*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
For more thrilling, death-defying background/historical info on Thomas H. Handy, feel free to check out my review of the 2011 release. The 2013 release of the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey is, like previous editions, the youngster of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, being a mere six years old and has been bottled un-cut and unfiltered.
The Nose: A touch reserved at first, for a rye whiskey, this is not an overwhelmingly rye-filled nose. It’s quite sweet and fruity initially with rich, dark brown sugar, butterscotch, stewed stone fruits, and even a bit of cherry pie. The rye has a distinct but subtle dryness to it, more like a rye flour cracker or stale bread than a fresh rye loaf. Subtler hints of nutty chocolate brownies, vanilla bean, and cinnamon, with wisps of clove and mint well in the background. Adding water brings out a lot more bread-y rye character while toning down the fruit sweetness. The spices gain a bit more complexity as well.
The Palate: Hot stuff! Initially full of caramel, cherry juice and sweet oranges, the high alcohol content and rushing spiciness make this one a mild challenge without water. Notes of burnt toffee, orgeat syrup, and now-more-prevalent spicy rye barely emerge above big, tannic, drying waves of cut oak, clove, vanilla, coarse cinnamon, and candied ginger. Water definitely helps to slow things down, letting that nutty sweetness breathe a little, and bringing out more toasty rye notes. Even with quite a bit of water, there’s a big swell of tannic, spicy wood towards the end, but it’s a little more manageable now.
The Finish: Longish, a little dusty, and drying and/or numbing. It’s hard to tell what’s the tannic oak and clove here and what’s the high proof. Water certainly helps tone it down a bit, and lets a little rye linger on as well.
Thoughts: Well, at strength, this one is a young bruiser sneaking up on you in a dark alley. The nose is quite nice, even a bit mellower than expected, the palate, however, is little surprising and kind of relentless. Drying and hot, the high ABV and spiciness nearly blow all else out of the water. I found this one too much without water, a little overblown with its grippy, numbing burn. Adding some helps things immensely. With water, the nose loses some of the early, somewhat misleading sweetness, but it foreshadows the palate much better, which in turn becomes more bearable and shows off the rye more. I have to say I don’t think this year’s version is worth the price. It’s lacking strong rye punch and there is too much youthful vigor and not enough balance to make it work. That’s not to say it’s a poor whiskey, far from it, this is decent stuff and there’s quite a bit to enjoy, but ultimately, I think it falls a little short and doesn’t live up to the standard set by previous editions and its Antique Collection Brethren.