*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
Perhaps the most anticipated and interesting of the five Antique Collection bottles this year, the Sazerac 18 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is for the first time since 2003…a new whiskey. Starting that year through 2014, the whisky used in this expression was distilled in 1985, matured for 18 years, and then married and stored in stainless steel tanks. Up until this year’s model, each bottling of the Sazerac 18 has been more or less the same…but what an incredible sameness. I would say that earlier versions of this one consistently rank up there, perhaps top two or three, as my favorite American whiskeys. So it’s with tinge of sadness that a new era is ushered in. It will be pretty much impossible for the current Sazerac 18 to live up to that legendary vatting, and it would be silly for Buffalo Trace to try to replicate it. But expectations being what they are, there are already a few reviews out there that seem illogically upset that this new, different whiskey isn’t just the same or equally as good as the old stuff.
The number of barrels used for this new expression roughly equals the amount they used in at least the last two versions. The most interesting thing to note about the 2016 (other than its newness of course) is the amount of evaporation that happened compared to the figure they give for the previous two years. 2016’s saw a little more than 72% disappear into the ether, while 2014’s and 2015’s lost only around 58%. That seems significant, what kind of differences will result with this higher degree of concentration?
The Nose: A mellow, inviting nose, full of sweetness and rye. Pithy orange, caramel, vanilla syrup, maraschino cherry, and a hint of cotton candy. The rye is very fresh, clean and herbal, less baked and peppery than expected, and nicely integrated throughout. There are subtler notes of the burnt tops of banana cream pie, and orange-tinged chocolate in the background. Relaxed but solid “old library” notes of polished oak, with warm cinnamon, vanilla bean, and powdered ginger.
The Palate: A slightly airy mouthfeel that begins with more juicy citrus, sweet cherry, and caramel. The rye is breadier here, more toasted and peppery, and very much front and center. Toasted almonds and baker’s chocolate loiter in the background. As with the nose, strong but balanced oak and spice notes, polished and shellacked boards, cinnamon, candied ginger, sweetened clove, and fine ground pepper.
The Finish: Longish and warm with nicely tannic oak, toasty rye grain, vanilla bean baking spice, and an astringent hint of barrel char and cherry cough syrup towards the end.
Thoughts: First off, if you were expecting the same Sazerac 18…well, why the hell would you expect the same whiskey when this one is supposed to be different? That said, it’s hard to chase the ghost of all that wonderful 1985 vintage out of one’s glass. So, with that in mind, yes, this one is different from the old one, and no, it is not as good as the old one…few whiskeys are. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can try to judge this one on its own merits. This grew on me quite a bit. There was a subtle thinness to it that initially made it seem even less than the stated 45% ABV, but as the glass went on, this held its own. The relatively sweet and fresh nose leads to a more robust, rich palate, that leads to a lingering, spicy, slightly bitter finish. It’s a pleasant progression that shows balance and complexity along the way. Does the nose pour out of the glass the way the old stuff did? No, sadly, it’s a little more gentle that way. The palate is actually very similar, perhaps lighter on the spice, but similar. Overall, this is very, very good whiskey. It’s basically a new start for the brand, if your expectations are unreasonably based on the old stuff, you may be disappointed, if not, you may find this a worthy addition to the collection. Definitely Recommended.