Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Stagg returns for this year’s coveted Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Most bourbon lovers, myself included, believe the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is near the top as far as bourbon unicorns go. Each bottle in the collection is near perfect most years, and the chances of you getting your hands on one of these are slim to nothing.

If you’re not familiar, the Antique Collection — abbreviated BTAC by us bourbon nerds — includes George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy, Eagle Rare 17 and Sazerac 18. The line came out more than two decades ago and pays homage to some great distillers and bourbon industry pioneers.

The big news this year is that George T. Stagg returns after being held back last year because he did not pass his tests. Really! The powers that be at Buffalo Trace decided the barrels selected for Stagg just weren’t ready yet, so back in the rick house they went. This year’s bottle features uncut, 15-year-old Stagg bourbon that has an impressive proof of 138.7.

Suggested retail for these is a laughable $99. Again, if you ever find one for that amount, you should run out and buy a lottery ticket immediately. On the secondary market, these range from $800-$3,000. Buffalo Trace notes that they’ll be hitting the market in mid-November.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Behold the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. | Courtesy

Below is a description of each whiskey pulled from the press release:

George T. Stagg Bourbon

Created in 2002 at the request of a fan for a well-aged and barrel strength whiskey, George T. Stagg bourbon is well respected amongst bourbon connoisseurs and spirit judges. This year’s offering was distilled in the spring of 2007, making it 15 years and 5 months old at bottling.  The proof is 138.7, the highest proof for this whiskey in the past six years.  This year’s barrels were aged in warehouse K.  Tasting notes for this bourbon call out toasted pecan and chocolate sauce on the nose, a rich blend of baking spice, vanilla and cherry pie on the palate, and a robust finish of black coffee, molasses and oak. 

William Larue Weller Bourbon

The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. The previous release of this wheated bourbon was honored with a Double Gold medal at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  The 2022 release was distilled in the spring of 2010 and barrels were aged in warehouses C, K and N.  This bourbon registers at 124.7 proof.  A nose of toasted coconut, butterscotch and caramel, followed by a touch of mint, dark cherry and molasses on the palate and a full-bodied finish with hints of leather, nutmeg, toffee and vanilla can be found in this year’s offering. 

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. Last year’s release earned 97 points and was named in the top 100 spirits by judges at the 2022 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.  This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2016; aged in warehouses I, L and M and weighs in at a hearty 130.9 proof, the highest proof for this whiskey since 2012.  The flavor profile includes a nose with floral notes, anise, marmalade and meringue, followed by a palate with baking spice, a burst of orange peel and subtle dark chocolate, and a long finish of cinnamon, praline and candied orange.  

Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon

This 101-proof whiskey was distilled in the spring of 2005 and barrels were aged in warehouses H, K and L.  The 2021 Eagle Rare release was honored with the Chairman’s Trophy at the 2022 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.  This bourbon has a nose with a hint of tobacco, chocolate covered cherries and a touch of oak, followed by caramel, vanilla bean, dark chocolate and oak on the palate and a full-bodied finish with baking spice, vanilla and butterscotch.   

Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old Whiskey

Previous releases of Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old were named in the top three finest whiskeys in the world by the “Whisky Bible.”  This 2022 straight rye whiskey release has a nose of orange peel, lemon zest and molasses, a palate with a bold blend of black pepper, coriander seeds and maple syrup, and a well-rounded finish with mint, tobacco leaf and oak.  The barrels for this whiskey were filled in the spring of 2003 and 2004 and rested in warehouses K, M and P.  It is bottled at 90 proof. 

Pappy Van Winkle

Oh Pappy Days! This year’s Pappy will be plentiful … or will it?

I just received the annual Pappy Van Winkle press release from Buffalo Trace, and it looks like all six expressions will be released this year — and there will be more bottles available than in the past. Does that mean you’ll be able to walk into Liquor Barn and find one on the shelf? Hell no!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Van Winkle line partnering with Buffalo Trace Distillery.

 “(Buffalo Trace Master Distiller) Harlen Wheatley and his predecessors had been distilling the W.L. Weller wheated recipe for many years before our 2002 joint venture. We trusted their expertise in distilling and aging, and it paid off, as many of Buffalo Trace’s brands are just as sought after as our own,” said Julian Van Winkle III, president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, in the news release.

