Flight: 2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

There’s been a lot written about how great and rare Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection is. Every fall a new batch is released to a never ending number of accolades. Everyone then complains how hard it is to find a bottle and then further rants about the inflated prices on the grey market.

 

What you don’t hear much of is the back story behind the collection. Why does it exist? Who are George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller and Thomas H. Handy? What the heck is a Eagle Rare or a Sazerac?

 To help to better understand this we’ll take a look at the back story of each bottle and how they came to be part of the “Antique Collection.” We’ll also describe each bottle’s tasting notes and how they differ from the other bottles in the collection.

 

Buffalo Trace is the distiller of all of the brands in the Antique Collection. The company wasn’t always called that, which leads us into the first bottle of the Antique Collection...

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg was a whiskey salesman in the 19th Century. After a number of successful years in the business, he got to know a great deal about the whiskey business and began to think bigger.  With the help of E.H. Taylor, they purchased a distillery from Harrison Blanton in 1870. They named it "O.F.C.” after its original name, “Old Fire Copper.” During the next 7 years they made a number of drastic changes and improvements to it.  A leading industry expert at the time declared the distillery “one plus ultra of its class:” the best of the best. [2] At this point Stagg wanted to buy out his partner’s share and control the distillery outright. Taylor agreed and Stagg eventually renamed it the “George T. Stagg Distillery” in 1904. Stagg’s time as a salesman aided him well as owner of the distillery as it became one of the world’s leading bourbon producers.

The distillery held its namesake for almost a century. Today that distillery is called Buffalo Trace.

 

The current George T. Stagg release began in 2002.  It is well known for its uncut, unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon and is renowned for its exceptionally high quality, but also its sky-high proof point.

 

The 2013 release of was unique in a few ways. It had the lowest proof point of the brand yet at 128.2. It was aged 15 years and 11 months with an incredible 73.34% evaporation loss. Out of 157 barrels it had an estimated yield of 11,197 bottles.  It  also had the largest production of the 2013 Antique Collection bottles and is still the most well-known and revered expression of the collection.

Tasting Notes  Fact Sheet

Nose: Sitting with this bourbon for the first time you're instantly hit with a sense that this is a sophisticated bourbon. A smell of aged wood, raisin, caramel and a hint of corn dance across your nose, transporting you right to the middle of an aging warehouse on a warm spring day in Kentucky. While the alcohol wants to initially jump out of the nose, the overall the balance of the wood smell evens this bourbon out nicely. Let this one sit for a few minutes and the smell becomes even more delicious.

 

Palate: Initially a sweet taste of caramel hits your tongue that instantly is replaced with a taste of all-spice and leather. The palate hits quick and to the point.

 

Finish: It's a nice long finish that stays with you for a while. Due to the high proof you might be inclined to say it’s a sharp harsh finish; when in reality, that’s just the alcohol dissipating from your mouth. As it mellows, you get hints of candy corn and rubber, finishing on a note of wet wood and tobacco. It's definitely a strange combination, however, it works in this case.

Spring of 1997

Fall of 2013

128.2 Proof (Barrel Proof)

135 Proof

125 Proof

53 liquid gallons

Warehouses I, K & Q

1st, 2nd, 4th & 8th

73.34% lost to evaporation

157 hand-picked barrels

None

15 years & 11 months

11,197

Time of distillation

Release

Proof for release

Proof off still

Barrel entry proof

Barrel size

Warehouse

Floor

Evaporation Loss

Barrel selection

Filtration

Product age

# bottles produced (est)

# barrels

% yield

max # bottles/barrel (267.5)

barrel proof (est if necessary) bottled proof

157

26.66%

267.5

128.2

128.2

William Larue Weller

William Larue Weller (1825-1899) was a distiller of bourbon in the early days of Kentucky. As the legend goes,  Weller was the first to produce a wheated bourbon in the mid-19th century. His whiskeys were so popular that he had to put his thumbprint in green ink on all invoices and barrels of whiskey sold to insure his customers that they were getting the real item. [3] After the introduction of his original wheated bourbon in 1849, Weller, along with his brother, founded a very successful bourbon trading company. Weller’s namesake company eventually went on to merge with Pappy Van Winkle’s A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. [4]

Since then his brand has been sold many times during the late 20th century and is now owned by Buffalo Trace’s parent company the Sazerac Company.

 

William Larue Weller started as part of the Antique Collection in 2000 as a 19 year old wheat bourbon at 90 proof. In 2005, it was reintroduced as an uncut,  barrel proof wheat bourbon. It is currently the oldest aged barrel proof wheat bourbon on the U.S. market.

