This is part of a series of posts comparing rye whiskeys. For further details and links to other reviews in the series visit Why oh rye? Nine premium rye whiskeys put to the test.
In 2000 Buffalo Trace launched their “Antique Collection”, a selection of heavily aged and/or barrel proof Bourbons and ryes that are now eagerly anticipated every year. In addition to Sazerac 18 year old they added a new rye to the collection in 2006, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, a barrel proof whiskey that weighs in at well over 60% ABV. Notoriously hard to get hold of for all but a small window just after release each year, they nonetheless remain some of the most well received whiskeys around.
Sazerac 18 year old
The Sazerac 18 has an earthy nose, with a hint of pepper and a slight suggestion of sourness. The earthy, sour tones are continued in the mouth, but joined by molasses and a definite oakiness. Even neat it doesn’t taste too hot which left it shaping up to be a very pleasant sipper, but disappointingly the finish is over before it has really begun. A mild burn, a hint of leather, some oakiness, and then… nothing. By no means a bad whiskey, but sadly it promises more than it delivers.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (2006 bottling)
The two Thomas H. Handy ryes in the comparison buck the trend of ultra-aged whiskeys being just six years old. They are, however, bottled at barrel proof meaning no additional water was added before bottling as is common with most ryes and indeed other whiskeys in general. When you work out how much alcohol you’re getting for your dollar the barrel proof ryes suddenly become a lot more reasonable than they might first appear, but how do such young sprits compare the their elders?
At over 130 proof it came as no surprise the Thomas H. Handy came in a little hot on the nose, so I quickly added some extra water to bring it down to a more palatable 100 proof. This immediately revealed an aroma full of caramel and a dry, almost floral element. The whiskey coats the mouth in a viscous, toffee like sweetness which is complemented by molasses and cinnamon.
The finish introduces a sour tone that lingers along with a delicious long taste of molasses along with a little bit of burn on the throat. The young age of the whiskey shows through with its vibrance, and just goes to show that age really isn’t everything with ryes. Definitely one of my favourite ryes, I cannot wait to compare this in an Old Fashioned.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (2008 bottling)
As the above review suggests, I hold Thomas H. Handy in pretty high esteem so it didn’t take much internal dialogue to justify purchasing another bottle from a newer release to include in this comparison. Aside from the fact I don’t think I could ever buy enough rye, I was very interested to see how much variation there is between each years release.
They’re certainly different strengths, 2008’s release weighing in at a slightly weaker 127.5 proof. Again I brought the whiskey down to a more comfortable 100 proof, which revealed a slightly hotter, spicier nose than the 2006 bottle, with a slightly more subdued caramel note. The extra spice continued in the mouth, along with a less pronounced, though more drawn out, sourness slowly revealing itself. The newer release also seems a touch sweeter, with a slight fruitiness, but a weaker floral note.
Overall while there were differences they were hard to pick up on without direct side-by-side comparison of the two ryes, and both bottles were very nice indeed. It’s also worth noting that my 2006 bottle has been open for a little over a year, and while such a high proof should protect it from being too effected by the ravages of time I don’t know enough about the science behind these things to completely rule the possibility of change out.
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