If you’d like a little background/historical info on Thomas H. Handy, check out my review of the 2011 release. Just to pique your interest, I’ll say that there’s a coffee shop, bitters, rye whiskey, and a guy named Thomas involved. The 2014 release of the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey is, like previous editions, the youngster of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, being a little over six years old. It has been bottled un-cut and unfiltered. If you’re someone who likes to keep track of these kind of things, this year’s model is a month younger than last years and its barrels aged on the 5th floor of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse M versus last year’s locale of the 7th floor of Warehouse K. While I’m sure this made some difference, I found these latest two releases to be very similar.
The Nose: I tend to find the nose on the Handy more restrained and subtle than I expect. Initially there’s quite a bit of cherry juice and butterscotch with scraped vanilla bean, and toasted almond. The rye is smooth and mineral rather than sharp, with rye flour, stone ground crackers, and a hint of pickled ginger. Spice notes of cinnamon stick and soft, almost candied clove round things out. A bit of water opens this up nicely, releasing more bourbon-y tones and upping the complexity some.
The Palate: Initially, hot, spicy, and sweet with cherry-vanilla cola, candied almonds, and a bit of orange juice. Things get more rugged as it progresses. The rye is sharper than the nose, and has an almost crackling green quality to it – ginger and pepper. Rough, tannic oak, clove, and cinnamon, and a bit of barrel char emerge as this gets very dry towards the end. Adding water plays up the rye and spice while toning down the sweetness. It does not change that rugged, drying quality much at all.
The Finish: Quite drying and dusty with a bit of cherry cola sweetness, more vanilla extract, and a nice bit of clove that lingers quite a while.
Thoughts: Very good, but for me, not without its drawbacks. I found this years to be a slight improvement over last years. The palate was a little more enjoyable, though still quite challenging. There’s a lot of nice complexity in the subtle nose and while some of it carries over, the heat and tannic dryness of the palate overwhelm. So, yeah, a quite good whisky, though for me (and I realize this is a minority opinion) it doesn’t fit in with the other Antique Collection bottles and isn’t quite worth the price.