Thomas H. Handy, the legendary proprietor of The Sazerac Hotel in New Orleans and founder of the modern Sazerac Company, lends his name to one of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases. Fittingly, his name appears on an explosive cask-strength rendering of rye, the ingredient that made his Sazerac Cocktail famous.
Every year Buffalo Trace (a subsidiary of the Sazerac Company) releases the much sought-after Antique Collection. Second only to Pappy Van Winkle (another Sazerac holding) in consumer frenzy, these releases bring collectors and whiskey geeks out of the woodwork to snap up limited-allocation bottles from local retailers. I was lucky enough to secure a bottle of the 2011 release of Thomas H. Handy straight rye. This was my first-ever BTAC purchase, and also my first cask-strength rye, at a heady 63.45% (almost 127 proof).
After feeling pretty good about myself for snatching one of the coveted bottles, I reflected on the phenomenon of limited-allocation whiskey. As with Pappy Van Winkle, your geographic location has much to do with your ability to acquire the stuff. In the midwest and northeast US, I’ve heard tales of BTAC bottles and even Pappy getting dusty on shelves. Here in Northern CA it generally sells out within hours (if not minutes) and many retailers maintain waiting lists with thousands of names or resort to raffles and lotteries to dispense tiny allocations (sometimes 2-6 bottles per store).
Normally I don’t mention the color (whisky pretty much looks like whisky), but this has a particularly beautiful dense auburn color.
Nose: Unabashedly rye. Pungent – almost smokey – with heavy spice (nutmeg and cinnamon red-hots), cherrywood and cardamom. Underneath there is a layer of deep vanilla. After a rest in the glass, there is an unctuous wave of sweet milky coconut wrapped in milk chocolate or caramel. Take some time with the nose on this one – the aromas go deep. A few drops of water draw out the coconut and smooth some of the wilder edges.
Palate: Full bodied. Intense burn, as expected, which leaves behind mountains of flavor: sticky cherry pie filling, fiery cinnamon, sour raspberry jam and sweet toffee. A few drops of water tames the burn, but also inhibits some of the bigger flavors. A nice hard-candy note emerges with the water.
Finish: Long, and leaves the mouth a bit raw due to the high ABV, but there are some nice fading hints of caramel apple, bitter almond, and big resiny oak. On the tail end, a suggestion of grassy raw rye grains.
Overall: A cinnamon bomb that never lets up. The nose is suggestive and deep, but it’s the palate that explodes with fruit and spice. Truly eyebrow-raising, this shows what quality can do to elevate the standard flavors of straight rye. Try drinking this *with* a glass of water before you try adding any.