By Richard Thomas
The Eagle Rare name has a storied history for what is a relatively modern invention. The brand started out as a high-proof straight bourbon in the mid-1970s, so while Eagle Rare is a relatively recent invention, it still predates the modern premium bourbon era that started a decade later. The brand was purchased by Sazerac from Seagram in 1989, which is how it wound up at what was then known as the George T. Stagg Distillery. By 2005, the distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace, and Eagle Rare had evolved from a high-proof straight bourbon into a 10 year old single barrel product, basically the junior entry along side the distillery’s signature single barrel, Blanton’s.
The Eagle Rare name also adorns a 17 year old limited edition bourbon in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection. Bottled at 90-proof, this makes the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old the moderate bourbon in a line noted for being not only aged, but also often cask strength. Every year, bourbon fans put their names on waiting lists to get their bottle of Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, and this is what to expect from the 2013 installment.
Like all of the Antique Collection whiskeys, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old comes in a simple, modernist package, reminiscent of a wine bottle. The best virtue of this style is the modest labeling lets the whiskey within speak for itself, with the 2013 Eagle Rare 17 YO having a coppery, middle-amber color that almost sparkles in the glass.
The nose is richly floral and sweet, with notes of orange zest and vanilla, plus a dash of toasty wood. On the palate, that toasty wood note comes first, backed up by corn and orange sweetness mixed with a little vanilla, and then just a touch of spice kicks in. The finish takes its time, leaving a warm afterglow and a lingering vanilla aftertaste.
I described the 2012 Eagle Rare 17 YO as having a tart, red fruit character. This year’s is very similar, although the fruity side comes from a citrus direction, and it stays well within the bounds of what one should expect from the title. Whereas most aged bourbons are hefty and bold, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is lighter, sweeter, and more restrained, but still shows some of the woody character from a long time spent in the barrel.
The suggested retail price for the 2013 Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is $70.