By S.D. Peters
In 1870, Thomas H. Handy, proprietor of the Sazerac House in New Orleans, altered the Sazerac cocktail by replacing cognac with rye whiskey. In doing so, he created the world’s most famous rye cocktail.
Each year, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection honors Handy’s contribution to rye culture with a special straight rye Whiskey that’s uncut and unfiltered.
“Uncut” means the 2015 Thomas H. Handy Rye, like it’s previous releases, adds no water before bottling. “Unfiltered” means it isn’t chill filtered – a process that is common to prevent whiskey from “going hazy” when stored at lower temperatures, but one that also alters with the whiskey’s inherent character. So if you want a whiskey with all its strongest characteristics intact, seek out whiskey that’s uncut and unfiltered.
A true whiskey and a true rye, the Thomas H. Sazerac Straight Rye is a worthy tribute not only to the man who helped popularize rye, but to the very essence of rye itself. It’s 2015’s release, though, that is no exception and yet also exceptional.
Distilled in Spring 2009, the Thomas H. Handy Rye is 126.9 proof (63.5% abv) of definitive rye. In the glass it’s rich amber hints may give it a standard appearance, but wait until you taste it.
It’s not a tame rye, and that’s a good thing. Strong tobacco, weathered leather, cloves, cardamom, allspice and a distinctively strong cocoa present themselves on a swirl of the glass. Oak and leather dominate the initial flavor, with a taste of fig cookies and toffee gradually gaining ground.
The rye’s moderately high proof (and I can only imagine at the time of this writing what the 2015 George T. Stagg, typically the Antique Collection’s “high-rye” bourbon, is like at 138.2 Proof!) takes some time to reveal it’s rich and lingering essence of figs, caramel, peppercorn-cut allspice, and a spectacular bitterness of strong chocolate.
The finish appears medium and sharp at first, but lingers long and mellows as the minutes pass. The Proof may be “lighter” this year than earlier editions (the 2012 Handy was 132.4 proof, for example), but the proof is in the fine and sharp flavors that give Thomas H. Handy Rye the honor of being called “definitive.”
This whiskey is one of those where how things should be and how they are become two different things. The recommended price is $80, but on the open market it typically fetches closer to $400. The 2015 Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye is worth seeking out, however, and it should be appearing in your area soon if it already hasn’t. Like its cousin, the 2015 Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye, it’s a definitive example of American rye whiskey done right.