Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye: Worth the Hype?

The VWFRR is one of those very rare releases that trades at crazy prices on the secondary market and is arguably the hardest to find of the Pappy line. It is the only Rye and it is 13 years old.

Very spicy nose, lots of cracked pepper, strong oak notes, crushed smoked pecans, Twix, s’mores on cinnamon graham crackers and cedar closet. Moderate heat for a 95.6 proof whiskey.

Initially an enjoyable mouthfeel but then comes in with a big punch of oak. Heat is a little higher than expected the first time around but still very enjoyable. The finish is moderate long as it fades away into mostly wood flavors. The palate is dominated by the oak flavors instead of the more complex spicy ones.

VWFRR is a very good whiskey but isn’t one you need to camp out to try. It’s a little too oaky for my taste. Just to make sure my palate wasn’t completely nuts I thought it prudent to pour some of my favorite rye, the 2014 THH. Everything about the Thomas Handy is better: more spice coming through on the palate. The Handy is hotter, but it’s half the age and 35% more alcohol so that’s not surprising. But the finish is more enjoyable and longer. For 1/3 the secondary price, albeit still expensive, THH kicks VWFRR’s butt. I still really enjoy it, but for the price there are just so many better options. VWFRR 93/100.


BTAC Thomas H Handy 2016

Unlike a lot of bloggers out there, I have yet risen to the level of free BTAC samples; I have to fight and scrape and use the secondary market like the rest of people to get my BTAC. I bought this one on (like most of you) for around $300.

The 2016 edition clocks in at 126.2 proof, NAS as always, and forever beautiful in the iconic BTAC bottle. Nice amber color.

Candy corn, rock candy, white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Not very hot considering the age and proof, but that’s why it’s THH. Smells amazing.

And the taste… Wow. The spices and sweetness come through immediately while firming up a nice grip on the tongue. There is an extremely enjoyable warmness that permeates through your mouth and upper chest creating an absolutely incredible finish. Even after two minutes the flavors are still evolving and improving. This review is without a drop of water; I don’t think it needs it and I won’t even do it because it is just that good.

I’m pretty much obsessed with Handy. The 2014 was one of my favorites of all time and this one is pretty darn close. If you can find one at a reasonable (and I’ll let your budget determine that) price, don’t be afraid to pick it up. And if Buffalo Trace is reading this and wants to add me to next year’s blogger sample list, I won’t say no (please add me to next year’s list–thank you so much). 97.5/100



Unicorn Alert! Sazerac 18 Fall 2012 Vintage WOW!

Words fail to describe how good this whiskey is.  Sazerac 18, despite being bottled at 90 proof, is probably my favorite whiskey out there.  Thank you Buffalo Trace.  All hail BTAC.  I was incredibly lucky to find this being poured at a bar in London…

Pure candy nose, mushroom in the back. Spicy cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Superb nose.

Super smooth, easy down. So crisp and sharp with sweet and spicy notes.  Small but nice tannins. Long finish. This is epic.

Obviously a special bottle. Expectations met. 98/100.


NBA Finals, CEHT Straight Rye

It’s the NBA finals tonight so I decided to pull out the CEHT Straight Rye Bottled in Bond. Colonel E.H. Taylor is one of the renowned Buffalo Trace brands, coming out with several very limited editions in addition to their highly allocated normal line which includes their straight rye. I’ve been drinking a lot of rye recently, mostly Thomas H Handy (another BT product and part of the annual BTAC release) and Pikesville, the new release from Heaven Hill. I’m hoping the Taylor rye lives up to its allocated hype.

The packaging of all the Colonel Taylor whiskeys are gorgeous–this is no exception. The tube is great, the mock tax stamp looks classic and the label is always a looker. The color is medium amber.

The nose is hot, which is standard for the CEHT line, and not surprising for a 100 proof whiskey. I get notes of rock candy, candy corn, buttered raisin bagel and cinnamon sticks.

