*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
Reading this year’s “release letter” from Buffalo Trace about the Antique Collection’s Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, I noticed that it listed the distilling date as 1993. Now as I’ve mentioned before I am not what you would call a mathematics wizard. I’m good with fractions for one reason or another and I enjoy sports statistics, but beyond that, I’m not much use in the math department. However, even I quickly deduced that if this was distilled in ’93, that would make this years 17 year old version around 21 years old. To be fair, the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old has not been 17 years old for several years now, and though it’s a bit odd, it’s generally assumed that the title is now more or less a brand name rather than an accurate description. Still, something made something click, and looking back at the last two years release letters, I noticed that they, too, listed 1993 as the distilling date. Could it be that the Antique Collection’s Eagle Rare was now being drawn from a vatted supply like the Sazerac 18?
As one does in times of deep confusion, I took to the internet. I found mention of this same quandary on a couple of bourbon forums, but realized that maybe…just maybe, bourbon forums were not the most reliable source of information. So, I went to a more reliable source, I asked Kris Comstock, Buffalo Trace’s Brand Manager for the low down. According to Kris, the whiskey for last three Eagle Rare 17 releases was all distilled in 1993, but has come from different barrels which were not batched as a whole. In a move to prevent the bourbon from seeing too much oak, the 2014 version was selected in August of 2013 and tanked until this years bottling. So while there may be similarities in the last three years worth of releases, in terms of distilling year and warehouse location, they are made up from different selections of barrels and therefore distinct. Now that we’ve cleared that up…
The Nose: A lush, rich, “old bourbon” nose. Initially there’s warm caramel, a little butterscotch, maple extract, French vanilla ice cream, and snickerdoodle cookies. Subtler notes of burnt toffee, roasted sweet corn, and candied coconut hover around the edges with spice notes of warm cinnamon and subtle clove. There’s quite a bit of wood – toasted oak staves – but that’s balanced by that rich sweetness.
The Palate: The palate is as woody as you’d expect, but less sweet and less balanced. Early hints of root beer and caramel, with salted nuts and the burnt edges of cornbread. Strong, tannic, grippy oak dominates towards the end – more of that toasted oak from the nose. Lots of hot cinnamon, a bit of clove and crushed peppercorns lead to the finish.
The Finish: Longish and dry with vanilla bean, slightly burnt popcorn, dried tobacco, and a little oak char.
Thoughts: I enjoyed this quite a bit. The Eagle Rare 17 is probably the most straight-forward and easy-drinking of the Antique Collection. While I found it similar to last years version, I thought it didn’t handle the strong wood presence as well. The nose is just damn pleasant, though perhaps a little perfunctory in its “old bourbon-ness”. The palate is more muscular with its strong wood and spice. Prices for older bourbons like this are soaring, the suggested retail for this one ($80) is in line with that, and…fair, I guess, perhaps a bit on the steep side value-wise. Still, this is a very, very good bourbon, certainly recommended.