“My son Preston and I still take care of the marketing and management of our brands, but we leave the rest of it to the team at Buffalo Trace. The 20-year partnership has flown by, and I feel confident we’re leaving it in good hands for the future Van Winkle generations.” 

Pappy Van Winkle
The full lineup of Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys. | Courtesy

The bottles should be hitting shelves in October. If you’re curious about the suggested retail pricing and tasting notes of each expression, here are the notes from the news release:

$69.99 — Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10-Year-Old 107 proof

Tasting Notes: 

Color: Tawny in color.

Nose: Very sweet, with notes of honey, dulce de leche, caramel corn, rooibos tea and lightly toasted nuts. Hints of the wheat and corn are present which enhances the complexity. 

Taste: Medium-bodied palate with dried fruit and nuts. Each sip finishes with a very long bold wave of floral honey, caramel, and toasted barrel flavors which counter the weight of the alcohol.

Finish: An elegant balance between oak, grain, and maturation.

$79.99 — Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12-Year-Old (90.4 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Brilliant amber.

Nose: Rich and decadent with butterscotch, toffee, vanilla and hints of nectarine and satsuma adding to the complexity. There is still a wisp of bready wheat present which is perfectly balanced with the spicy and rich oak notes.

Taste: Butterscotch and toffee are prominent in the taste but there are also hints of spiced praline which contribute to the long, round finish that is sweet without being cloying.

Finish: An outrageously well-crafted bourbon that pays homage to its source ingredients but shows that oak, the right distillate, and patience can create unparalleled depth and balance.

$119.99 — Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13-Year-Old (95.6 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Rich copper color.

Nose: An incredibly enticing and complex aroma with notes of toasted pumpernickel, plum, fig, and sweet-tobacco aromas

Taste: Smooth with medium-to full-bodied palate bursting with bold and delicious flavors of toffee, caraway, and dried cherry, and a hint of leather and mint.

Finish: A symphony of flavors sits endlessly on the palate, causing the unsuspecting drinker to wish there was an endless supply in their glass.

$119.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15-Year-Old (107 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Striking, brilliant, copper color.

Nose: The aroma is seductive with intense sweet brown notes like maple, caramelized sugar, toffee, and toasted almond.

Taste: Waves of caramel and toffee meld into familiar memories of fresh-baked holiday spice cookies made with molasses. The mouthfeel is rich, supple, full-bodied and briefly veers toward decadent before the wood influences lend a balancing dryness.

Finish: Long, flavorful, and complex. An unbelievably opulent and flawless bourbon that takes wood and distillate to its absolute pinnacle.

$199.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20-Year-Old (90.4 proof)

Tasting Notes: 

Color: Dark amber in appearance with ruby highlights.

Nose: This full-bodied bourbon has a sophisticated forefront of leather with complementary notes of smoke, warm tobacco, treacle, espresso, and charred oak.

Taste: The aromas and flavors are endlessly complex and each new sip reveals something new to discover.

Finish: Suave and confident with layers of bold, integrated nuances.

$299.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23-Year-Old (95.6 proof)

Tasting Notes: 

  • Color: Rich mahogany color.
  • Nose: Reminiscent of a crisp fall day, with aromas of ripe red apples, cherries and tobacco.
  • Taste: Wood is the star here with supporting notes of caramel, apple, apricot, leather, walnuts, and vanilla Crème Brulé.
  • Finish: Long-lasting and rich, opening with bold flavors of oak and caramel that tease the palate before fading slowly and elegantly until the next sip.
Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery

Famed Buffalo Trace tour guide Freddie Johnson champions for Green Hill Cemetery

Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery
Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery | Photo by Sara Havens

It was a bit unusual for a group of reporters to be huddled together underneath a tent on a hot and humid August morning at the Green Hill Cemetery in Frankfort, Ky., but if Freddie Johnson is involved, I’ll go anywhere.

Johnson is the legendary tour guide at Buffalo Trace Distillery who has worked there since 2002, and his father and grandfather before him worked there as well. He’s not only won numerous industry awards — including being inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2018 — but he also makes friends with every single person lucky enough to be on a Freddie Johnson-led tour.

Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial
The Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial at Green Hill Cemetery | Photo by Sara Havens

He’s personable, his passion for the industry is unwavering and he’s so down-to-earth and approachable that you’ll want to be besties after spending even five minutes with the man.

