Buffalo Trace makes some of the most beloved whiskey brands in the world. As part of the privately owned and operated Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace distillery has been able to conquer both the budget and elite bourbon and rye whiskey markets in the U.S. and worldwide. They’re responsible for making some amazingly high-end brands like Pappy Van Winkle, Weller, and Eagle Rare while also pumping out killer budget brands like Benchmark, Wheatley Vodka, and Ancient Age.
It’s a hell of a balancing act. It can also be a little overwhelming.
That’s where I come in. I’m lucky enough to get to taste Buffalo Trace releases through visits to the distillery and through my work in the industry as a leading critic, judge, and taster. Yes, I’m a fan. But as with any huge shingle like this, there’s a lot of variation at play. Not every brand excites me. Plus, most of Buffalo Trace’s brands have various expressions of varying quality for varying markets/reasons. Which can, again, be a little overwhelming to the passive or new spirits consumer.
I’m going to break it all down for you today. I’m listing all 19 of Buffalo Trace’s brands with the best expression from each brand — the one gem I think you should try. I’ve ranked each brand’s best expression by how good they taste. Since this is Buffalo Trace, a word of warning before we dive in though — some of these bottles are not going to be easy to find. I’ve linked to aftermarket sources, but you’ll have to pay dearly for those bottles. That’s just the world we live in with regard to elite whiskey in 2023.
Still, I’d argue that most of the bottles ranked below are worth that hunt. Good luck out there!
19. Buffalo Trace White Dog — Mash #1
Average Price: $15 (half-bottle)
This is the base spirit that eventually becomes Eagle Rare, Stagg, E.H. Taylor, Jr., Benchmark, Old Charter, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon. The mix of corn, rye, and malted barley is bottled clear and unaged right off the stills.
Nose: The nose is almost creamy with a sense of sweet creamed corn, a hint of dry grass, and a note of raw leather.
Palate: The taste really leans into that cream corn with a note of almost … cilantro … next to the faintest hint of vanilla next to apple chips.
Finish: The end has a vanilla oil vibe that leads to an orchard alongside corn cobs.
This is a hot taste of whiskey, making it a great place to start your Buffalo Trace journey. This is where it all starts before the juice hits wood and becomes some of BT’s most iconic brands.
As for drinking this stuff at home, think of it as a very high-proof alternative for vodka in your favorite cocktails.
18. Ancient Age — Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $10
This bottom-shelf bourbon is functional and cheap. The juice is the same mash bill as Buffalo Trace’s much-lauded and beloved Blanton’s Single Barrel and Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel — or “Mash Bill #2”. Granted this is not a single barrel, but it’s the same whiskey that’s blended with other barrels that weren’t deemed quite good enough to become Blanton’s.
Nose: There’s a clear note of corn up top with vanilla, caramel, and a bit of butter.
Palate: The sweetness leans into toffee territory with a mild hint of spice next to a caramel corn feel.
Finish: The end is cut short by a rush of citrus and you’re left with a slight warmth.
This is a fine whiskey and Coke mixer. Beyond that, it’s pretty rough around the edges.
17. Old Charter — Old Charter 8-Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $13
This revival whiskey from Buffalo Trace is the entry point into the brand’s wider “special barrel finish” lineup. The juice is made with Buffalo Trace’s famed Mash Bill #1. This version spends eight years resting in new American oak before it’s batched, proofed all the way down to 80-proof, and bottled. Other barrels from this same whiskey go into French and Mongolian oak (amongst others) and become special one-offs from the brand.
Nose: There’s a sense of dry black pepper and honey syrup on the nose with that Buffalo Trace wet leather vibe next to hints of rickhouse mold and dry straw cut with a hint of orchard fruits.
Palate: Cinnamon bark and nutmeg soaked in honey drive the palate toward a buttery toffee sweetness that’s eventually cut with a grassy dryness that’s not quite woody.
Finish: The end arrives with more cinnamon and overall winter spice next to toffee with a whisper of nuttiness and a semi-watery end.
This is another acceptable highball whiskey. It stands up nicely with simple fizzy water and a twist of orange. I’d argue that you can mix this into a simple whiskey cocktail too.
16. Bourbon Cream Liqueur
Average Price: $18
Bourbon Cream is a funny thing. The base is a mix of vanilla-infused cream cut with Buffalo Trace’s signature bourbon. There’s really not a lot known about this product besides those few facts.
