There are few whiskey releases every year more anticipated than the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection — or “BTAC” if you’re all cool about it. Last year’s collection stirred some serious controversy and about a million hours of material for whiskey podcasts, thanks to the lack of one of the greats being absent, George T. Stagg Bourbon. Well, Stagg is back in the mix this year and it has a higher ABV than ever.
Yes, friends, it’s time to review the 2022 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
A word of very serious warning first. Each of these bottles is marked for retail at the low-low price of $99. Cards on the table, it’ll be a miracle if you can find them for that price outside of a local state ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) lottery. Generally speaking, these bottles hit retail shelves at prices at a minimum of about ten times the suggested retail price and up to $5k and maybe beyond. It’s dire out there.
That’s kind of a tragedy as well, as these whiskeys truly live up to the hype. Moreover, there’s something for everyone in this year’s Collection. There’s a near-Hazmat bourbon that’ll satisfy the barrel-proof snobs. There’s also a funky and fresh rye whiskey with a big proof, a smaller but older rye with a very accessible proof, and two bourbons that are just freakin’ quintessential.
I was lucky enough to get these bottles early, so I’ll give you my professional opinion on the nose and taste. I’ll also rank these according to which ones I think you should run out and try right now. Hopefully, your favorite local whiskey bar will get a couple of these bottles so you can do just that. Otherwise, if you’re looking to buy these elite whiskeys, I wish you the best of luck on your odyssey.
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5. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey
This year’s Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye was distilled back in the spring of 2016 with a mix of Minnesota rye, Kentucky corn, and North Dakota malted barley with some of the iconic Kentucky limestone water. The hot juice went into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds). Those barrels were racked in warehouses I, L, and M on floors 2, 4, 5, and 6. After six years and four months, 31% of the whiskey was lost to the angel’s share before these barrels were batched and bottled as-is.
That high proof comes through on the nose with a hint of orange marmalade next to buttery southern biscuits, a hint of old saddle leather, star anise-heavy mulled wine with a whisper of cranberry, lemon meringue pie (or maybe Key Lime), and a flourish of dried flowers that edges on potpourri. The palate leans into the orange with a candied orange peel note layered into a spiced winter cake layered with dark chocolate ganache, Saigon cinnamon powder, and peanut brittle. The end has a woody floral spicy vibe kind of like a bunch of dried pine, roses, dried orange wheels, and cinnamon sticks wrapped up with old twine and dipped in a chocolate sauce with more dried rose lingering behind it.
This is a hell of a whiskey that simply doesn’t rock my world. I can’t get behind the floral notes in this one. That said, I can see why people line up for this as that flavor profile is so distinct and unique. To each their own.
4. George T. Stagg Bourbon
This year’s return of the Stagg is hewn from whiskey distilled all the way back in 2007 with Kentucky corn, Minnesota rye, and North Dakota barley. The juice was filled into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds). Those barrels were then stored in the famed Warehouse K on the first and fifth floors over 15 years, wherein 75% of the liquid was lost to the angels. Finally, the barrels were batched and bottled as-is.
This whiskey is hot. Your nose is met with buttery pecan waffles loaded with dark salted chocolate chips and dripping with maple syrup that feels expensive next to darkly roasted espresso beans, singed vanilla husks, and dried sour cherries next to a medley of holiday spices. The palate leans into those spices with a clear sense of sharp cinnamon, old clove buds, allspice berries, and whole nutmeg bulbs next to a hint of star anise and maybe some cardamom before that darkly roasted coffee jumps back in with a deeply stewed cherry in a dark treacle syrup before the ABVs buzz hard on the mid-palate. The end amps up the woodiness with the spices and adds in a sense of old cedar bark, dark chocolate nibs, and a cherry-tobacco buzziness.
This needed a rock. There’s a lot to plumb from the depths of this one, but you’re just not going to do that neat. On this list, I’m looking for perfection as-is and this needs a little massaging to find that perfect moment.
All of that said, this is a massive, smack-you-in-the-face, water-bucket-to-the-head-while-sleeping, take-no-prisoners whiskey. You just have to get past those ABVs to find the hidden gem hiding behind that proof.
