*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
I’m not ashamed to admit that until earlier this year, I didn’t know that the Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, featured yearly in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, isn’t a different whiskey every year, but instead is a yearly allocation of a large-ish amount of whiskey distilled in 1985, matured for 18 years until 2003, and then held until bottling in stainless steel tanks. So basically, outside of whatever small changes from oxidation that might occur in that tanks, this is the same whiskey year after year. Seems like something I should’ve been aware of, but nope. Maybe I did know, but somehow it failed to register, after all, in Buffalo Trace’s literature about the expression, it clearly states that it was distilled in 1985. A little quick math is bound to raise some questions, but then again, I was never that good at math.
In any case, does knowing all this really matter? Not to me it doesn’t. Basically, circa 2003, Buffalo Trace recognized that it had a decent amount of fantastic 18 year old rye whiskey. They could have released it all at once or they could’ve released some of it, taking the chance that what was left in the barrels wouldn’t lose something by aging too much. Instead, they went for option#3, they married all the barrels in stainless steel tanks, basically keeping this fantastic whiskey as is, and releasing a limited and highly coveted number of bottles a year. A relatively shrewd and patient business plan that has paid off well for Buffalo Trace. Year after year, this is a highly regarded and highly awarded whiskey. At this point the stuff is simply selling itself.
What I find more interesting about the Sazerac 18 is all the different tasting notes written about this one over the last several years, self included. Every year, people review the Sazerac 18, and every year, the tasting notes indicate more variation than what’s actually in the bottle. It serves as a reminder that no matter how objective and consistent one tries to be, or how much experience one has, tasting notes are extremely subjective. No amount of palate calibrating, environmental controlling, or ethical posturing will remove or at least level all those small factors which influence our perception. A gentle reminder that tasting notes, while often helpful and occasionally fun, are also just a little bit bullshit. As for myself and this years Sazerac 18 Year Old, I enjoyed discovering this beauty all over again…and found it interesting to see how my notes on this edition compare to previous ones.
The Nose: One of my favorite noses in all of whisk(e)y-dom. The Sazerac 18 has this ability to just ooze out of a glass and seemingly fill a room. Full, yet soft rye spice, fresh warm rye bread with a hint of ginger powder and mint, balanced by honeyed sweetness full of vanilla cream soda, brown sugar, and orange liqueur. A complex woodiness as well, both polished, old library oak, and damp oak boards, with dusty cinnamon and a subtle hint of soft clove.
The Palate: Much of the nose carries over to the palate, but the palate quickly becomes more rugged showing off those 18 years a little more aggressively. Burnt, nutty toffee and spiced orange rind join more sweetened vanilla. The rye is sharper and more pronounced than with the nose, even a touch astringent – cracked grain, ginger powder, white pepper. More complex oak, toasted this time, with more pepper, earthy cinnamon, and a slight dash of salt towards the end.
The Finish: Lengthy, peppery, a touch of honey, plenty of nice oaky tannins, and very mouthwatering.
Thoughts: Yup, still beautiful stuff. I think the magic of the Sazerac 18 is its ability to wonderfully balance the sweeter tones against the long years in oak, all the while still managing to showcase its mashbill. There’s not really much more to be said. If you’ve loved the this one in years past, you will love it again because it is essentially the same stuff. If there can be such a thing as a modern classic, I’d say the Sazerac 18 qualifies. Highly recommended.