Nose: This is kind of like Bailey’s Irish Cream turned up to eleven on the nose.
Palate: It’s thick, very vanilla-forward, and has a minor hint of bourbon in the sense of an almost chocolate-cream spiked eggnog.
Finish: There are holiday spices that pop up nicely next to all that creaminess that helps it not get too heavy (that’s not to say this isn’t very heavy).
If you dig Bailey’s Irish Cream, then you’ll dig this too. It’s basically a Kentucky bourbon version. Pour it over a little ice or put it in your coffee and you’ll be set.
15. Wheatley Vodka Craft Distilled
Average Price: $16
This is Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley’s pet project of sorts. The vodka is made on a special micro-still at Buffalo Trace with wheat at the core of the mash bill. The spirit goes through the still ten times before it’s triple filtered, cut down with soft limestone water, and bottled.
Nose: You’re drawn in with this essence of vanilla that’s kind of like rainwater that’s been soaking vanilla husks overnight.
Palate: The taste has a very mild greenness (think cut grass and bell peppers) that leads back to a soft rainwater mouthfeel and no rough edges whatsoever.
Finish: The end has this almost creamy vanilla vibe that’s very enticing.
This is a very good vodka at a great price. You can pour this over some ice, add a lime twist, and you’ll be set. It works nicely in a martini or cosmo too.
14. Kosher Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Wheat Recipe
Average Price: $95
Buffalo Trace Kosher provides a truly kosher spirit that also fully delivers on the palate. The juice is made from the same wheated bourbon recipe as Buffalo Trace’s Weller and Pappy lines. The difference is that the mash is loaded from fully cleaned stills and pipes into kosher barrels (that means the barrels were specially made and purchased under the watchful eye of a rabbi from the Chicago Rabbinical Council).
The whiskey then ages for seven years at Buffalo Trace before blending, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: There’s a familiar note of Red Hots and vanilla cream on the nose, with a hint of semi-dried florals.
Palate: The palate mellows out the cinnamon towards a woody and dry bark as the florals deepen towards summer wildflowers right at the moment that a touch of plums and berries arrive, adding sweetness and brightness.
Finish: The end holds onto that dry bark, as a hint of anise pops late with a slight vanilla cream tobacco touching off the medium-length fade.
This is a good whiskey that you can generally buy. The kicker is that you’re getting a version of Weller and Pappy… kind of clandestinely here. That’s pretty cool. Pour it over some rocks or mix it into your favorite cocktail.
13. McAfee Brothers Benchmark — Benchmark Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $25
This expression is from the single barrels that actually hit that prime spot/flavor profile to be bottled one at a time. This is the best of the best of the barrels earmarked for Benchmark in the Buffalo Trace warehouses. Those barrels are watered down slightly before bottling at a healthy 95-proof.
Nose: That orange and caramel really come through on the nose with a thin line of creamy dark chocolate and some nutmeg and cinnamon.
Palate: The palate largely adheres to that flavor profile while adding in layers of dark fruit, old leather, mild oak, and orange cookies.
Finish: The finish arrives with a sense of winter spices and dark chocolate oranges next to a twinge of cherry-kissed spicy tobacco chew and a final note of old porch wicker.
This is a legitimately good single-barrel product for a great price. It’s not going to blow your socks off but it’s a good bourbon-y bourbon with classic vibes and decent depth for 25-odd-bucks. It’s also great for mixing whiskey-forward cocktails.
12. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $25
This is the whiskey that heralded a new era of bourbon in 1999. Famed Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee came out of retirement to create this bourbon to celebrate the renaming of the George T. Stagg distillery to Buffalo Trace when Sazerac bought the joint. The rest, as they say, is history — especially since this has become a touchstone bourbon for the brand.
Nose: Classic notes of vanilla come through next to a dark syrup sweetness, a flourish of fresh mint, and raw leather that veers towards raw steak.
Palate: The palate cuts through the sweeter notes with plenty of spices — like clove and star anise — next to a hint of tart berries underneath it all.
Finish: The end is long, velvety, and really delivers on the vanilla and spice.
This is also a good bourbon-y bourbon. It’s classic at this point and makes a mean cocktail.
11. Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
Average Price: $377
Elmer T. Lee is another hugely popular release that’s very limited (and sought after). The mash bill has a higher rye content and the barrels are kept in a special location. It’s said that the barrels for Elmer T. Lee are stored where the master distiller himself used to store the barrels he kept for his own stash.
Nose: The nose on this is like a decadent breakfast of pancakes smothered in cinnamon butter, dripping with the best maple syrup, and topped with a hand-made scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Palate: The palate holds onto the vanilla and spice but settles into more of a floral honeyed sweetness with touches of cedar, old library book leather, and a hint of tobacco buzz.
Finish: The end lingers for a while and leaves you with a dry pear tobacco warmth next to a cinnamon heat and maple bar sweetness.
This is a really good single-barrel product though fleeting. I’d argue it’s worth buying closer to its $40 MSRP than its inflated aftermarket price. Still, it’s a good pour for slow sipping, especially over a rock or two, or mixing into your favorite cocktails.
10. Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection — Release 23: 12-Year Bourbon Cut At 4 Years (2020)
Average Price: $520
Buffalo Trace’s Experimental Collection is where the distillery’s team really gets to go wild with their concoctions. 2020’s release was a fascinating 12-year-old bourbon. After only four years, the bourbon was taken out of the barrel and cut with limestone water to 50% ABV and then re-barreled for another eight years of maturation. That’s unique in that whiskey is always cut down to proof just before bottling and not mid-way through its maturation.
Nose: That honey sweetness really shines through with a hint of wildflowers next to woody vanilla.
Palate: The palate is pure vanilla cream pudding with subtle sparks of dark spices, floral honey syrup, warm cedar, and a dash of spicy tobacco.
Finish: The end is long-ish and leaves you with that floral honey sweetness as it warms your senses.
This is still one of my favorite releases from this line. It’s a nice sipper that’s unique but carries deep bourbon nostalgia from top to bottom.
9. Blanton’s — Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel
Average Price: $252
Blanton’s is “The Original Single Barrel” bourbon, and this expression is the purest form of that whiskey. The whiskey in this case is from the barrels that need no cutting with water and are excellent as-is, straight from the barrel. All the barrels will come from Warehouse H (where Elmer T. Lee stored his private stash of barrels back in the day) and arrive with varying proofs. The through-line is the excellent taste of that single, unadulterated barrel in each sip.
Nose: The nose is full of very bespoke dark chocolate-covered salted hard caramel toffees encrusted with almonds and pecans — the kind you get from a chocolate shop that imports their goodies from somewhere like Belgium.
Palate: The nutty toffee carries through into the taste as oily vanilla pods mingle with cedar boxes of dried tobacco leaves and a touch of floral honey.
Finish: The end is very long and lingers in your senses, with a hot buzzing that subtly fades through all that sweetness.
If you’re going to pay extra for Blanton’s, it may as well be the uncut stuff. This is a great whiskey. Sip it slowly over a rock and just let it wash over you. You’ll then see what all the fuss is about with this brand.
8. George T. Stagg — George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof BTAC 2022
Average Price: $1,951
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.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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.
Finish: 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 is a big and very bold whiskey. That means that it’s not for everyone. That aside, this is a well-built whiskey with a great flavor profile that you have to do a little work to find under all those ABVs. Ice helps.
7. O.F.C. Vintages — O.F.C. 1995
Average Price: $7,805
This label harkens back to Colonel E.H. Taylor’s O.F.C. Distillery in the 1800s. That distillery became what is now Buffalo Trace and the steam-heated warehouses used back then by Taylor are still in use today. These whiskeys are exceedingly rare releases. The whiskey in this bottle went into the barrel back in 1995 and mellowed in an exact spot before it was proofed and bottled in a crystal decanter.
Nose: This opens with ripe and sweet cherries soaked in rich brandy with hints of cedar and holiday spices lurking in the background.
Palate: The taste is almost unbelievably soft with notes of dark chocolate tobacco leaves mingling with well-spiced sticky toffee pudding, a touch of black tea bitterness, and a drop of salted caramel.
Finish: The end has a soft cedar vibe as the fade slowly offers up warm peppery spice with a cinnamon edge and a final note of an old leather tobacco pouch drifts on by.
These are mostly collectibles these days. If you do get your hands on two, save one and open the other one. This is delicious whiskey that’s worth savoring for the next decade or so of your life.
