You know that whiskey you’ve been meaning to try but haven’t gotten around to?

I can’t tell you how many bottles of Eagle Rare I have walked by. They might as well have been invisible to me, and it’s not just the transparent bottle. Perhaps the relatively good availability lulled me into a sense of complacency regarding this brand. Originally created by Seagram in 1975 as a 101 proof (50.5% ABV) bourbon whiskey, the Eagle Rare brand was acquired by current owners Sazerac in 1989. The 101 proof version was discontinued in the middle of the last decade, leaving us with the current offering.

This is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled at 45%, with at least 10 years of age on it. It’s produced by a reputable distillery; nay, better, given the halo of the Antique Collection and the association with Van Winkle.

The effects of this consanguinity with trophy bourbons is increasingly felt by consumers, with some retailers jacking up prices for expressions across the Buffalo Trace range (including, astoundingly, Buffalo Trace bourbon itself). I’ve seen Eagle Rare on Instagram for prices approaching nearly triple the prevailing retail price (around $30). Seeking to capitalize on the Pappy and BTAC buzz, disingenuous merchants have decided that any kissing cousins of these expressions are potential collector’s items.

Pricked by my experiences in a decade worth of travel to Japan – where good things demonstrably don’t last forever – I reconsidered my ambiguity towards Eagle Rare and purchased a bottle recently.

Why did I wait so long? If anything, I might have been put off by the jingoistic tone taken by Eagle Rare on the back of the bottle:

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – the cornerstones of the birth of a nation, epitomized by the American bald eagle. That nation has come to represent the freedom, spirit and independence of the individual, giving the world products and innovations that are uniquely its own. One such innovation was Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Early Kentucky settlers created bourbon, the true American spirit, in the late 1700s. By practice, and protected by law, no other distilled spirit adheres to standards as strict as those established for Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. And few other whiskeys can offer even a glimpse of the great whiskey making found in Eagle Rare.”

Let’s have a go at that ludicrous paragraph. To start, “the birth of a nation” regrettably recalls an early bit of American filmmaking glamorizing the Ku Klux Klan. Is this a dog whistle for the un-reconstructed South, or a bit of lamentably foolish obliviousness? I’d guess the latter, but it’s still an unforced error. As far as American innovations go: I’m willing to rank the airplane, internet, and polio vaccine way, way ahead of bourbon, as much as I may enjoy a drink. Other distilled spirits in the world adhere to standards as strict – or stricter – than those governing bourbon. I could go on, but you get the drift.

Putting politics aside, we routinely eschew the industry’s self-mythologization and lofty rhetoric here at MALT. I’m not willing to buy into internal or external hype, but I am willing to give this a fair hearing. As always, the proof is in the bottle. Let’s ignore the nationalist tropes and assess the whiskey, shall we?

This is reputedly from Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1, which is low rye (<10%). I paid $33 for 750 ml, close to MSRP. As mentioned above, it is aged 10 years and bottled at 45%. Expect to pay £37.75 via the Whisky Exchange, or £36.99 from Master of Malt, or Amazon for £36.49.

Eagle Rare 10 year old – Review

Color: Medium rusty-dirty-orange

On the nose: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! This might be the most cheery nose on a bourbon I have tried. It’s so… good. There’s a wave of creamy vanilla to start. Underlying that is a luscious, juicy cherry at perfect ripeness, with a balanced tart nuance. All this is covered by a gooey layer of melted milk chocolate. I want to make a pie out of this. There’s also undertones of muddy clumps of earth and damp wood, in the best of ways.

In the mouth: OK, back to reality. This is still pretty excellent. It doesn’t reach the point of sensory saturation that Stagg Jr. does, but there’s an all-around completeness to this. At the front of the mouth, you’ve got a tart lick of fruit balanced by an astringent tightness. Between the front and middle of the tongue, this lapses into a watery dirtiness that fails to engage, which is the only real flaw evident here. But wait! At midpalate, that all yields to a tart fruitiness that transitions to a lingering, hot mouthfeel that asserts itself way above the ABV. Long after the last swallow, a chocolatey-dirtiness subtly re-emerges throughout the mouth.

