It’s that time of year, folks, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is here. The 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) is still one of the most anticipated and sought-after sets of whiskeys around. The five-bottle set includes three bourbons and two rye whiskeys that the whiskey world of collectors and drinkers clamor for so hard they’re often willing to pay significantly above MSRP just to get a taste.
That clamor also makes these whiskeys pretty hard to come by, especially for a novice whiskey drinker without some relationships in the industry. You kind of have to be in the know and have deep connections with your local whiskey bars and whiskey liquor stores to get your hands on these bottles. It’s not impossible to come by, don’t get me wrong, you’re just going to have to get lucky in a local lottery or pay a high price.
So is what’s in these bottles worth all that hubbub? Let’s answer that by actually diving into the uniqueness and taste of these whiskeys. After all, these are very unique-tasting whiskeys that, frankly, aren’t for everyone — that’s the whole point of elite whiskey. It’s designed to make an impact and not all drinkers will love that. Each one has its own vibe and flavor profile — making this about finding what speaks to you more than anything else.
Cool? Let’s dive in!
George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof
This year’s batch of George T. Stagg was distilled in the spring of 2008 and left to rest in warehouses C, I, K, L, and M around the Frankfort Buffalo Trace campus. After 15 long years of rest, the barrels were batched and bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: The nose opens with a classic sense of Cherry Coke, old leather tobacco pouches, and rich buttercream made with real vanilla next to fall leaves in an orchard and then this sense of Neoplotian ice cream creeps in that leans toward the strawberry and chocolate ice cream part.
Palate: The palate opens with a deep sense of an apple orchard on a cold fall day with leaves underfoot next to deeply-seeded dark cherry, cinnamon bark, clove buds, and allspice berries with a sense of the Neopolitan ice cream popping up again late.
Finish: The creamy vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry drive the finish back toward the old orchards, fall leaves, rickhouse floors, and soft cherry-spiced tobacco leaves rolled with cedar and smudging sage with a nice warming Kentucky hug on the very end.
This is the boldest whiskey on the list by far, and it’s meant to be. George T. Stagg fans love a bold slap in the face of a whiskey and this delivers that in spades. The key to this whiskey though is that it’s balanced. Yes, it’s a hot Kentucky hug on a hot summer day, but there’s enough pullback from that heat to reveal real nuance and depth with classic Buffalo Trace bourbon notes and more (that strawberry ice cream note is amazingly fun).
Still, this over a single large rock will be the way to go when sipping.
Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 18 Years Old
This year’s Sazerac is a “collection of rye whiskey barrels” that were filled in both the fall of 2004 and the spring of 2005, making this an 18-year-old rye with a touch of 19-year-old juice. Those barrels spent all of those years on the Buffalo Trace campus in warehouses K, L, and M before batching, proofing, and bottling otherwise as-is.
Nose: Leathery spice barks draw you in on the nose with a deep sense of rye bread crusted with aniseed, clove-studded oranges, and a hint of sweet pear.
Palate: Classic notes of dark winter spice mingle with black pepper, cumin, and chili pepper powder on the palate as candied BBQ pork and new leather lead to a vanilla-laden mid-palate with a soft oakiness.
Finish: That soft oakiness leads to a light and fresh honey sweetness with a light sense of pine and cinnamon bark dipped in hot apple cider with a hint of barrelhouse lurking behind it all.
This is good rye whiskey. It’s light on the palate, which makes it very approachable while still delivering deep flavor notes. Those profile notes all speak to a classic Kentucky rye whiskey with a sense of sweetness just sneaking in to balance out all the aniseed, rye bread, and warming spices.
While this may sound like blasphemy to some, this would make an amazing Manhattan.
William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof
This is Buffalo Trace’s classic wheated bourbon. This year’s Weller BTAC was distilled back in the spring of 2011 and left to rest in warehouses C, L, M, and N for 12 long years. Those barrels were batched and this whiskey was bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: Deep and dark candied black cherry mingles with dry cedar bark, molasses, real vanilla beans, nutty brown butter, and old leather rolled in pipe tobacco and just kissed with smoldering sage and dry chili pepper flakes.
Palate: The palate opens with a full blast of ABVs, making the front of your tongue tingle, as floral honey, cherry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream, and brown butter streusel cut with nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove lead to a hint of dry orange tobacco.
Finish: Cinnamon sticks and clove buds floating in maple syrup arrive on the finish with a sense of old leather boots, the oak in an old rickhouse, orchard barks, and soft notes of vanilla and cherry cake.
This is quintessential Kentucky bourbon. It starts very warm but then fades through a beautiful array of classic bourbon notes towards a soft and lush finish that embraces you with soft cherry vanilla vibes. It’s a delight.
This is great neat but will really explode over a big ol’ rock.
Thomas H. Handy Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof
This year’s Handy is straight rye (oddly “Kentucky” is missing from the label) comprised of barrels aged for over six years. Once those barrels were batched, this whiskey went into the bottles 100% as-is at cask strength.
Nose: Leathery orange rinds and hints of lemon poppyseed cake pop on the nose along with sappy pine bark, salted caramel, and cumin- and chili-laced leathery tobacco.
Palate: Dark rye bread appears on the front of the palate with a hint of molasses sweetness before the ABVs create a buzzing on the tongue with deep and dark orange marmalade, piney honey, soft vanilla oils, and a hint of potpourri leatheriness on the mid-palate.
Finish: That potpourri vibe mellowing fades on the finish as vanilla and star fruit arrive with a sense of dried chili and star anise hint at black licorice and sarsaparilla bark on the dry end.
This is interesting and tasty. The floral notes are dialed way back on the mid-palate as this leans more into pine, orange, and vanilla. It’s soft and supple but does pack a bit of a punch.
Overall, I can see this working nicely over the rocks as a slow sipper.
Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 17 Years Old
This year’s Eagle Rare ended up being 19 years and three months old (the “17 Years” on the label denotes the youngest barrels used for the brand overall). This year’s release was distilled and barreled back in the spring of 2004 and then left to rest all those years around the Buffalo Trace campuses in warehouses C, I, K, M, and Q. Once the barrels were batched, the whiskey was proofed and bottled as-is otherwise.
Nose: The nose is like eating a moist and perfectly balanced Black Forest cake while walking through an old barrel house and out into a fallow fruit orchard with fall leaves crunchy underfoot and rain barely misty the air with hints of cinnamon cake, smudging sage, and sweetgrass rounding things out.
Palate: Orange cake and salted caramel lead on the palate with a sense of dark chocolate tobacco moving the mid-palate toward dry roasting herbs and a touch of nuttiness.
Finish: Cinnamon sticks and nutmeg pop up on the finish with a hint of vanilla buttercream and eggnog before the spices dry out with a sense of mince meat pie and old leather tobacco pouches.
This is damn good bourbon. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it is nailing the concept. It’s so easy to drink while still offering a seriously deep and nuanced experience from top to bottom.
I’d drink this neat any day of the week. A little water or a single rock will help it bloom in the glass, adding to the nuttiness and creaminess of the pour.
Final Thoughts on the 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
This was an interesting set of whiskeys. Of course, if you can score these at MSRP, you’ll be in for a treat. But again, that’ll only be likely via lottery. Otherwise, expect to pay thousands for some of these.
Prices aside, these are good whiskeys and deserve the hype they get. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with the Weller or maybe the Stagg this year. I did like the Handy and Sazerac though — both are stellar examples of how varied American rye whiskey is. And the Eagle Rare is just a straight-up classic — the old faithful of the group.