WORDS KEN GARGETT
The roadshow for fabulous Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is doing the rounds – a collection of whiskies of age and complexity. While not open to the public, take heart that your favourite bartenders are there on your behalf. You will reap the benefits in the future.
Over the years, I have been to more tastings than I can remember, but these tend to be the world of wine writers (and retailers and these days, occasionally bloggers). One day, I’ll get to those, but a tasting populated almost solely by bartenders is a very different world. In filed what looked rather like an unruly army. Of the fifteen attending, I think only one didn’t have thick facial hair and a black tee-shirt. It did not take long though, to realise just what a knowledgeable crowd they are.
When I was a little younger, bourbon was dismissed as merely a means to transport alcohol from bottle to person. The idea of them being quality spirits with brilliant aged examples crossed no one’s mind. Sadly, the same could be said for rum.
What a difference those few years have made, as revealed by the Antique Collection. Buffalo Trace is the, or one of the, oldest distilleries in the States, depending on who one believes. Named after a crossing in the Kentucky River where the buffalo travelled every year, the distillery produces a wide array of bourbons and other spirits, ranging from good value, large production lines to others which are extremely limited, very expensive and really good. The fabulous Eagle Rare, for example, goes for nearly a grand (those inclined can flip it several times that back in the States, such is the demand). Australia’s entire allocation was fifteen bottles. The other four sit around $500 to $1200.
The five bourbons that form the Collection, this year, are the Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old, George T Stagg, Sazerac 18-Year-Old (Australia’s allocation was 45 bottles), Thomas Handy Rye and the wonderful W. L. Weller.
The Eagle Rare has seventeen years ageing, during which the angels’ share, lost to evaporation, was an astounding 89%. Florals, cinnamon, spices, tobacco leaf, orange rind notes with underlying power and yet elegance. Wonderfully complex and simply delicious.
The ‘George T Stagg’ is a huge bourbon in every way. At 64.6%, with fifteen years under its belt, there are notes of hazelnuts, old teak, vanilla, florals, petals, honeycomb, toffee and more. A barrel selection from 240 barrels.
The ‘Sazerac 18-Year-Old’, my least preferred, but still a very fine spirit. Dry herbs, iodine, oyster shell notes, but without the length of the very best.
The ‘Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye’, named after the New Orleans bartender who first used rye whiskey when making a Sazerac Cocktail, is an unfiltered rye whiskey, bottled directly from the barrel. Aged for over six years, at a cask strength of 64.4%, notes of glacéd orange, milk chocolate, honeycomb and nuts. A lovely complex spirit.
The wonderful ‘W. L. Weller’ challenges the Eagle Rare. Aged more than 12 years, it is complex, has great length, with notes of dark oranges and an Armagnac-like note. Hints of chocolate, almonds and old teak.
Do not ignore the standard Buffalo Trace. Only around $60, a terrific bourbon and great value. Around 8 to 10 years of age, there are nutty, vanillin and caramel notes, lovely supple texture and a little fire on the finish. A delicious and impressive bourbon, with good length.