3. William Larue Weller Bourbon
Distilled back in the spring of 2010, this whiskey was made with a mix of Kentucky corn and wheat and barley from North Dakota with that Kentucky limestone water. The distillate was filled into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds) and stored in warehouses C, K, and N on floors 2, 3, and 4 for 12 long years. During that time, 64% of the whiskey was lost to hungry angels. Those barrels were then batched and this whiskey was bottled as-is.
The nose on this one is surprisingly sweet with a big slice of coconut cream pie (with a lard crust) next to your grandma’s butterscotch candies straight from an old leather handbag that’s held menthol cigarettes for decades and maybe some old Mon Cheri bonbons. The palate opens with a lush eggnog full of nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla that leads to a white pound cake with a hint of poppy seed next to old leather tobacco pouches with a hot cinnamon spiciness on the mid-palate with a light cedar woodiness. The end layers that white cake into the tobacco while packing it all into an old leather handbag with whispers of mint chocolate chip, Halloween-sized Mounds bars, and old lawn furniture that’s been left out too many seasons.
Look, these top three are basically tied for first place. Going microscopic to try and rank these, I backed away a tad from the mid-palate heat on this one. It wasn’t overpowering but it didn’t provide as effortless an experience as the next two. But again, that’s me reaching hard for something to pick at.
2. Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old Whiskey
This whiskey started its journey back in 2003 and 2004 when the original juice was distilled with Minnesota rye, Kentucky corn, and North Dakota barley. The hot juice was loaded into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds) and left to rest in warehouses K, M, and P on the second, third, and fourth floors. Overly nearly two decades, an average of 74% of the juice was lost to the angels before proofing and bottling.
This one opens with a pile of candied and burnt orange peels next to a rich lemon bread with plenty of rich vanilla and poppy next to sweet layers of molasses, old leather tobacco pouches, and an old set of lawn furniture that’s spent too much time under and an old oak tree. The palate swells with a deep molasses sweetness next to a dash of freshly cracked black pepper countered by musty cumin, dried red chili pepper flakes, and a whisper of fresh bay leaf that leads to singed wild sage, rye bread crusts covered in coriander seeds, and a touch of maple syrup cut butter with a hint of cinnamon. The end slowly descends into a creamy mint chocolate chip tobacco vibe next to flaked cherry bark ready for a smoker and old oak leaves resting in dead sweetgrass.
This is just phenomenal. It’s so clearly a classic rye that goes above and beyond on the flavor profile to take you on a true sensory journey. This is also the most accessible sip that feels pretty much perfect poured neat. It beckons you back for more to dig deeper into the flavor profile’s depths.
I can’t wait to make a Manhattan with this.
1. Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon
Back in the spring of 2005, a humble bourbon was made with Kentucky distiller’s corn, Minnesota rye, and North Dakota barley. That hot juice was then filled into new white oak from Independent Stave from Missouri with a #4 char level (55 seconds) and stacked in Buffalo Trace’s warehouses H, K, and L on floors one and four. It was left alone for 17 years, which allowed 70% of the juice to be lost to the angels. In 2022, the barrels were batched and the whiskey was proofed down to 101 proof, and this whiskey was bottled otherwise as-is.
The nose subtly draws you in with soft pipe tobacco that feels fresh and vibrant next to dried sour cherries dipped in salted dark chocolate and rolled in vanilla seeds and vanilla-laced streusel with a good dose of woody maple syrup with this fleeting hint of red brick, moldy cellar beams, and soft and sandy cellar dirt floor. Old maple trees dripping with sap lead to a rich salted caramel candy vibe next to rich vanilla pound cake topped with a creamy dark chocolate frosting and bespeckled with orange zest, dried cranberries bits, and crushed espresso beans. The mid-palate takes on a woody spiciness with a whisper of apple bark that informs a spiced Christmas cake full of soft cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and maybe some anise and dried dark fruits with creamy eggnog baseline next to old Whether’s Originals wrapped up in dry tobacco leaves and stacked in a musty pine box for safekeeping.
This is a perfect bourbon.