Sazerac is one of the industry workhorses, fueling many a bar’s rye-based cocktail menu. Normally that would be a mark against it, but Sazerac (distilled by Buffalo Trace) still manages to be one of the best quality-to-price options on the bloated rye whiskey shelf. Amazingly, it can still be found for the same price it was selling for in 2012 when I first reviewed it!
Sazerac rye uses a low-rye mash bill (at least 51% rye, the rest corn with some malted barley) unlike a lot of the high-rye MGP ryes that are popular on the market right now. Cynics would say that makes it basically a high-rye bourbon, but I say if it’s tasty what does it matter what we call it? While the bottle has no age statement, it was previously said to be aged for 6 years in new charred oak.
From my original (very old) review: Sazerac is a word with many definitions. Originally the name of a bar in 1860s New Orleans, Sazerac became the name of its signature cocktail, a mixture of cognac and bitters. Later, when cognac became scarce the recipe was changed to use (probably Canadian) rye whiskey. Thomas Handy, the bar’s proprietor, began importing liquors and founded The Sazerac Company, which today owns (among others) industry bigs like Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle, and Barton Brands. Its Sazerac Rye brand is a reminiscence of that earlier time, and the “official” rye for use in Sazerac cocktails. An 18 year-old version of this recipe is part of Buffalo Trace’s popular annual Antique Collection release. Unlike the Antique Collection expression, this non-age-statement bottling is a basic rye with mass-market sensibilities intended for mixing into cocktails.
Nose: Spicy, with a ton of cinnamon and clove up front, plus a flurry of floral aromas, including a clear lavender, a vibrant cherry, and white pepper.
Palate: Medium bodied. A moderate tongue burn (appropriate for 45% ABV) is followed by a direct translation of the aroma notes, especially the cherry which is now tart and juicy. Mulled cherry juice? Is that a thing?
Finish: Medium-long. The spices keep rolling, with fresh cinnamon and now a subtle dose of anise (black licorice). Fades slowly, without bitterness, and ends with a touch of mint / menthol.
With Water: Several drops of water initially mute the aroma while pulling out a strong black licorice note. After a rest in the glass, it seems to return to normal. No need for water here.
Overall: Exactly the reliable old workhorse that I expect it to be, but with an unexpected dose of vibrancy – especially in the form of tart cherry – that may just be surprising because I’m so used to using it in cocktails and not drinking it neat. Either way, this excels in a way that $24 rye doesn’t, usually. For the consistency and the now-below-industry-standard pricing, I’m upgrading my rating to a “Recommended”.