Behind The Bottles: A Deep Dive Into Buffalo Trace’s Vanishingly Rare ‘Antique Collection’

Behind The Bottles: A Deep Dive Into Buffalo Trace’s Vanishingly Rare ‘Antique Collection’

Randy Lai
Randy Lai


A close up of a sign

Like your favourite bottle of bubbly crafted during a millésime, each one of the five releases in the critically acclaimed Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (‘BTAC’) is borne from exceptional circumstances.

Earlier this March, a handful of Australia’s wine & spirit journos assembled at the iconic Rockpool Bar & Grill: our staging ground for an afternoon spent sampling the latest BTAC line-up in the presence of Mr. Drew Mayville – Director of Quality and Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace, the oldest continually operational distillery in the United States and the world’s most award-winning distillery. 

In addition to supplying the eponymous 200-year-old Kentucky homestead with its name, the ‘Buffalo Trace’ moniker also refers to the flagship offering in one of America’s biggest, most critically lauded families of homegrown spirits. Since the year 2000, the distillery has raked in 40+ awards from leading authorities like Whisky Advocate, Whisky Magazine and many more.

Akin to the trunk around which all of the brand’s other award-winning bottlings gather, Buffalo Trace (as a bourbon expression) was first introduced in 1999. The namesake expression has enjoyed an incredible reputation amongst whiskey enthusiasts for decades: thanks to its smooth, crowd-pleasing mix of woody and caramelized dark fruit flavours and extremely high quality make (involving 8 years of barrel-age before bottling).

In and of itself, that should tell you something about what a treat drinkers have in store with the premium ‘antique spirits’ line-up.

The five bottles composing the current BTAC ensemble – George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy, Sazerac Rye 18 Year-Old and Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old – are all available to purchase separately: agony for completionists, yet great news for those who enjoy a tipple.

But lovers of quality dark spirits needn’t despair: Buffalo Trace reps have already confirmed these BTAC bottles will be going “in-venue” with a selection of leading bars & restaurants around the country (with the full list to be announced shortly).

In the meantime, we took it upon ourselves to learn at the foot of the proverbial master – tasting each BTAC expression, complete with guidance and a few choice anecdotes from Mayville himself. The verdict? Our American cousins are crafting some seriously outstanding, mature-aged whiskey.

At least one of these BTAC expressions – if not all – are bound to deliver enjoyment by the barrelful.

RELATED: Buffalo Trace Distillery Doubles Production, So You Might Finally Get Some Pappy Van Winkle

George T. Stagg – The Homecoming King

Probably the most hotly anticipated of all Antique expressions to be released by Buffalo Trace, George T. Stagg makes its return after a hiatus in 2021. This year’s Stagg Bourbon – now at a level of quality consistent with Mayville’s exacting standards – has been pulled from barrels filled in 2007 and is a 15-year-old belter of a whiskey, offering up flavours of pecan, chocolate sauce, baking spice and a molasses finish. Designated a ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon’, it’s bottled at a whopping 69.35% ABV.

In order to drive home the intensely finite nature of this whiskey, Buffalo Trace’s distillers explained that – despite a range of preventative warehousing solutions – 75% of the original spirit that went into this year’s Stagg release was lost due to evaporation. Small wonder then that Mayville recommends imbibing the remaining liquid gold that is complex in flavour and wonderfully intense with nothing more than a few droplets of water.

William Larue Weller – The Critic’s Choice

Made from a less frequently supped mash bill (i.e. trade speak for ‘recipe’) that substitutes wheat in place of the more conventional rye grain, W.L. Weller is the Antique Collection’s take on a more fresh and “composed” style of bourbon.

Pulled from barrels that have been aging since the spring of 2010, this 12.5-year-old expression has a wonderfully viscous mouthfeel, full-bodied palate and then – in a show of great complexity – finishes long and fresh with notes Mayville describes as “intriguingly misleading”.

