*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
As Buffalo Trace is owned by Sazerac, and Sazerac was founded by Thomas H. Handy, it seems only fitting to begin a look at Buffalo Trace’s 2011 Antique Collection with the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye. The story begins (more or less) at the Sazerac Coffee House which was located on Exchange Alley in New Orleans’ French Quarter and was well-known for its cocktail made with Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac, bitters and absinthe. Handy purchased the Sazerac Coffee House in 1869, switching the Cognac to Rye whiskey in the 1880’s as the Phylloxera epidemic wiped out the supply of grapes for wine and spirits in Europe. Handy steadily built his spirits empire over the years, purchasing and marketing brands like Peychaud’s Bitters and opening another establishment, The Sazerac Bar. The actual Sazerac company was started by a former secretary of Handy’s, C. J. O’Reilly, but it was Handy who laid the groundwork and is generally seen as the father of the company.
This straight rye whisky is made from a mashbill of Minnesota rye, Kentucky corn, and malted barley from North Dakota. 41 barrels of new American White Oak were filled and the spirit was aged for six years and five months before it was bottled uncut and unfiltered.
The Nose: Unexpectedly crisp yet lush at the same time. Nice butterscotch and stewed cherry notes are joined by almost flinty, black tea-tinged rye notes. There’s rye bread here but it’s maybe more the hearth stone it was baked on rather than the loaf itself. Deeper notes of baked fruit dessert with plenty of vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. A bit of water coaxes out more bready notes along with some toasted coconut and orgeat syrup, adding even more complexity.
The Palate: Whoa. Big, billowing juicy waves of orange and cherry coupled with raw vanilla, burnt caramel, and lots of cinnamon. Without water, this is an impressively raw, dominating, palate. There are some burnt toast, candied almonds and barrel char hints but they barely make themselves heard above the mighty fruit and spice that just seems to bloom in the mouth. This definitely needs water, it’s formidable yet drinkable without, but it’s almost too much. Water adds a wonderful creaminess to the mouthfeel and brings out more rye bread and toasted almond notes while still holding on to the powerful spiciness. More clove and ginger emerge alongside all the cinnamon and oak as well.
The Finish: Continued caramel and orange notes with quite a bit of drying oak and cinnamon. Water brings some of the almond nuttiness back to life as well.
Thoughts: Big, bold stuff. This is impressive whiskey making to be sure. The nose is surprisingly a little restrained (though delightful), but at strength, the palate just bursts forth and nearly overwhelms. This is where the expert whiskey making comes into play, adding water tone down some of the power , but it still remains a very robust whiskey, only now there’s even more complexity and a depth to go along with all that strength. This one demands your attention and your time, but you’ll be rewarded for sure. Highly recommended.