By S.D. Peters
The second American Rye whiskey in Buffalo Trace’s 2012 Antique Collection, Sazerac 18-year Old Rye Whiskey is a pleasant improvement on their standard Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey. The latter is fine for mixing, but a bit too sweet for sipping neat. The former reveals itself as an enjoyable neat whiskey, one suited in particular for a fine late summer evening on, say, on a wide porch looking out on the Virginia Piedmont.
The 2012 edition of Sazerac’s 18-year Old Straight Rye Whiskey, like its more common 6-year old counterpart, is bottled at 90 Proof (45% alcohol). There is no information on the exact mashbill, other than the rule that to be designated a rye, it has to consist of at least 51% rye grain. By my estimate Sazerac Rye is slightly more than that, but the notable sweetness suggests a relatively high corn content.
In the 6-year old expression, the corn lends the rye’s trademark note (spice) a slightly cloying character. The 18-year old expression does not repeat that mistake: this is sweeter rye, but the sweetness is tastefully balanced with the Rye’s robust spiciness.
There is nothing surprising about the color. In fact, it’s identical in appearance to the other Rye in the Trace’s 2012 Antique Collection, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye: a rich burnt orange. The aroma, however, is noticeably different, not only from the Handy Sazerac Rye, but also from the 6-year old Straight Sazerac Rye. Cotton candy is the distinguishing characteristic. This worried me at first: Would the 18-year old expression prove sweeter than the 6-old one?
Never jump to conclusions on a whiskey’s nose. The sweetness spins into a whirlpool of oregano, rainwater, spring meadow. It’s hard not imagine yourself, the proprietor of an old farmhouse with fall-harvested farmland on one side and open field on the other, lounging in an Adirondack on a cool evening, 18-year old Sazerac Rye double in hand – on the rocks, even, for the relaxing sound of ice on glass.
Take a sip. The first quality you’ll notice is that might be the smoothest whiskey you’ve ever sipped. It’s warm, like any good whiskey, but oddly absent of any flavor… at first. Then, slowly, the cotton candy arrives – just a hint of it – with fresh oregano and meadow grass mellowing the sweetness.
The consistency of this rye is amazing. The finish brings a quick burst of fresh oregano once again, tempered by vanilla (or is that more cotton candy?), and a pleasant grassy flavor. Wait a minute, and there’s a hint of citrus too! It may not be a characteristic rye, but the 18-year old Sazerac has enough boldness about it to make it interesting.
In the U.S., the 18-year old expression of Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey will run about $70. The 6-year old Sazerac Rye is easier to come by, and less expensive, but also less rewarding. If you have a choice, and the funds, choose this one.
Sazerac 18-year Old Rye Whiskey’s 2011 expression was awarded a double gold medal at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. There’s no reason it shouldn’t repeat that feat in 2012.