A few months ago, Buffalo Trace dropped one of its most ambitious (and expensive) whiskey collections: the first installment of the annually released Prohibition Collection, a five-(half) bottle collection “honoring the whiskeys that were legally produced and sold at the distillery during arguably the most contentious time period in alcohol history.”
From 1920 to 1933, the production, sale and transportation of alcohol was banned in the United States due to the ratification of the 18th amendment to the United States Constitution, an era known as Prohibition. Purchasing alcohol was only legal with a medical prescription. At the time, many doctors believed spirits to be a cure for a wide variety of ailments. As such, the U.S. Government granted licenses to six distilleries to bottle medicinal whiskey: one of those distilleries was the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort, KY. Known today as Buffalo Trace Distillery, it is the longest continually-operating distillery in America.
Now, no, these are not dusties they unearthed in Kentucky that they’re now bottling. These are replicas, recreations, honoraria of sorts — but bearing antique labels and old-timey names… and plenty of lore to back them up.
We at long last received (tiny) samples of all five, and are happy to put them to the Drinkhacker test. Note that they are not officially available on their own, so pricing is provided only for the set.
Old Stagg Whiskey – A barrel-proof (132.4 proof), uncut, and unfiltered whiskey (presumably a bourbon or close to it) that was the precursor to the Stagg and George T. Stagg brands. Racy and full of oak on the nose, with elements of anise, clove, and pepper — it certainly feels like Stagg. Surprisingly, there’s plenty of dark and red berry fruit on the palate to temper the savory, peppery attack, with ample vanilla and hints of menthol on the finish. The whole experience ends up becoming rather dessert-like — and never needs even a dash of water. 132.4 proof. A
Golden Wedding Rye – From a brand dating back to 1869 which eventually moved to Canada. Classic, pungent rye spice on the nose — intensely grassy and herbal. The palate feels slightly thin but expressive with notes of butterscotch and barrel char in a strange swirl, a honey syrup character building on the finish. Toasty with plenty of char in the mix, almost a burnt toast quality late in the game. 107 proof. B+
Three Feathers Blended Whiskey – A bonded whiskey dating back to at least 1812, it started as a rye before evolving into a blend. This simulacrum is quite soft and sweet, with a marshmallow nose, crushed graham crackers, and tons of vanilla. The palate matches closely, the finish quite sunny and refreshing, increasingly fruity over time, though overall it’s rather one-note. 100 proof. A-
Walnut Hill Whiskey – A high-rye bourbon with production overseen by one Albert Blanton. Gentle and approachable thanks to its low abv, a true sippin’ whiskey of its day, I’m sure. Notes of peanut and walnut (perhaps telegraphed) meld with honey and spices, lingering on a finish that sees just a touch of grassiness. Short but pleasant on the fade-out, there’s nothing not to like here, though it comes off as quite youthful (and not all that heavy with rye). 90 proof. B+
George T. Stagg Distillery Spiritus Frumenti -“Spiritus Frumenti,” which translates as “Spirit of the Grain” in Latin, was a generic name for medicinal whiskey during Prohibition. This Stagg distillate is technically a wheated bourbon and stands as the raciest, most biting of the collection. Fresh grains and toasted nuts, barrel char, and ample cloves comprise the nose. Pushier spice on the palate, then butterscotch, cinnamon, some flambeed banana, and a pinch of red pepper. The fire continues to the finish. 110 proof. A-
$1000 for a set of five 375ml bottles / buffalotracedistillery.com