Any long-term reader of this blog will know that I’m always on the hunt for bourbon that brings truth to the “bourbon is good value” adage. So far, I’ve mostly found that bourbon is cheaper than single-malt scotch and tastes like it. It’s usually too sweet, too rough, or too plastic-tasting for me – often conjuring what I call “High-Fructose Corn Syrup” flavors, or more accurately, the flavor of cheap synthetic candy. When I do find a good bourbon, it’s impossible to acquire, just as expensive as single-malt, or not available in my state.
Buffalo Trace, a stalwart in the big bourbon game, has also become known as the purveyor of the best limited-edition bourbon in the country. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or BTAC is an annual Easter Egg hunt for allocated bottles that mostly end up selling via raffle, just like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, which is also now made by Buffalo Trace.
Buffalo Trace’s parent company, Sazerac, is the largest distilling company in the United States, and makes a dizzying array of liquor including the Barton brand of bourbons, Sazerac Rye (duh), Eagle Rare, Blanton’s Bourbon, E.H. Taylor, Stagg, A. Smith Bowman, Regan’s Orange Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters, Caribou Crossing, Fireball “Whisky”, 99 Bananas, Rain Vodka, Corazon Tequila, Highland Mist, and a slew of other liquor products.
Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon is bottled at 45% ABV and comes from a low-rye mash bill (probably only 10% rye to 90% corn), which is also used to make the Eagle Rare and Stagg bourbons. Despite its low rye content, Buffalo Trace is pretty close to my ideal flavor profile. It’s slightly spicy, slightly woody, and not too sweet. This makes it good for sipping, on the rocks, or in cocktails. However, I should point out that the bourbon-based cocktails that have really made me sit up and pay attention are usually made with higher-proof bourbon, of at least 50% ABV. That relegates Buffalo Trace (despite its sip-ability) to the everyday cocktail ingredient shelf. Its price and flavor profile, however, make it my current house bourbon and unlikely to be supplanted any time soon. It’s pretty hard to beat the combination of bottom-shelf price, mid-shelf quality, and top-shelf balance.
Nose: Compared to some bourbons, the nose is wood-forward and tannic – almost vinegary – with sweet caramel notes in the background. Hazelnuts and almonds, turning to vanilla after a few moments of rest in the glass. Dusty spices, mild charcoal, dry cornmeal.
Palate: Slightly tart, soon turning malty with marshmallow and cocoa nibs. Not cloyingly sweet, but with a fine balance of wood, sugar, and tartness.
Finish: Warming and of medium length. A reprise of the aroma, predominantly nut skins and smoldering charcoal. Fading with vanilla bean and cinnamon.
With Water: A few drops of water awaken a familiar “candy corn” note that luckily isn’t too plastic/fake/corn syrupy. On the palate, it retains its flavor but pops a little more. I highly recommend a little water with this one, and you shouldn’t feel bad about dropping in an ice cube once in awhile, either.
Overall: I like a bourbon that doesn’t make your eyes water with sweetness, but also doesn’t go fully grassy (like Jim Beam). Buffalo Trace is probably the most well-balanced bourbon I’ve had in this price range, and happens to strike my personal preferences in bourbon. It makes a mean Old Fashioned too, of course. This will continue to be my house bourbon for the forseeable future.
As much as a bourbon Old Fashioned had been bypassed by the craft cocktail scene of late (and then suddenly became wildly popular again but now… you know… it’s “craft”), something about sitting back with an inoffensive… Ok, I’ll say it… smooth bourbon over ice with bitters and sugar makes me feel like a Southern gentleman in a white suit, rocking away the afternoon on my front porch. Somehow I look like the KFC Colonel in this vignette… but you get the idea. Also, there’s nothing simpler than assembling an Old Fashioned when you can’t be bothered to break out the shaker or strainer.