The Whisky Exchange Show Part 3: Buffalo Trace
American distillers Buffalo Trace are regarded by some writers and critics as one of the best whisk(e)y makers in the world. Whisky Bible creator Jim Murray consistently places their products in his top three and this years Bible has done that again by handing number one and two spots to Thomas H Handy Sazerac and William Larue Weller bourbon respectively. These two products make up the top end of the Buffalo Trace range and are banded together, with some of the others tasted below, as the Antique Collection by the company.
The entry level Buffalo Trace includes Benchmark, Buffalo Trace, Sazerac Rye up to Hancock’s Reserve the Elmer T. Lee and Eagle Rare bottles. All great stuff and items that I’ve drank or stocked in the past but seeing as that the new 2012 bottles of the Antique Collection had landed, and that with some there are only a couple of hundred bottles available at most, it would be foolish not to sample them. Fortunately Tim from Hi-Spirits, who distribute Buffalo Trace in the U.K., was at the stand to answer any questions.
First up the Sazerac 18, the big brother to the normal baby Sazerac that I know and love. Aged for 18 years (which is a very long time in Kentucky) and bottled at 45%. The nose was delicious with a little sugary spice note. Bold on the palate with a huge chunk of leather, oak, spice and sweetness combining together to create an exceptionally smooth delivery. A long finish with a pleasing bitterness at the end keeping it all together. A fantastic dram but with such high expectations maybe I was slightly disappointed that I found it lacking the killer punch. But hey, that’s just me and I’d love to give it another go in more controlled circumstances.
Next up George T. Stagg. Bourbon aged for 16 years and 4 months I was told and weighing in at a heavyweight 71.4% a.b.v and this years release to around 100 bottles. Yowsa. After the quite astounding nose that threw up all sorts of rich aromas especially freshly roasted and brewed coffee, the delivery was, unsurprsingly with that level of alcohol, huge. Huge and, surprisingly with the alcohol level, exceptionally smooth. Layered and complex with a lot going on, there was a creaminess that, combined with a syrupy bitterness, allowed all the flavours to come together without falling apart. After, a particularly fine herbaceous edge showed itself, that continued towards the finish, with an appearance of flavours that reminded me of cough mixture sweets. The addition of water really helped to open it up and with it came more fruits and the spice toned down.
William Larue Weller up next. Banging in at 66.75%. Not sure of the age on this one. But wow, this is complex. The spice is more relaxed on the nose than the Stagg. But you need to come back to it several times to get the full range of aromas. I’m going to presume it’s more wheat dominated than the Stagg, simply because it smells like it. There’s a big whack of honey, bees, in fact pollen. The nose is fresh and has vitality and life to it. Practically singing. It’s sweet on the palate initially. It’s almost transporting me to an American diner. There’s doughy pancakes, that appear a little later on, but before that the upfront flavours of hickory, bbq chips and a more subtle hint of coffee. The herby elements actually manifest themselves as a magaharita pizza, basil and tomato right there! There’s a meatiness to it too, like freshly seared steak. The finish continues the sweetness theme with maple playing a big part and a touch of caramel sauce, as if on pancakes. If I was slightly disappointed with the Sazerac 18 then this made up for it. An outstanding experience and I felt this was better than the Stagg. The reduction in alcohol let the flavours sing, and the balance and harmony between them faired better. I found it easier to identify the different elements, that seemed to come together a little more naturally than the Stagg.
Finally the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac. Aged for 7 years and bottled at 66.2%. Possibly I should have tasted both Ryes against each other and then both Bourbons. But I didn’t. But at least my notes identified similar themes. This time the cough sweets became apparent on the nose. Eucalyptus gave it a clean and herby vibe, creating order and structure to the nose. The palate was big and medicinal. Not in the Islay TCP kind of way but more like sticking plasters. There was an electric feel to the sample that took me back to when I was a child and played with Scalextric racing cars. If you know them then you’ll know you could lift them up from the track and rev them. The electric smell you got from that was repeated here. Perhaps one of the more standout aromas and flavours was of drying pumpkin ravoli and sage that developed across the nose, palate and finish. This is also an immense experience and again one to be tried in more controlled circumstances.
With all the accolades that have been poured upon these whiskies it may seem a little harsh and possibly unfair to judge these on such a small sample over such a small amount of time. I mean I wasn’t spending an hour dissecting each dram but I recognised that a couple of them would have benefited from spending a little more considered time with them. However, they were good. The standouts were the William Larue first and then the Thomas Handy. Although I wouldn’t be confident in claiming them the best whiskies in the world. Next up, a tour of some of the micro-distillers of America at the fore-front of whisky innovation.
Next: American Micro-distillers.