But back to the cemetery. Johnson has been on the Board of Volunteers of the once-forgotten Green Hill Cemetery for nearly a decade, and he’s vowed to bring the historic grounds into the 21st century by helping raise funds, installing much needed infrastructure and garnering support.

The cemetery was established in 1865 and features the Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial, a 10-foot-tall limestone pillar that bears the names of 142 veterans of Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1924, by the Women’s Relief Corps.

The cemetery is in dire need for community support, and its board has worked tirelessly to do what it can for the hundreds of tombstones that have been damaged, lost, buried or stolen.

Freddie Gets a Check

Freddie Johnson with the check
Johnson and the board of Green Hill Cemetery got a check for nearly $12,000 from Sazerac from the sales of Freddie’s Sodas. | Photo by Sara Havens

On Tuesday morning, the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace, presented Johnson and the board with a check for $11,872. The money came directly from the sale of every case of Freddie’s Old Fashioned Soda (Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer) sold at the distillery.

Johnson and members of the board were thrilled beyond belief at the amount of money they’ll now have to get started on the many projects needed to be done. He spoke about the project and what it means to him and his family — Johnson has several family members buried at Green Hill — and also what it means to Frankfort and beyond.

Johnson said he’d like this cemetery to be another reason why people visit Frankfort, and his goals include locating lost graves, indexing the entire cemetery and creating an online site where people can search for their ancestors, adding several light fixtures to keep out vandals, and restoring deteriorated tombstones, among many other goals.

Johnson was appreciative of the funds and the attention, and he says his goal is to leave this cemetery in a much better shape before he leaves this earth. Mapping the cemetery will be his biggest achievement, he says, because many families in the area have stopped coming to visit because they can’t find their family’s tombstones or markers.

Johnson and the board plan to work with bourbon archeologist Nick Laracuente to help with the project.

Angel's Envy Cask Strength bottle

Bourbon sips & scoops: Maker’s, Parker’s, Angel’s, Michter’s and more!

Things are starting to pile up on the Bar Belle desk, and my boss is nowhere to be found! I should have written this sooner and I apologize, dear thirst nuggets.

But alas, here I am with a mound of announcements and a handful of samples. What’s a bourbon journalist to do? Let’s take ’em one at a time.

Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup bottle

Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup bottle

You might see these pop up at your local liquor store this weekend! It’s the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup commemorative bottle, which also helps raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

As you know, the Breeders’ Cup will return to Keeneland Race Course Nov. 6-7, so this limited-edition bottle celebrates the partnership between the two entities — as well as Maker’s Mark, which is the official bourbon of the race.

I kinda like the white bottle with the purple wax — it would definitely make a nice show piece on your bar or nightstand. Hey, no judgement here.

Buffalo Trace expands soda line with ginger ale and ginger beer

Freddie's Ginger Ale

If you’ve visited Buffalo Trace Distillery within the last year, you probably noticed Freddie’s Root Beer for sale in the gift shop.

Freddie Johnson is a longtime tour guide — and all around great bourbon ambassador — at Buffalo Trace, so the line is named in his honor.

Word is, they’re expanding the line with ginger ale and ginger beer. These will make perfect mixers for that bourbon you pick up there, or consumed on their own, of course.

The new products should be at the distillery by mid November and will sell for $1.25 a bottle.

New Releases:

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2020

Angel's Envy Cask Strength

Despite the craptacular year we’ve had, good things do happen. Case in point, the release of the annual Angel’s Envy Cask Strength.

This biting baby doll will be 120.4 proof and released on Nov. 1 — just in time for the election. (Maybe we’ll be celebrating, or maybe we’ll be drowning our sorrows — who knows.)

There are only 17,400 bottles divided up between all 50 states (for the first time ever), so dust off that hunting gear and get prepared for next week.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this year’s release and can say that it does not sip like 120 juice — it’s quite smooth, and it’s teeth are not as sharp as you’d imagine them to be. There’s a lot of vanilla, caramel and brown sugar up front, but there’s also a nice ripe cherry note in there, as well.

And the finish … ah, the finish: It’s like licking the spoon after Mom made some sugar cookies. I could sip on this all night long.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength will retail for $199.99.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye

Michter's Toasted Rye

These delectable dudes were released in September, so I’m sorry I’m just now getting to them. You may be able to find a pour of them at your favorite bourbon bar, and I suggest you give them a sip!

The Toasted Rye consists of fully matured Michter’s Single Barrel Rye (at barrel strength) that is then put into a second custom toasted barrel and aged a bit longer.