 

The 2013 expression was bottled at 12 years of age at 136.2 proof. 39 barrels were hand-picked that saw a 55.3% loss to evaporation, totaling only 4,663 bottles.

Tasting Notes  Fact Sheet

Nose: The strong alcohol smell is quickly overtaken by an intense wood scent. The sweet wheat aroma is accompanied by hints of orange and minor hits of maple and caramel.

 

Palate: Aggressive. Although that is to be expected of a 136 proof bourbon, what’s surprising is its less than expected burn. An intense load of flavors hits your tongue at first sip; so much so, it’s almost hard to pick it apart. This rich flavor isn’t overpowered by the alcohol, but rather it overpowers the alcohol. There are so many flavors that hit your tongue all at once it can be a shock. It opens with caramel, honey and butterscotch, but quickly gives way to its oaky foundation with hints of tobacco.

 

Finish: Long. Very long. Rich and complex flavors swirl with wood being the easiest to name first. The burn has a way of lingering much like the flavors do. Even the smallest of sips pack a flavor punch. Deep profile indeed.

Time of distillation

Release

Proof for release

Proof off still

Barrel entry proof

Barrel size

Warehouse

Floor

Evaporation Loss

Barrel selection

Filtration

Product age

# bottles produced (est)

# barrels

% yield

max # bottles/barrel (267.5)

barrel proof (est if necessary) bottled proof

 

 

Spring of 2001

Fall of 2013

136.2 Proof (Barrel Proof)

130 Proof

114 Proof

53 liquid gallons

Warehouses M & P

3rd & 4th

55.3% lost to evaporation

39 hand-picked barrels

None

12.1 years

4,663

39

44.70%

267.5

136.2

136.2

 

Thomas H. Handy

Thomas H. Handy arrived in New Orleans in 1847 and took a job as a clerk a few years later at Sewell Taylor’s liquor store. This was the beginning of a journey for Handy from humble beginnings to what is now, world fame. In 1850 Aaron Bird renamed the Merchants Exchange Coffee House the Sazerac Coffee House. He featured a drink called the “Sazerac” which became the first branded cocktail. Handy’s boss,  Sewell Taylor began to advertise “Sazerac brandy” at his liquor store around this time.

 

John B. Schiller joined Bird as a partner of Sazerac Coffee House and within in a year’s time, became the sole owner of the business. Soon after, Handy began to work for Schiller as a clerk. Two years later Schiller died and Handy had the opportunity to buy the establishment per Schiller’s will as “his favored buyer.” [5] Now sole owner, Handy hired Antoine Peychaud who had been making his now famous bitters for 30 years.

 In 1871 Handy opened an additional business and billed the firm as the "importer of Sazerac Brandy." Just two years later, the recipe for Sazerac Cocktail was altered to replace French brandy with American Rye Whiskey, and a dash of Absinthe was added. Handy then acquired the formula for Peychaud bitters from Antoine Amedie Peychaud. Despite Handy's success with the Sazerac House, he lost control of it due to his financial trouble with his railroad investments. He regained control of it 3 years later and shared ownership of it with William McQuoid. He continued to work there until his death in 1893. [5]

 

Thomas H. Handy 2013 edition was aged 6 years and 4 months at the time of bottling. It came in at 128.4 proof which is slightly less than last year’s, but still in the same ballpark. Buffalo Trace hand picked 47 barrels which saw a 32.87% loss to evaporation. An estimated total of 8,440 bottles were produced.

Tasting Notes  Fact Sheet

Nose: I can feel the alcohol as it burns my nostrils, but fruit and citrus aromas emerge beyond the initial sting.

 

Palate: Spicy cinnamon, caramel, and maple syrup are followed by a sweet kick with intense fruit - raisins, plums, and apricots. There is quite a bit of wonderful, flavorful punch here.

 

Finish: A long lingering spicy-sweetness with a hint of black licorice. Leaves me wanted to take another sip every time.

 

Time of distillation

Release

Proof for release

Proof off still

Barrel entry proof

Barrel size

Warehouse

Floor

Evaporation Loss

Barrel selection

Filtration

Product age

# bottles produced (est)

# barrels

% yield

max # bottles/barrel (267.5)

barrel proof (est if necessary) bottled proof

Spring of 2007

Fall of 2013

128.4 Proof (Barrel Proof)

135 Proof

125 Proof

53 liquid gallons

Warehouse K

7th

32.87% lost to evaporation

47 hand-picked barrels

None

6 years and 4 months

8,440

47

67.13%

267.5

128.4

128.4

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