By Richard Thomas
Part of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is a more rarefied and limited edition expression of the Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel. Same mash bill, but with more time in the barrel. Just as with George T. Stagg and other members of the collection, a small quantity of the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is bottled every year and released in the autumn. Each annual bottling is unique onto itself, and the character may differ noticeably from year to year, although always within a certain profile.
Like the rest of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon comes in an clear, white wine-style bottle with understated labeling. I think the design for the Antique Collection lets the brand name and whiskey within speak for itself, without a showy display, as leaving the bottle largely unadorned shows off the contents quite well. Like the standard Eagle Rare, the 17 Year Old is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).
The bourbon has a burnished coppery amber look in the glass. The nose starts the bourbon off in a sweet, but very un-bourbon way. Bourbon sweetness is usually drawn from the barrel or the corn, and has certain expected characteristics, but this stuff is delightfully floral and fruity, like a dark pie filling. The woodiness is there (how could it not be after almost two decades in new oak), but is quite understated.
The flavor is of tartly sweet dark and red fruit, with a dash of cookie and pie spices, like cinnamon. There is a little bit of oakiness and caramel in there, but as with the nose, the woody aspects of this bourbon are strictly secondary. It’s not a big, hoary, oaky whiskey, or even a syrupy vanilla and caramel bourbon. Instead, it’s something of an odd duck, and a very mellow one at that. The finish is modest, warm, and leaves a lingering caramel aftertaste, this being the only place where the wood stands at the forefront.
Many whiskey fans would think an aged bourbon like this would have a deep, thick character. That is not Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, or even Eagle Rare 10 Year Old for that matter. When I was last at Buffalo Trace, Amy Preske, the Public Relations Manager there, told me that Eagle Rare was very popular with their European visitors who don’t know bourbon that well, but probably know the lighter, fruitier side of Irish and Scotch whiskey. Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is in keeping with that line, delivering more of the same substance.
The 2012 version of Eagle Rare 17 Year Old retails for $75.