Whisky is a wonderfully rich collection of diversity and culture, much like the world itself. But there are a few extravagant exceptions that develop this richness into a robust, hearty and remarkably flavourful recipe that really gets my blood racing with palpable excitement and adventure.
Whenever I see the acronym of, BTAC (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), my mind is instantly sent into a luscious green field with warehouses stacking up on the horizon in the dry Kentucky heat, within those warehouses lie the barrelled ingredients to create what is arguably the greatest collection of whisky that any one company has ever produced.
All of these products that I’m going to be talking about have now come to be owned by the Sazerac Company and distributed around the world as a powerhouse collaboration of some of the most beautiful flavour experiences, bearing the names of historic and important figures in American whisky and the countries general history.
George T. Stagg - Kentucky Straight Bourbon – BT Rye Mash #1 – Age Varies – Barrel Proof
“One plus ultra of its class”
This is how the man himself defined his distillery in the early part of the 19th century. In his former days, Stagg was a liquor salesman in St. Louis where he had the good fortune to meet up with E.H Taylor, who himself would not only bring into process the bottled in bond act, but would also grace the name of a later bottling of another exceptional whisky. Buffalo Trace as we know it now was formerly the George T. Stagg distillery and what this man started 166 years ago is constantly climbing from strength to strength in its current guise. As for the whisky which his name now graces, it’s unfiltered, uncut and gets whisky enthusiasts around the world jumping with excitement to even talk about it, let alone having the opportunity to buy one for its original pricing. The age itself does vary from year to year, but the bottle sat in my cabinet is sixteen years old, bottled at 69.05% and is like being kicked in the teeth by a tobacco chewing cowboy, you could even compare it to drinking a distilled barrel. It’s rich, dry, decadent, spicy and structured with naughty flavours of molasses, candy corn, cigar leaf and dried citrus. After drinking this whisky, I turn into Al Pacino in, The Scent of a Women, I run around the room screaming in the faces of people around me with pure delight. When I opened this bottle, my future finances breathed an audible sigh, but it’s totally worth it, anyone who buys these bottles to sell on is a true heathen in my eyes.
William Larue Weller - Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Wheated Mash Bill – 10/12 Years - Barrel Proof
“This thing could give Bill Gates a run for richness”
As truly spectacular as all of these individual bottles are, this is my own personal favourite. Weller prioritises wheat in substitution for rye, this in turn allows for an even sweeter and not necessarily “typical” approach to making bourbon, with only a few distilleries and brands using wheat in any way at all. The name-sake for this bottle was a man who decided to use wheat in the early part of the 19th century in place of the more popular use of rye, this section of history was known for its whisky pioneers, both domestically and internationally. To mark his products authenticity, Weller would seal every bottle with a green thumb print, the colour is an odd choice when looking at modern day American whisky as rye products tend to be sold with their green labels, wheated products, with the exception of Makers Mark don’t really have any stand out features when on the shelf. Wellers company eventually merged with the Van Winkle family to help form Stitzel-Weller which was a paradise for wheat based whisky products, Buffalo Trace now honours the man with a whisky that is aged between 10-12 years, bottled at cask strength and has marvellous top notes of plums, figs, dates, deep-dark honey and a finish of luxurious milk chocolate and caramel. The finish not only lasts for a fortnight, but ensures you that there is brilliance outside of the normal varieties of whisky.
I hunted one of these bottles down for a good two years and with the help of a friend, I’m now in ownership of what is without a doubt the greatest whisky experience I’ve ever encountered, especially when bottled at 70.1% ABV (2014 Edition). Only fifty-five barrels are put together to create this once a year product and if you do manage to get your hands on one, lucky you. I have one bottle and it’s the prize of my collection. The day the cork pops will be a truly joyous one.
Thomas H. Handy - Kentucky Straight Rye – Straight Rye Mash – Approx.6 - 8 Years Old – Barrel Proof
“It’s like licking the inside of a barrel"
This whisky was first described to me by a dear friend and fellow whisky nerd in that exact way. Cocktail fans will be familiar with some of the names associated with the history of this bottle.