The result is gorgeous notes of caramel and spice and everything nice. I was also fortunate to receive a sample and will tell you without hesitation that this juice is richer than a cheesecake the Golden Girls are huddled over at midnight.

I love the viscosity in this one, as well. It’s thick and coats my mouth like a North Face. Think of the consistency of a cherry juice — if you buy the right ones, especially Luxardo — and you get the idea.

This limited release is bottled around 109.2 proof and goes for about $85 if you can find it in a store.

Parker’s Heritage 2020: Heavy Char Bourbon

Parker's Heritage 2020

This is the 14th edition of this annual, highly anticipated release, and it’s a 10-year-old bourbon that was aged in a heavily charred (level 5) barrels.

The brand is named after the late Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam, and it raises funds for ALS, the disease Beam passed away from in 2010.

This one is bottled at 120 proof and retails for about $120. And like these other releases, it’ll be hard to find.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this, too, and would describe it as a maple bomb. It’s got a touch of spice and sips easy — I can imagine sipping it next to a fireplace as it gently snows outside.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C920

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

This is the third barrel-proof release from Elijah Craig this year, and it’s the second highest proof — at 132.8 proof.

This seems to be a theme here, but despite the high proof, it sips quite smoothly. It’s got deep flavors of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and I’m even getting some milk chocolate in the sample I got.

This is uncut, 12-year-old bourbon bottled straight from the barrel, as God intended. If you haven’t explored the Elijah Craig portfolio, I’d recommend getting acquainted with it. It’s delicious and pretty darn affordable.

This one retails for around $65.99.

Larceny Barrel Proof C920

Larceny Barrel Proof

This wheated barrel-proof bourbon is also a product of Heaven Hill, like the Elijah Craig above.

Bottled at 122.4 proof, this bourbon is consists of bourbon aged 6 to 8 years and is non-chill filtered.

To me, this is definitely getting better each time I try a new Larceny release.

Since it’s a wheat-based bourbon, it’s a little sweater on the palate and less spicy, but you get those wonderful full-time flavors — think s’mores, campfire and soft baking spices from the kitchen.

This one retails for around $67.99, and I would recommend the barrel proof over the standard Larceny.

2020 Antique Collection

But wait … here comes the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection!

2020 Antique Collection

I want x 5!

And just like that, here comes the Buffalo Trace stampede that is the 2020 Antique Collection!

I would be one happy girl if any of these showed up in my stocking on Christmas morning, but they remain as elusive to me as chiseled abs, a million dollars and leprechauns.

The fab five that are part of this annual release go by the names of George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy, Eagle Rare 17, and Sazerac Rye 18. They’ll be released in late September/early October for a suggested retail price of $99 (yeah right!).

I’ve been searching for a W.L. Weller for many years. It’s my white whale, you could say, or rather amber whale.

Here are the details of each from the press release that went out this morning:

George T. Stagg

The proverbial powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg, comes in at 130.4 proof this year.  Last year’s release was awarded 97 points in the 2020 Ultimate Spirits Collection, and fans will find the familiar Stagg taste profile they know and love with cinnamon, caramel and cherries on the nose, and a creamy vanilla with lightly smoked oak on the palate.  The finish is black coffee, dark cherries and herbs.

This year’s release contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2005.  Storage location of these barrels varied across warehouses L, K and Q. The evaporation loss for this year’s batch was 59%, a bit higher than the last few year’s releases.

William Larue Weller

The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including the 2019 release receiving a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and also named 2nd finest whiskey in the world in the esteemed “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.”

The 2020 release was distilled in the winter of 2008 and aged in Warehouses I and C.  This bourbon registers at 134.5 proof.  Flavors of a soft caramel chew, spearmint and cinnamon can be found on the palate in this year’s offering.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. Last year’s release earned The Chairman’s Trophy, scoring 99 points at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and was also named 3rd finest whiskey in the world in “Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.”  This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2014; aged in warehouses K, M, and N, and weighs in at 129.0 proof.  The flavor profile includes cinnamon, anise and honey.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old

This 101 proof whiskey was distilled in Spring of 2002 and aged on the first floor of Warehouse P.  The 2019 release of this bourbon was named “Best of Category” at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.  This bourbon has a nose of ripe cherries, vanilla cream and oak, followed by a taste of caramel and coffee and a long finish of oak, pepper and fresh herbs.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

The previous edition of Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old was named “Best Rye Whiskey Aged 11 Years and Over” by “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.”  This 2020 straight rye whiskey release has notable flavors of oak, caramel and dark chocolate, with a finish of coffee, black pepper and cherries. The barrels for this whiskey were filled in the spring of 2002 and it rested on the third floor of Warehouse K.  It is bottled at 90 proof.

