Every year, five rare and old whiskeys—a mix of bourbon and rye—are released in limited, every-one-for-themselves quantities. Sometimes you never see a single one of them, and rarely do you have a chance to see all five.
We’re lucky enough to get a taste as they’re coming to market, and in the interest of helping you make tough decisions, we’ve collected the vital information about each of the bottles, shared some of our tasting notes, and ranked them in order of favorites.
5. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
The biggest rye of the group by far, this year’s Handy was “distilled in the spring of 2012; aged in warehouses I and L, and weighs in at 128.8 proof.” We get tons of clove and caramel on this one. With water, it develops to berries and honey, and other baking spices that results in something like a drinkable cinnamon raisin bread. It’s a really well-rounded whiskey.
4. Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Last year’s Sazerac Rye took home awards from Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Buffalo Trace says the barrels selected for this year’s release were filled Spring of 1998 and that the final proof is set at 90 proof. Tobacco and cinnamon notes are the most pronounced elements here, but there’s a nice balance of vanilla and general sweetness to combat all that spice. There’s a tiny hint of cacao if you’re attentive. But the real winner here is the long finish and the complex nose. Before and after each sip, this one stays with you in the best way.
3. Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
Eagle Rare 17 notes a change in 2018 from last year’s 90 proof up to a standard of 101, “in tribute to the original strength used when the brand was launched in 1974. This will be a permanent change to the proof for the Eagle Rare 17 year old from this year forward,” says Buffalo Trace. According to them, the 2018 edition was “distilled in the Spring of 2000 and has been spending its time aging on the first, second and fifth floors of Warehouse C.” We got tons of oak and caramel on this one, with notes of creme brulee and an a light herbal quality somewhere between clove and mint. It still finishes long with those low, savory flavors in a very pleasant way.
2. William Larue Weller 2018
One of our usual favorites, this year may be one of the best yet. Weller is the same mashbill/recipe as the Van Winkle bourbons, and this is frankly better than some recent Pappy releases. According to Buffalo Trace, “the 2018 offering was distilled in the winter of 2006 and aged in Warehouses C, I, K, L, M, and Q. This bourbon registers in at 125.7 proof.” We tasted notes of toasted vanilla, dried cherries, and hints of fig and nutmeg. It shows its age brilliantly, with a nice balance between the dominance of wood and sweetness, leading up to a pleasant, slightly dry finish.
1. George T. Stagg
Typically the most colossal whiskey of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg is bottled at 124.9 proof for 2018. Buffalo Trace notes previous awards including a Double Gold Medal at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. According to the distillery, this year’s release “contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2003. This batch contained 284 barrels … across warehouses C, H, I, K, P, and Q.” Sip it and you’ll find darker notes with this one like chocolate and tobacco, all balanced well against a note of cherry and touches of cinnamon. It has a gorgeous, syrupy mouthfeel and a long, dry finish.
You can buy the 2018 Antique Collection now in select locations. While the suggested price is $100, expect to pay, well, a lot more, most likely. Happy hunting.