Thomas H. Handy was born in Maryland and in 1847 he travelled down to New Orleans to work for a man called, John Schiller who ran a local liquor store. Whilst working for John, Thomas befriended a young man with French ancestry named, Antoine Peychaud. Antoine was crafting cocktails in the Sazerac coffee house on Royale street by mixing brandy with a secret family recipe for bitters.
The cocktail became known as the Sazerac and created a history of its own throughout new America and the modern cocktail industry. Schiller died and Handy bought his shop as well as the coffee house, he went about replacing the brandy in the Sazerac with American rye whisky and this is why you’ll always have the option in any bar to pick between Rye or Brandy in your cocktail. As for the whisky itself it’s the young gun of the pack, normally around eight years old, but I have tried a six-year-old and, my god, It’s a force to be reckoned with. As you’d imagine, spicy rye grains are the dominant flavour followed into battle with all spice, cinnamon, leather and so much virgin oak that you’d think you’re an actual tree, in addition to all of this it has a strength of around 64% ABV and sometimes even more. It’s not all about age and it’s amazing to believe that it’s the same recipe as the standard six-year-old Sazerac Rye, just unfiltered and uncut, a true testament to the distilling and blending at Buffalo Trace.
Sazerac 18 - Kentucky Straight Rye – Straight Rye Mash – 18 Years Old – 45% ABV
“Quite possibly the most luxurious and decadent thing to ever hit my lips”
Now, a lot of people would say that the prime age range for American whisky is between, 6-12 years.
I don’t disagree with this as a lot of my favourite bourbons, ryes and other assorted goodies are in this category.
However, there is always one exception to the rule and this is that exception, because even though it’s only bottled at 45%, in contrast to the other ABV monsters this thing works its wonders across all of your senses.
It isn’t over-oaked, it’s not full of bitter, tannic wood notes, it is in all honesty the best of the older American products that I’ve tried.
You can keep your Pappy Van Winkles and Elijah Craig’s, even after secondary market prices, this thing still works out cheaper. The name Sazerac relates back to the cocktail that Mr. Peychaud and Mr. Handy helped develop throughout the mid parts of the 19th century, it is now show cased as a unique and beautifully old expression of rye whisky.
The ageing and the use of rye help build on the huge hit of minty eucalyptus you receive once this is in the glass, followed along with vanilla, molasses, patina (old cracked leather), polished mahogany and cigar boxes, it’s luxurious, decadent, well-aged, well balanced and without doubt, in my opinion, the greatest rye whisky that the world has ever seen.
Eagle Rare 17 - Kentucky Straight Bourbon – BT Rye Mash #1 – 17 Years Old – 45% ABV
"To see this level of natural colouring in a Scottish whisky would make it four to ten times more expensive.”
To anyone who is familiar with the standard Eagle Rare Ten, the bourbon itself is very different to most other big branded, single barrel whiskies. Eagle rare has this wonderfully heavy body and coats any glass with illusion of having spent time in ancient Pedro Ximenez casks. Selected from only ten worthy barrels that sit in the dry heat of Kentucky, this gloriously spicy and warming bourbons younger brother is the only bourbon to have collected five double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the seventeen-year-old has previously been classed as the best whisky that American has to offer. The most fragrant of all five products, Eagle Rare seventeen has a wonderful wine-like quality about it with hints of marinated red fruits, almonds and green tea. Like the Sazerac eighteen, this is also bottled at 45%, there’s no need to berate it with high ABV as it works at its designated percentage in every way you could imagine. This is the kind of product that you unwind with in front of a fire after a chilling winters day, it’s sweet complexity is something that can only be found in bourbon and is a message to all that virgin oak barrels even with their spikey and intense flavour can age a product to the same degree as any well-known Scotch brand can with their various barrel combinations.
You pop the corks on these bottles and it’s the sound of the American national anthem followed by the sound of heavy slapping that the good ol’ boys from Kentucky would give you on your back as you share it around. The attack of flavour and the shear experience of drinking them with good friends makes me want to climb the highest mountain, ford the coldest rivers, wander the world and crack them open at the end of the adventure. These are just five examples of how amazing, bourbon, rye and other American whiskies can really be. From standard bottlings of some of the biggest brands such as Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Woodford through to the strange and experimental styles of Hudson, Balcones, Michters and indeed the other Buffalo Trace lines, give them a chance and you’ll never regret it, just because it doesn’t say it’s made in Scotland, doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.