Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2020 Edition
Hey, the world isn’t going to let a global pandemic keep some of the most coveted whiskies from hitting the market this year. And here they are, your 2020 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection quintet. There aren’t any production-level changes for the 2020 bottlings vs. 2019, so let’s dive right in and see how everything is panning out this year. While you’re feeling nostalgic, feel free to check out our notes from 2018, 2017, 2016, or even our primitive commentary from way back in 2008!
Sazerac Rye 18 Years Old 2020 – Distilled in 2002, making this a true 18 year old again, as it was last year. Aged on the third floor of Warehouse K. There’s a bolder wood attack on this rye than in some recent vintages, drowning out a bit of the spice and sweetness that top-shelf rye relies upon. With some air time, Sazerac’s classic butterscotch note begins to percolate, atop a sweet Bit-O-Honey character. The palate’s a bit odd, greener than expected at first, then moving into stronger barrel-driven notes, both intensely sweet vanilla syrup alongside a tougher lumberyard note. The finish is sweet but drying, with some cinnamon and mint showing up in the mix. Sazerac Rye has been heading in a more barrel-forward direction for a few years now, and 2020’s is yet another step down that road, and a big one. I’d like to see this one reined in a bit, as the overt wood influence is draining it of some of its charm. 90 proof. B
Eagle Rare Bourbon 17 Years Old 2020 – This is the fourth year for Eagle Rare 17 to be bottled at 101 proof. This is actually drawn from the same set of barrels that were used in last year’s Eagle Rare 17 release — distilled in spring 2002 and aged on the first floor of Warehouse P — just aged an extra year. (The whiskey is technically 18 years old; it wasn’t tanked.) It’s immediately quite lovely, its ample oak tempered by cherries and lots of vanilla, giving the whiskey a distinctly dessert-like quality. A layer of raisins, cola, and some sweet tea give the whiskey an agreeable sweetness, though complexity has never been Eagle Rare’s strong suit. Looking now at my notes from last year’s , they’re quite similar whiskies — which, given the quality, is not a bad thing. 101 proof. A- [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
George T. Stagg Bourbon 2020 – This year’s Stagg hits a whopping 130.4 proof (compare to 116.9 proof in 2019). Distilled in spring 2005, this whiskey was aged in warehouses L, K, and Q. As expected, it’s got a bruising heat on the nose, red pepper, intense baking spice, and barrel char all whipped into a slurry. There’s less overt lumberyard than I expected, both on the nose and on the palate, which melds brown sugar and baking spice elements into an awfully compelling, cohesive whole. That said, it’s hot as hell, and water is really a must to bring out the best of Stagg. Give it a healthy splash and a few minutes to settle down, and notes of spearmint, cracked pepper, a hint of anise, and some almond notes all work their way to the fore. Again, take your time with the whiskey, as it’s slow to reveal its charms, but once it does it’s exceptionally rewarding, with a sweet finish that offers some classic Stagg butterscotch, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Complex but balanced, and arguably my favorite in the 2020 lineup (which is not the norm). 130.4 proof. A
William Larue Weller Bourbon 2020 – This wheater is a close sister of last year’s Weller, distilled in winter 2008 and aged in Warehouses I and C. Again, it’s got the highest abv in the collection, a full 2% boozier than the Stagg. At full proof, the nose is aggressive and punchy, with a significant austerity. This smells like it was tailor-made for the cigar smoke-filled back room of a pub, all oiled wood, pipe tobacco, and a layer of brown sugar laid atop it. The palate is incredibly racy, as expected, at full proof hitting me with an immediate punch of sesame oil, chocolate sauce, and a fistful of black pepper. Water it down, but go easy — it’s more sensitive than Stagg and too much H2O does dull its flavors too much. Tempered appropriately, the whiskey showcases notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a thick layer of beef bullion, giving the bourbon some gravitas, and plenty of it. Peppery on the finish, even with water. 134.5 proof. A-
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye 2020 – This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2014; aged in warehouses K, M, and N — same as last year, just produced a year later. Again, it’s a 6 year old straight rye, by far the youngest spirit in this collection. The nose is indistinct and elusive, offering a mix of granary and lumberyard notes that coalesce fitfully into a smoky barbecue note over time. Poured straight, the palate finds a heavy dill note that, combined with burnt caramel, comes across as unbalanced and more than a little weird. Water, strangely, doesn’t help one bit, tempering the aggressive palate only slightly and merely dulling the proceedings, taking into this herbal, earthy universe that feels like one has stepped into a lumberyard that’s overgrown with weeds. There’s just very little to hold the drinker’s interest here; I’ve had more impressive craft rye whiskeys than this in recent months — at far lower price points. 129 proof. C+
$99 each (suggested retail pricing, sure)