It is a little late, but after two visits to my local bar and cracking open three bottles at home, I have finally finished tasting the 2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This came at the urging of Erik, a reader who politely reminded me that I was about two months late on a previously stated new years resolution to finish the collection by February. My options were to break the resolution to finish the BTAC (granting some leeway on the timeframe), or break a different resolution to keep my open bottles under 20.
Quick to justify any reason to open a bottle, the former won out and my short lived “under 20″ resolution crumbled with the uncorking of the 2013 Handy. After jotting a few quick notes and taking a few extra pours, I was able to complete a hastily prepared, somewhat useless collection of my notes on the set.
Below is a quick summary of all five, and further below that are the tasting notes.
The 2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Not a single expression landed where I thought they would. My normal rankings are Weller and Stagg as 1a and 1b, Saz18 at 3, and Handy and ER17 fighting for the consolation prize.
The big surprise to me was the Stagg. I felt coming in to the 2013 release that Stagg was on the decline, but the 2013 was one of my favorite releases in years. Rich, balanced, and extremely drinkable.
On the other hand, the Weller was sharper than I cared for with a distracting bitterness nagging in the back. This not only made Stagg my clear winner, but let Saz 18 jump Weller to my number 2.
The Saz 18 showed more fruit and a sweeter oak that is normally masked by big rye and lower proof. Even though any changes to the stainless vat era of Saz18 will be minimal, I wouldn’t mind this being home plate for a while.
Handy was another upset with a great balance, and a more familiar profile compared to last years messy, hot profile (I know, but Jim Murray says…). It was balanced, and the slightly lower proof did this young rye some good.
Last was Eagle Rare 17, which was not bad, but thoroughly unimpressive. Tougher in back than years past, but I find that too many cheaper, more accessible bourbons can bridge the gap of quality when it comes to this year’s Eagle Rare 17, and that is where it lost big points with me.
Poured at home from my personal bottle (16 years old, 128.2 proof)
Nose: Everything you could want to nose from a bourbon is right here. Chewy caramel candy, vanilla, dark fudge, bananas foster, cinnamon, and some pipe tobacco and that sweet maple syrup. Perfectly sweet and balanced.
Sip: Great thick, oily texture. Loads of sweetness, just as the nose indicates. Chewy caramel, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and banana round out a fantastic front palate. The sweetness transitions quickly to deep char, peppery oak, some sharp rye, tobacco, and a full spice box. The flavors come and go with very little burn at all, but the back end can’t quite keep up with the big upfront sweetness.
Finish: Far more fruity than either the nose or the sip. The banana and some berries linger long after with some of the vanilla, a young corn, and some classic rye spice.
Overall Grade: A
Easily one of my favorite Stagg releases in a few years. While there is nothing surprising in the profile, GTS executes every bourbon quality with near perfection. Only a few bourbons consistently ring out with every quality of a classic bourbon, but GTS is one of them and the 2013 is no exception. Very little gets lost in the high proof, and this one can easily be sipped all day long at the bottled proof.
Sazerac 18 Year
Poured at The Arvada Tavern (18 years old, 90 proof)
Nose: Sweet and spicy, with tons of fruit. Vanilla and a warm caramel drizzled apple pie, berries, and the nostalgic scent of a stale piece of gum from an old pack of baseball cards. The rye spice is big, with clove, cinnamon, allspice, and a slight tobacco and dry oak.
Sip: Darker sugars than the nose leads on. Caramel, raisins, vanilla cream and some honeyed apples are followed by a big, refined spice box that stays the same from year to year. The oak is just short of bitter, and the char shows almost perfectly.
Finish: Fruity, with a fun rum raisin and baking spice combination lingering for a decent spell.
Overall Grade: A-
Even though these Saz 18s have been tanked for the better part of a decade, I found a fruitier, sweeter sip than in year’s past. Normally, Saz 18 is my third favorite, but a disappointing showing from Weller has it at number two this year.
Poured at home from personal bottle (12 years old, 136.2 proof)
Nose: Prolific wheater nose with loads of caramel, cinnamon, toffee, and soft cocoa. There is also a nice, sweet pipe tobacco and some ripe banana and fig. The oak is somewhat sharp, and cuts through more than I am used to with this line.
Sip: The oily, rich mouthfeel showcases the uncut, unfiltered bourbon’s backbone. Great layers of dark, chewy caramel, butterscotch, thick honey/agave and vanilla cream lead the front palate. Dark fruits, some pear, a soft cinnamon and baking spice transition to a very mature, somewhat sharp and bitter oaky char that is saved by a smooth tobacco in the back. A drop of water really opens of the dark sugars and softens the hard edges in the back.
Finish: Super long, very dry, and just as deep as the sip. The pipe tobacco, baking spice and a rich candied pecan note linger long after the sip right along side the warm tingle from the high proof.
Overall Grade: B+
Another strong showing for the William Larue Weller line, but less refined than I am used to. The hard back really takes away from where the attention should be, so it doesn’t quite meet the high bar that has been set by multiple fantastic release.
Still, the 2013 WLW is highly enjoyable, and one of the best wheated bourbon to come out all year.
Thomas H. Handy
Poured at home from personal bottle (6 years old, 128.4 proof)
Nose: Sweet cinnamon sugar, plum, grappa, and a ramped up spice box and pipe tobacco. Some alcohol shows through, and a mild oak is present, but unintrusive.
Sip: Huge, sticky caramel apple note right upfront, with sugar cookies, a light rum raisin, and a powerful, somewhat floral rye spice. Cinnamon sticks, red hots, clove and a taste that I can only attribute to when I used to smoke Backwoods Cigars when I thought I was much cooler than I really am.
Finish: Very sweet and balanced, with a Red Hot cinnamon burn, and a caramel drizzled berry pie lingering with the burn from the 128.4 proof.
Overall Grade: B+
With a few ounces left over from last year, the 2013 Thomas H. Handy is far more balanced, though lighter on the fruit than the 2012. To me, this is a good thing, to some, it may be less indicative of a Thomas H. Handy. The profile is sweeter and deeper overall, but still missing that oak presence in the back to help tame the sharp spice in the back .
Eagle Rare 17 Year
Poured at The Arvada Tavern (17 years old, 90 proof).
Nose: Caramel corn, vanilla bean, pear and plum. A sweet and bitter oaky char bounces off of a leather shop note.
Sip: Lots of sweet corn, a subtle vanilla cream, a fresh toffee and a light hint of milk chocolate are prominent, while a slight citrus, chai, spice box, and oaky leather push their way in at the end.
Finish: Vanilla, honey, and an emerging orange rind bite last with a decent kick of oak.
Overall Grade: B
This was definitely not my favorite Eagle Rare 17 expression. Possibly because the superior 2012 Eagle Rare 17 is still open and a regular pour of mine at home. In comparison, the 2013 is flat, dry, and not much better than the better bottles of Blanton’s or E.H. Taylor Single Barrel.