Conclusions

This is a shapeshifter and a temptress, offering delights and then withdrawing them, proffering others in turn. It marries sugary and fruity richness with some earthy sous bois elements. It is the product of a long maturation and – at least at MSRP – offers good value for the price. While I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that it makes me proud to be ‘Murican, it definitely makes my list of repeat purchases in the bourbon aisle… while supplies last.

Score: 7/10

Photograph kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange. And there are some commission links above. We tell you this so you know.

CategoriesAmerican
          1. Taylor says:

            Jared, it’s not about being “woke.” In case you haven’t noticed, America is undergoing a massive reappraisal of its relationship to history at the same time as some whiskey brands are leaning (perhaps opportunistically) into the extreme ends of the political spectrum. If I’m not grappling with those stories as part of my reviews, I’m not painting a full picture of what’s happening in and around whiskey right now. If this type of thing doesn’t interest you, kindly disregard those reviews and come back tomorrow.

  1. Greg B. says:

    Eagle Rare is one of my favorite bourbons and I fully agree with your assessment. It would be even better, I imagine, if they went back to the old 101 proof version, to make those lovely notes even more pronounced. Finding a dusty old bottle of that to assess would make for an interesting exercise. Bourbons, even premium ones, often disappoint me by being overly one-dimensional and simple in the mouth, but not this one.

    1. Taylor says:

      Greg, glad you found the review consistent with your experience. I shall definitely try to find a bottle of the old 101 proof expression. Cheers

  2. John says:

    This is another of those whiskys that make me feel I’m out of the loop. I never really liked Eagle Rare. Odd as I love most of BT’s whisky. I’ve had the 101 proof before, I wasn’t so fond of it as well.

    Just shows the plethora of preferences out there.

    1. Taylor says:

      John, I have the same whiskeys- ones that people go gaga over that leave me totally cold. As you note, there’s as many tastes and preferences as there are folks in the world.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- these reviews are simply my opinion, and nothing more. If I say a whiskey tastes good that means it tastes good to me; readers should calibrate their expectations accordingly and – more importantly- trust their own palates.

      Cheers!

    2. Bradley B Canham says:

      I’m a long time Scotch drinker and have never really acquired the taste for bourbon. But I keep trying. Today I’m trying the Eagle Rare 10 Year for the first time and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I pick up notes of oaky vanilla, marshmallow and honey. This will definitely become a staple in my cabinet and I can’t wait to pair it with a good cigar.

  3. David McGuire says:

    More than half the article is a combination of the author demonstrating how woke he is and an Overtly hypocritical and baseless rejection of buffalo traces view of history and the spirit of America. There’s something about whiskey in the article too. Though it’s hard to tell through all the patchouli scented politically correct black washing of history and the obvious and unnecessary grammatical showboating which was a poor attempt at covering up just another hippie in glasses with faux intellectuality.

    1. Taylor says:

      David, I have already addressed criticism of this type in my response to Jared, above. With the political events of the last week, I can only surmise that we’ll be having this discussion with increasing frequency in the days to come. Peace be upon you.

  4. Dwayne says:

    Not sure you’ll see this since this post is nearly 2 years old by now, but the guys above bemoaning your “wokeness” are perfect examples of internalized white supremacy. To them, it is unthinkable to acknowledge that America was a very ugly and violent place for millions of people, for centuries.

    I have the same reservations about the branding aesthetics of bourbon. 1783, 1792… Am I supposed to be nostalgic, as a white man, for these “Early Times?” When “things were simpler” and “people took things slow,” etc? Perhaps they were able to take things slow because of the leisure time and resources afforded by an agrarian economy built on slavery and terror? Obviously a lot of American whiskey is a high quality spirit, especially at the lower/mid price range, but the branding leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    1. Taylor says:

      Dwayne, thanks for your comments. It’s been an eventful 19 months since this review was published; I hope some of the reactions to this piece might have been reconsidered in light of the many transformative changes in our national discourse since then.

      Like you, I struggle with much of the branding and marketing in bourbon, particularly the romanticization of the antebellum South and the glossing over of the involvement of many industry players in the Civil War. At least we’re at a point (in both whiskey and society) where a growing number of people appreciate the need to grapple with these thorny issues. All I can promise you is that Malt, under my stewardship, will never shy away from peeling back the genteel veneer of myths of the Old South to reveal whatever truths lay underneath.

      Cheers and thanks again, TC

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