By Richard Thomas
Unsurprisingly, opinion on which of the Buffalo Antique Collection ryes is better seems divided on lines of how one feels about a cask strength whiskey. If people prefer the Thomas H. Handy, it is principally because it is a potent, high proof bull of a rye. Those who think better of the 90 proof (45% abv) Sazerac 18 Year Old seem more to be the type who don’t like their liquor super strong, rather than being drawn to the impressive age statement.
Many preferences work that way, and that makes choosing between the two ryes easy. Yet some rye drinkers are like me, and like both cask strength and normal strength whiskey, and for us the choice is trickier. Every year the question “which of the Buffalo Trace Antique ryes is the best?” comes up and has to be answered.
Once in the glass, the Sazerac 18 Year Old has a very lively, bright copper appearance, the kind of look that catches light well and makes it a real delight to check out. The nose is a lively thing too, being floral with a dollop of a creamy, rich orange-vanilla sauce. Coming on late and underneath is a note of wet tobacco.
A rumor is going around that the Sazerac 18YO rye is a fixed quantity, sitting in a stainless steel storage tank rather than in barrels in Warehouse K (although K is where it came from originally). The closest I have ever had to confirmation of that rumor is how similar the whiskey is year to year. Whereas other Antique Collection whiskeys are sometimes highly variable, the aged Sazerac always has a flavor profile that differs markedly from its nose. Rather than being overtly sweet and aromatic, it’s a little woody and a little spicy, leaning to oregano and ginger. The finish is lightly spiced as well, with a modest, lingering afterglow.
My answer to the preference question? It’s usually a toss-up, but this year I’d take the Handy. It’s gone over the top this time around.
Although you might find the 2014 Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye has been marked up by your retailer, ostensibly it should be priced at $80.