The wheated mash bill gives this bourbon a distinctive bouquet of coconut and butterscotch aromas; yet a few sips in, those hallmarks of a typical Kentucky Straight start giving way to mint, dark cherry and pips of nutmeg on the finish. Delicious and interesting, it’s the critical darling of the BTAC family – as evidenced by its ‘Double Gold’ win at San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2022.

Thomas H. Handy – BTAC’s Uncut & Unfiltered Ode To Rye Whiskey Roots

Offering a different kind of incendiary character to its sister expression W.L. Weller, Thomas H. Handy is an ode to the eponymous New Orleanian bartender and famed inventor of the Sazerac. Despite those historic bona fides, the Handy is – at its core – a classic straight rye: whiskey made from a mash bill of at least 51% rye that’s aged in new oak barrels no less than two years. Best enjoyed with the smallest handful of ice cubes, it’s bottled at a robust 130.9 proof (65.45% ABV).

Inevitably though, once dilution and the human palate do their thing, drinkers will be treated to a mélange of smooth, spicy, utterly decadent flavours. This spirit’s rye-forward mash bill offers up lush notes of toffee, fig cake and cinnamon; before high-tailing into a finish that registers heavily of orange peel.

That persistent, candied citrus quality got us to thinking that the Handy could even work as the foundation for a particularly swanky classic cocktail: elemental, stirred-down recipes in the vein of an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and what-have-you. Happily, Mayville didn’t dissuade us from enjoying this mature-aged rye (first barreled in 2016) in such a manner – at Buffalo Trace, immediate drinking pleasure is always the name of the game.

Eagle Rare 17 – Age Affords Beauty

One of the two oldest expressions offered under the BTAC umbrella, Eagle Rare 17 is a holistic, well-rounded take on a Kentucky Straight, which Mayville recommends as the de facto entry point into mature-aged whiskeys at Buffalo Trace.

A personal favourite of multiple staffers in the Boss Hunting office and a doyenne of critics globally – the 2022 edition has already taken home a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge – Eagle Rare 17 doesn’t launch itself at drinkers with the same sort of brashness you’d expect from the collection’s Weller and Stagg bourbons. Mayville notes that the current edition was bottled at 50.5% ABV – much closer in alcoholic strength to what Old World whisky drinkers are accustomed to.

Instead, the experience of drinking Eagle Rare 17 is perhaps most comparable to that of a finely aged wine. The mid-palate is delicate, rounded and full of chocolate-dipped red fruit notes; while the finish has a lingering leather quality – characteristic of this highly sought-after expression of Eagle Rare.

Sazerac Rye 18 – Straight Rye Saviour

The other straight rye expression in the Antique Collection, Sazerac 18 bears all the weight and gravitas that comes with being named after “America’s first cocktail”. The moniker suggests a connection to the world of mixology, but we’d be lying if we said our preferred way to experience Sazerac 18 wasn’t in a convex glass – no dilution necessary. Bottled at a highly approachable 45% ABV, this rye whiskey elegantly rebuts the various stereotypes about brawny, heavily oaked whiskey.

Turning the bottle over, you’ll see Buffalo Trace’s distillers have once again given drinkers the full tech sheet breakdown: explaining, among other things, just how labour-intensive the process of maturing antique bourbon is (for this year’s edition, 74% of the original Sazerac spirit in-barrel has been lost to evaporation).

From nose to finish, every element at play in this BTAC expression has evidently been blended with the utmost care. Flavours of coriander seed, maple syrup, and zesty citrus fruit all exist in balance with one another; and the finish – arguably our favourite part of this straight rye – goes out on a rather distinctive cracked pepper note. Tantalising stuff.

Looking to familiarise yourself with the Buffalo Trace ‘house style’ before diving into the Antique Collection? Then give Buffalo Trace Bourbon a try today – served neat, on the rocks or in a timeless Old Fashioned, it’s a sure-fire way to begin your voyage into American whiskey.

This article is sponsored by Buffalo Trace. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].



Share the article