By Richard Thomas
This particular part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is named for the proprietor of the Sazerac House in New Orleans, the place where the Sazerac Cocktail was “Americanized” by the replacement of the cognac with rye whiskey. It is one of two ryes in the Antique Collection, which after Pappy Van Winkle is arguably the most chased-after set of limited edition expressions in American whiskey.
However, as limited editions, every installment is at least a little different from the expressions before it. Some years bring winners that become so overloaded with medals and plaudits as to risk tipping the bottle over, while others are merely very good. So, what about the Thomas H. Handy 2013 Rye?
Thomas H. Handy’s standard is to be a barrel strength, unfiltered rye whiskey, but not an especially old one (that is reserved for the Sazerac 18 Year Old) This year’s expression is, like last year’s, a six year old, but what came out of the barrel was a bit lighter this time. 2013’s Handy is 128.4 proof (64.2% abv), which while strong, is a little lower on the alcohol than what sometimes comes out of the Antique Collection’s barrel proof whiskeys. Last year’s Handy was a whopping 66.2% abv!
In the glass, Handy 2013 has a bright orange coloring, a little too vibrant and too orange to be called amber. The nose is floral, smacking of dried plums and sweet tobacco, seasoned with allspice and vanilla, plus a strong presence of earthy wood.
The surprise came to me when I took a sip, because the nose didn’t offer any hint of the whiskey being too strong, but the flavor certainly did. It didn’t bite me, but it was certainly too big and bold, so I added my customary drops of water. That brought things under control, revealing a still bold, kicky, but more pleasant whiskey. Toffee and vanilla blend with cloves and allspice, followed by a peppery bite at the end. The finish follows that outsized character, being big, warm, and prolonged.
Thanks to rationing, Thomas H. Handy 2013 Rye should retail for $70. If your liquor store charges more, they are probably gouging you.