6. Single Oak Project Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Barrel #192
Average Price: $399 (half-bottle)
This was a fascinating set of whiskeys. The project started with finding the exact right barrel to age the best whiskey. That meant forest stewardship and sourcing specific oak from the Ozarks to build 192 unique barrels with varying levels of toasting and charring or some combination of the two. The whiskeys were then aged for various times and all were eventually released and tasted by 5,645 people (and their lucky friends).
Turns out Barrel #80 was the prime spot. That’s what’s being replicated for a 2025 release.
Nose: There are classic Buffalo Trace notes of salted caramel, Cherry Coke, deep vanilla, and distinct soft woods — think orchard woods and cedar.
Palate: The overall taste is a balancing act between the orchard fruit and sweeter caramel/vanilla notes with the mild woody spices and rich tobacco with a vanilla backbone.
Finish: That spicy tobacco note drives the finish toward cinnamon bark, clove buds, and whole nutmeg with a cherry/apple soda sweetness.
This is another collectible that’s worth cracking open just to see what’s up with whiskey in this cool project.
Or save this bottle in your vault and just wait for the 2025 release.
5. E.H. Taylor, Jr. — Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof
Average Price: $499
This much-lauded and beloved bottle from Buffalo Trace is classic whiskey making. The spirit is from Buffalo Trace’s low-rye mash bill. The juice is then aged in warehouses built by the Colonel over 100 years ago. The best barrels are selected yearly for batching and bottling with no fussing whatsoever.
Nose: The sip draws you in with a spicy berry jam next to a perfumed note (kind of like wet potpourri) and buttery toffee sweetness.
Palate: The taste, on the other hand, leans into vanilla oils, dry cedar, and a dusting of white pepper that winds back to the spice without the jam.
Finish: The end is kind of long and really smoothes out, thanks to the vanilla and toffee, as the peppery spice builds towards a tobacco-filled cedar box and a very distant hint of fresh mint.
This whiskey has a killer flavor profile. While the “Tornado” and “Marriage” Taylors have more collectible value, this one still hits very high marks as a slow sipper or, honestly, an amazing base for a Manhattan.
4. Sazerac Rye — Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 18-Year-Old BTAC 2022
Average Price: $1,989
This whiskey started its journey back in 2003 and 2004 when the juice was distilled with Minnesota rye, Kentucky corn, and North Dakota barley. The spirit 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 whiskey was lost to the angels before proofing and bottling.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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.
Finish: 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 a great rye whiskey, full stop. Sip it first. Go back and forth. Get to know it. Then make the best Sazerac cocktail ever with it.
3. W.L. Weller — William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof BTAC 2022
Average Price: $1,999
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.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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 light cedar woodiness.
Finish: 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.
This is up there as one of those whiskeys that not only live up to the hype but kind of part the clouds a little bit, letting the whiskey sun shine on in. It’s great neat but really shines with a little water or a single rock.
2. Van Winkle — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old (2022)
Average Price: $2,502
This is where the “Pappy Van Winkle” line starts in earnest. The whiskey in this expression is pulled from barrels that are at least 15 years old. Once batched, the whiskey is just touched with water to bring it down to a sturdy 107-proof.
Nose: The nose opens with freshly fried sourdough fritters dusted with ground almonds, sharp cinnamon, cloves, orange zest, burnt sugars, and maple frosting with a hint of old vanilla pods next to soft figs.
Palate: The palate leans into rich toffee with a sense of minced meat pies covered in powdered sugar frosting right next to sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel, orange zest, and tons of brown wintry spice countered by a moment of sour mulled red wine cut with dark maple syrup.
Finish: The end has a soft cedar vibe that leads to vanilla and dark cherry tobacco leaves and a hint of pine next to old white moss.
This is revelatory bourbon for the uninitiated. It’s really that good. If you ever questioned whether Pappy was worth it, this bottle will answer that for you with a decisive and conclusive “yes” forever.
1. Eagle Rare Bourbon — Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 17 Years Old BTAC 2022
Average Price: $2,862
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 whiskey to be lost to the angels. In 2022, the barrels were batched and the bourbon was proofed down to 101 proof and bottled as-is.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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.
Finish: 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.
I try not to throw “perfect” around all that much.
This is a perfect bourbon.