By S.D. Peters
Thomas Handy, one-time proprietor of the Sazerac House in New Orleans, was the man who altered the Sazerac cocktail in 1870 by replacing cognac with rye whiskey. It may have been the only positive outcome of the period’s phylloxeria outbreak that caused a shortage in the supply of cognac. Today, the Sazerac is probably the best known rye-based cocktail.
But the best ryes don’t need a cocktail to make them enjoyable.
Named for the man who “improved” the Sazerac cocktail, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye is one of two American Rye whiskeys available in limited quantities as part of the Buffalo Trace 2012 Antique Collection, released in September 2012. We’ve reviewed several Buffalo Trace whiskeys, most recently the Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey, which garnered an “A.” How does this latest Rye compare? Without further ado, let’s get straight to the tasting….
As described in the Buffalo Trace press release, Thomas H. Hardy Sazerac Rye “is an uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey.” That means no water was added prior to bottling, nor was the whiskey chill filtered – a process that prevents whiskey from going hazy when stored at low temperatures, but also tampers with the whiskey’s character. In short, you can expect an uncut, unfiltered whiskey to retain the best characteristics the spirit has to offer.
Distilled in Spring 2006, the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye is technically a 6-year old whiskey, like the Trace’s standard Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey. But this is a completely different 6-year old Rye.
The color is traditional and unassuming: a pleasant singed orange in the glass, it suggests nothing less nor more than a typical Rye. But raise it to your nose, and it comes alive. Rich tobacco and well-kept leather joust with allspice and vanilla, as a subtle but rich 72% cocoa chocolate pirouettes around the edges. There’s no need to feel guilty if you savor this performance for hours without sip. Almost 30 minutes passed before I took my first sip.
You’ll be pardoned if you can’t resist sipping it sooner. For a 132.4 proof whiskey (66.2% AbV), it’s surprisingly smooth. Take advantage of that, and let it linger. The allspice jumps out right away, but only for a few seconds. The full body is revealed with a dash of split peppercorns that recedes into a hearty, vanilla-infused pipe tobacco. After taking a second sip, I thought I detected a trace of Macintosh apple, too.
The finish is brilliant and long. It reverses the order of the tasted flavors: vanilla, Virginia tobacco, and pepper in an evening rondo that fades into a warm, breezy sunset of spice. For a high-proof whiskey, this is surprisingly smooth, elegant, and delightful. With whiskeys of 120 proof or higher, I usually add a splash of water. I was tempted to do the same with the Thomas H. Handy Rye for the benefit of this review, but just couldn’t bring myself to damage this rare find.
The Thomas H. Handy Rye is worth seeking out upon its release in late September 2012. Like the Trace’s Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye, it’s another example of American Rye done right It will also require you to dip into your pocket, but don’t feel too sorry about it. The suggested retail value is $70.00 – a search of prices for the 2011 expression suggests the cost will only get higher the longer you wait!
The last edition (2011) of the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye was named “Rye Whiskey of the Year” in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. If the 2012 edition doesn’t win again, I’ll be surprised.