Woodford Reserve Five Wood bottle

Woodford Reserve officially releases Five Wood; Buffalo Trace opens for tours July 1

Since I’ve got nothing better to do at the moment than take a deep nosedive into the numerous private bourbon groups online, I’ve known about the new Woodford Reserve Distillery Series release, Five Wood, for about a month now.

The little bottles have been popping up on liquor store shelves, and the ravenous whiskey warriors (myself included) have been snatching them up quicker than Lysol wipes.

But alas, I received an official press release from the Woodford folks today about the product, and I truly can’t wait to try it.

Woodford Reserve Five Wood bottle

Five Wood!

As you know, the Distillery Series is an experimental line of bourbons and whiskeys from Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris that is released a few times a year. The infamous Double Double Oaked is part of that series, and it’s the only one to this day that continues to be released once a year.

The others are one-off concepts Morris has tinkered with in his mad scientist laboratory, like the Five Wood. So where does the name come from?

Well, basically, Morris took some mature Woodford Reserve bourbon (which is aged in oak barrels), then finished that juice in four other barrels: an Oloroso Sherry barrel, an Amontillado Sherry barrel, a Ruby Port barrel, and a Tawny Port barrel.

I’m no math wiz, but those four barrels + the original oak barrel = Five Wood.

“This is the first time in Woodford Reserve’s history that we’ve blended whiskeys that have been finished in five different barrels,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in the press release. “The result is a rich taste and a bright finish.”

The finishing process is nothing new in the bourbon world, as many brands have similar experiments on the market, including Angel’s Envy, which is based strictly on finishing straight Kentucky bourbon in sherry casks. But, as Morris noted, it is a new concept for Woodford — as far as the number of different barrels it is finishing its bourbon in.

I have not yet tasted the Five Wood, but I plan on doing that ASAP. I cannot confirm nor deny I own a bottle, but you better believe I’ll be posting the tasting notes once I get a taste!

Until then, Morris has shared his tasting notes with me:

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Five Wood Taste Notes

Color: Deep Black Cherrywood

Aroma: An intense medley of rich blackberry, dark cherry, dates, raisin, prune and red fruit

reduction notes sweetened with Damara sugar and caramel-coated walnuts. Dark

leather, oak and black licorice spice develop slowly.

Taste: Rich dark chocolate and espresso coffee caramel icing coated with a raspberry and cherry reduction.

Finish: Long, mouthwatering rich red fruit brightened with a drop of orange oil

Five Wood is now available to purchase online and pick up from the distillery every Friday. It retails for $49.99 for a 375 ml bottle.

* * *

Buffalo Trace reopens July 1

Buffalo Trace Distillery

The Buffalo Trace Distillery is a beautiful experience. | Courtesy of Buffalo Trace

Slowly but surely, Kentucky distilleries are opening up for public tours. Included in the early bunch are Evan Williams, Heaven Hill, Barton 1792, Copper & Kings, Wilderness Trail, Bardstown Bourbon Co. and a few others. Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Ky., is the latest to announce its opening date, which is Wednesday, July 1.

Of course with COVID-19 measures in place, things will be slightly different in this new time, including smaller tours, advance registration, and limited access to distillery operations.

According to a news release, Buffalo Trace is opening its newly expanded Visitor Center, which triples the size of the original and will allow ample space for the Gift Shop and new expansive tasting rooms.

“We are taking every step we can to address the health, safety and comfort of our guests to ensure the best experience possible,” said Homeplace Development Director Meredith Moody in the release. “Our goal is to create a safe haven for all visitors while providing the same rich history and experiences for which we’re known. We can’t wait to reopen to the public and show guests our expanded Visitor Center and tasting rooms.”

There’s a short list of guidelines for those looking to tour the distillery starting July 1:

  • Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
  • Advance registration required online.
  • Access to grounds and the playground only available to registered visitors.
  • New safety and sanitation protocols in place, including guests must wear face masks.
  • All tours remain free.