The eagle soars again!
That’s a weak introduction but – really – no introduction is required for members of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (or BTAC, to those busy Instagrammers who cannot be bothered to spell out the remaining 26 letters). Their reputations precede them, their secondary market prices are their calling cards, and the contents of their bottles, well…
That’s the funny thing: a perverse incentive is created by the relatively low MSRP and the high traded values of these. Which is to say, fewer people get to taste them because fewer people open them. Why would you, when you can utilize the grey market to pass them along for several times what you might have shelled out in cash? The net effect is that more and more folks are chasing these, while a smaller percentage have any clue what they might be getting.
I’ve had some generous pals who have allowed me to sample various members of the BTAC family, including George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller. To date, however, I had yet to encounter the Eagle Rare 17 Years Old, an expression I have always been curious about given my fondness for the Eagle Rare 10-year-old. A sample swap with a friend (thanks, Matt) has allowed to me to rectify this omission, resulting in today’s review.
We’ve talked before, actually quite a few times, about the challenge associated with a premium offering from a mass-market brand. Putting a $100+ price tag on a bottle of whiskey raises expectations to levels that can only be met by some really special liquid. This is particularly challenging in the case of bourbon, where there are so many competitive high-quality options in the $20-$80 price range, often from the same distilleries and brands!
Speaking of brands: rather than being dragged down by sharing names with some less exclusive bottles more commonly found on store shelves, the BTAC halo effect is such that the more basic expressions actually end up being marked up, hoping to lure gullible buyers looking for an ersatz Antique Collection experience. This is certainly the case with Eagle Rare’s baseline 10-year-old expression, which I’ve seen on store shelves with price tags bearing a multiple of MSRP.
I was able to locate a technical sheet about this release which provided some interesting specifics of the type we don’t typically get from Buffalo Trace. This is from a mash bill of Kentucky Corn (distiller’s grade #1 and #2), Minnesota rye (<10%, according to rumors about Buffalo Trace mash bill #1), and North Dakota Distillers malted barley. The whiskey was distilled in the spring of 1999 and bottled in the fall of 2016. It was distilled at 135 proof and entered the barrel at 125 proof. The barrels were drawn from warehouses H (of Blanton’s fame) and K. This edition is from a batch of 32 barrels; it is chill filtered.
At 90 proof (45% ABV), this clocks in at the low end of the BTAC range; 2018’s release saw this raised to 101 proof (50.5% ABV), which is still a far cry from the likes of George T. Stagg, bottled at a low of 116.9 proof and an eye-watering high of 144.8 proof.
MSRP was $90 on release; the most recent release was $99. You’re unlikely to find these sitting around on a store shelf at that price, however, as bottles are allocated to retailers. From there, bottles are parceled out to good customers or… shall we say, “re-released into the wild.” As noted above, though, this was a sample from a buddy. I’ll be scoring it with reference to both MSRP and the much higher price that these change hands for in other venues.
Eagle Rare 17 Years Old (2016) – Review
Color: Tarnished copper.
On the nose: Immediately expresses a dusty cherry nuance. I’m pleased to see this has retained some of the dirty forest floor elements that were so pleasing in the 10-year-old. There’s a mentholated aroma of eucalyptus here, as well as the tartly bitter scent of orange peel. With deep inhalation I am getting some leather, furniture polish, and tobacco nuances here. On revisiting this, I’m getting a smoothly sweet scent of Goetze’s Caramel Creams.
In the mouth: Starts with a delicious kiss of brandied cherry which carries the whiskey up and over the tongue. This lightens up significantly at midpalate, with the chalky confectionary flavor of Necco wafers. As this finishes, there’s an astringently woody flavor that puckers the mouth. The lingering impression is the same bitter orange note from the nose, as well as a soapy texture and flavor. There’s a faint and vague sticky-sweetness of kirsch that hovers, disappearing and reappearing like a ghost, around the back of the mouth.
The nose was delightful and promised excellent things on the palate. While there were some high points, the overall texture of this was wanting. I blame the low ABV and the chill filtration; the other members of the BTAC have as much or more flavor combined with an improved mouthfeel as a result of the higher bottling proof and the unfiltered presentation. At MSRP I’d be slightly disappointed with this, as it’s only perhaps a shade better than the ten-year-old Eagle Rare at roughly triple the price. For the hundreds of dollars more that these bottles fetch on the secondary market, this “eagle” is more of a lame duck.
Photograph kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.
I’m rather pleased to read your conclusion and here’s why. Several years ago I ordered a bottle of 36 year old Armagnac (50% abv) and a bottle of Eagle Rare 17 turned up instead. I was a little upset and informed the seller who was amazed that I’d ‘confessed’. It turned out that the Eagle Rare was meant for a Harley Street psychiatrist and he had my Armagnac. We rearranged our deliveries and all was well in the end. The Armagnac was superb and I had no doubt that it was superior to the Eagle Rare 17. However, doubts began to creep in some years later when I realised the extraordinary value and scarcity of the Eagle Rare 17. Had I made a dreadful mistake? It turns out not at all. Back in those days I would have popped the bottle and I’m certain it would be nowhere near as good as a genuinely top quality Armagnac. Thank you Taylor, for putting a smile on my face. WT
WT, I am happy to have alleviated your retroactive FOMO. Price is what you pay and value is what you get, and in this case there’s a mismatch between the two, especially if you’re paying the indicative cost of a bottle on the secondary market. Cheers!
Choosing between making my mortgage or buying a BTAC, I’m going with the mortgage. So…do you think maybe a Stagg Jr or ECBP is 85% there at fraction of the cost?
PB, for my tastes, Stagg Jr. gives nearly all the high-octane sipping pleasure of George T Stagg and is (depending on your area) likely available and definitely cheaper. I’ve been impressed by the couple Elijah Craig Barrel Proof whiskeys I have tried; at roughly $60, they’re certainly cheaper than what you’d pay for GTS on the secondary. Hope this helps. Thanks for commenting and, as always, GO BLUE!