By Richard Thomas
Of the two rye releases in Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection, the Thomas H. Handy is the one whiskey fans pay the most attention to, although why is unclear. While the age on the Handy release is usually six years old, as opposed to 18 for the Collection’s straight Sazerac, so perhaps it is a preference for cask strength, unfiltered whiskey among Buffalo Trace’s diehard fans that make Handy the more popular Antique Collection rye.
This year’s Thomas H. Handy is a mature, but not particularly old whiskey. Distilled in the spring of 2008, this mature whiskey spent those half-dozen years on the 5th Floor of Warehouse M. Uncut, it came out of the barrel and went into the bottle at 129.2 proof (64.6% abv).
The color of the Handy 2014 is a reddish copper, very bright and with little leaning into brown. Whiskeys of this type are always lovely to look at while giving a swish in natural light, and this year’s Handy is no exception.
Cask strengths are always start with a bit of wonder, in that I’m wondering if I’ll be able to get to the finish drinking it neat and as is, or will I need to add at least a few drops of water to cut the whiskey to taste. With the Handy, the first step of nosing was “so far, so good.” Despite being more than two-thirds alcohol, the vapor didn’t torch my nostrils, but instead gave a pleasant, restrained sensation of thick coconut cake. It’s a little floral and a little vanilla, but the seasoning is really more heavy with clove and nutmeg, all under-girded by a creamy richness.
Next step, the taste, and from here it’s “good to go.” I found last year’s Handy not too hot, but too big and bold. While the 2014 Handy Rye is also big and bold, it is just inside my line, and didn’t require the water. Yet since it was borderline, I put a capful in anyway, and found it brought the brashness down to something more approachable.
It’s got that marmalade, vanilla, red fruits and cake spice combination that smacks of a heavily seasoned, liquor-heavy Holiday fruitcake. It’s not subtle, but it is delightfully yummy. The finish is moderately warm, leaving only the slightest hint of a sweet tobacco flavor on the tongue, but it lingers for a considerable amount of time.
The suggested retail price for the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey 2014 is $80, but beware of the all-to-frequent retailer mark-up.