. As has been the case for every year but one, the collection spans five whiskeys — three bourbons and two ryes — all of which are highly allocated and which carry the unicorniest of unicorn status on the secondary market.
If you want to delve into the history of the brand or see comparative reviews, feel free. We’ve got reviews from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and so on… all the way back to 2008. Let’s get to it!
Sazerac Rye 18 Years Old 2023 – A collection of rye whiskeys distilled between the fall of 2004 and the spring of 2005 and aged in Warehouses K, L, and M. Spicy and honeyed on the nose, with a complex arrangement of menthol, pepper, and furniture polish notes all in a swirl. Oaky but not overwhelming. The palate is initially dominated by that polish character, but some time in glass helps it blow off, revealing notes of dark chocolate, chicory, hazelnuts, and more barrel char. It’s a very savory expression of rye, which is certainly to be expected at this age, some camphor notes lingering alongside a classically grassy quality, a bit scorched at times. Some sweetness would help brighten this up, but its austerity serves it well. 90 proof. B+ [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]
Eagle Rare Bourbon 17 Years Old 2023 – Billed as “the oldest release” of Eagle Rare 17 since it was introduced 23 years ago. How is a 17 year old whiskey “older?” Well, what’s in the bottle is actually 19 years, 3 months old, but for the sake of brand consistency, it’s still being released as Eagle Rare 17. Distilled in the spring of 2004 (a year before last year’s Eagle Rare 17), with barrels aged in Warehouses C, I, K, M, and Q. Fans of old bourbon will find plenty to enjoy here, with an aggressive nose of Vietnamese coffee, vanilla wafers, and a layer of Christmassy baking spice. Rich and chewy on the palate, the whiskey has the perfect level of brown sugar sweetness, allowing notes of vanilla, milk chocolate, and toasted oak to percolate quickly. Fruit emerges later in the game — cherry meets strawberry — with mild, tobacco-driven spice notes kicking in for the finish. Lots of lingering hints of that coffee bean and chocolate; really enticing. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Eagle Rare 17 that I didn’t like (keep me honest on that), and this one’s another huge winner that’s hard to put down. 101 proof. A [BUY IT NOW FROM RESERVEBAR]
George T. Stagg Bourbon 2023 – Distilled in the spring of 2008, aged in Warehouses C, I, K, L, and M for 15 years and 4 months. While ever the alco-bruiser, fans will surely find this whiskey a bit of a departure from previous Staggs, which are as wood-heavy as any whiskey you’ll ever taste. For 2023, Stagg offers a bizarrely (yet pleasantly) fruit-forward structure that is hinted at by a nose of cherry and apple woods, a heavy layer of cinnamon-spiced apples, and a splash of Port. Ample lumberyard notes keep the fruit from overtly dominating, but wood is never prominent. The palate is something else. Here that fruit positively explodes — again, a bold apple pie character followed by a hearty punch of mint. Peach cobbler is met with a boldly floral, almost perfumed quality that evokes orange blossoms and potpourri, while apple cider lingers on the finish. The fruit punch character is tempered throughout by the barrel, toasty notes taming the otherwise significant sweetness, the finish taking a right turn to show glimpses of a somewhat funky, animalistic quality — that classic Stagg finally showing its face for the first time. I’ve never had another Stagg release like it, not even close. 135 proof. A- [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
William Larue Weller Bourbon 2023 – This year’s wheater was distilled in the spring of 2011, aged in Warehouses C, L, M, and N. Nearly 5% higher in abv than last year, it’s scorching from the outset, very nutty on the nose, with overtones of coffee grounds and horsehide. Overblown on the palate without water, I was pretty liberal with my tempering efforts, which helped to bring forth notes of molasses, toasted bread, and a layer of anise. It’s less complex than some of the other whiskeys in the collection, but time in glass (and, again, lots of water) help coax out a bit more, including a sweeter, raisiny quality late in the game along with an element of butterscotch. I endlessly futzed to get the balance between whiskey and water right on this one but never quite found the perfect spot. 133.6 proof. B+ [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye 2023 – The baby in the group, a 6 year old rye that, in contrast to Weller, is at a considerably lower proof than last year’s version. A spice bomb from the start, the nose is heavy with tobacco, green grass, and creosote — classic, heavy rye fixins. Despite the relatively lower proof, water’s essential to temper an incredible heat on the palate. Once you do so, notes of brewed black tea dominate, tinged with light licorice notes, toasted sesame, and a bit of coconut. As big a “rye” as rye can get, you’re never far from running through a field of grain — or loitering in a rye bread bakery — with this release. Evergreen notes on the finish give this a certain holiday vibe, but what it really needs is some sweetness to temper all that grassy funk. 124.9 proof. B+ [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
each $800ish / MSRP is $125 each [BUY THE COLLECTION FROM FROOTBAT]