*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
The youngster of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Aside from the barrels being plucked from different locations, and a couple of months of aging, the main difference between this years Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey and those of the last couple of years is the increase in the number of barrels used. Prior to 2015, the Thomas Handy used around 40-47 barrels, in 2015, 58 barrels were used, and in 2016, 62 barrels were used. Sure, not a huge jump, but it makes for (very approximately) 2900 bottles more this year compared to the 2014 release. Should be really easy to find now, right?
The Nose: Quite tight and straight-forward seeming. Initially, there are notes of cherry juice, juicy tangerines, a little butterscotch, and a hint of fruit cocktail. The rye is barely toasted, crisp, clean, and slightly herbal, with touches of saltine crackers and corn oil in the background. Notes of vanilla syrup and blanched almonds lead to mild spice notes of sweet clove, cinnamon stick, and subtle spearmint. Adding water boosts the rye a bit and opens up the wood and spice notes a little.
The Palate: Hot stuff. Sweeter than the nose portends with more juicy citrus, honey, maraschino cherry, and vanilla cream soda. The rye gets knocked back here a bit, it’s grainy and spicy but struggles against the sweetness and high ABV heat. Mid palate there’s salted nuts and bittersweet chocolate leading to young, roughly tannic oak, nutmeg, clove, mint, and ground pepper. Water really helps the palate. The sweetness is toned down, the rye comes forward more, and the edgy wood notes are sanded down.
The Finish: Medium-ish and somewhat mouth-watering, with more of that rough, grippy oak. Dark brown sugars, hot cinnamon, and a fine-ground pepper.
Thoughts: I’m just not a huge fan of the Handy. It’s usually…good, but often, in comparison to the other bottles in the Antique Collection, “good” doesn’t really cut it. This year the Handy seemed a little different. In years past, I’ve found it too youthful with a stronger, sharper rye presence. This time around, I thought there was a nice restraint to the grain, especially on the nose, but at strength, it was nearly drowned out on the palate. Adding water (and why wouldn’t you add water?) is a must. It’s too sharp-edged neat, water gives it room to breath and shows off the mashbill much more clearly. So, as with other years, perhaps even more so than other years, I enjoyed this and think it’s a quite decent whiskey, I’m just not sure it’s worth the price or the hype.