The palate has some of the heat from the nose and some of the flavors but the mouthfeel is thin, tannins are lacking and the finish is moderate at best. It’s enjoyable to drink but is just lacking complexity and is missing the finish that I was expecting.

If you find one of these bottles at retail price on the shelf I would still buy it, but mostly because it is so hard to find (read: trade bait), but in terms of drinking there are better options out there. I pulled my Pikesville off the shelf for a quick comparison: even though the proof is ten higher, the nose is more interesting, the taste is better and smoother, the finish is substantially longer and it is cheaper. If you are looking for a great rye, buy Thomas H Handy.  But if you can’t find it or don’t want to pay $300 secondary market costs, buy the Pikesville Rye, it is better in pretty much every way and it costs less. I also pulled out my Sazerac and I think I actually prefer it to the Taylor as well and it is basically 1/3 the price. CEHT Straight Rye is fine to drink, but there are so many better options out there at better price points. 86/100.


House of Cards Paired with Thomas H Handy 2014 v 2015

I’m a huge fan of House of Cards and I’m almost done so I thought the best thing to do was to pair it with two of my current favorites in the cabinet. As you can tell from the levels, I’m almost done with these as well. I’ve been enjoying them too much to rate them yet, but I wanted to make sure to give them a fair rating before the bottles are empty.

I’m not going to spend too much time going over the history of THH as you can find this online easily, but if you are reading this blog, you probably already know… It’s the youngest of the BTAC and by far the cheapest on the secondary market. While Stagg goes for $500 or so, you can usually snag this for around $250. Yes, still expensive, but compared to the rest of the BTAC, a relative bargain–Ignore people or stores that try to sell it for $400-$500, those people are just silly.

2014: sweet honeysuckle on the nose with cloves, raisin bread, allspice and brown sugar. Even though it’s 129.2 proof, the best is all smooth and sweetness without the heat. The mouthfeel is fantastic, it’s enveloping with a greet grit. The spicy rye is so well integrated into the palate that’s it’s almost unbelievable that this is only six years old.  The finish goes on for minutes and minutes–five minutes later and you can still taste it.  This is one if the best drams I’ve ever had. 98/100.

2015: different but similar to the 2014, more heat on the nose and a little spicier. I get Girl Scout Somoas on the nose, oatmeal with honey and cinnamon sugar. The mouthfeel and grip are still very solid but this one has more heat on the throat than the prior year even though this year has a lower proof, 126.9. The finish is also long and strong focusing on the spicy and heat. It’s very good but doesn’t stand up to the prior year. 95/100.

Both of these bottles are awesome but the 2014 really stands out as one of the best of all time. I wish I could get my hands on more of them.  These bottles are great examples of age not being the most important factor in enjoying a whiskey.  I find these to be just as good as some of their 17yr brothers, but that’s just one man’s opinion.




#1 Whiskey of the Year vs some lesser Rye…

Like everyone else I was a little surprised to see Crown Royal take the #1 Whiskey of the World title, but also decided that I should judge it for myself. I also thought it would be fun to try my first bottle of BTAC, that I traded for via bottle-spot. This Handy is 129.2 proof, which I believe is the 2011 bottling.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, made from 90% rye whiskey is a Blended Canadian Whiskey and is 90 proof. What’s the other 10%???  It has a nice honey yellow color to it. The Handy is a much richer and deeper color with copper tones.

The Crown had a very sweet nose to it: cotton candy, rock candy, honeysuckle, daffodils and a hint of graham crackers. Very little spice and almost no heat on the nose.

The Handy has very rich deep favors of butterscotch, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cracked pepper and yams.

The Crown has a very nice mouthfeel and the sweetness is confirmed on the palate. There is a nice surprise of a bit of heat which I didn’t think would emerge. The mid palate is a little weak but the finish is quite enjoyable.

The Handy is a big drink, decent amount of heat and big on flavor. The mouthfeel is great and the finish is long. The tannins are integrated and the whole experience is excellent.

Here’s the deal. These Ryes are worlds apart, but so are the prices. The Crown goes for about $30 while the Handy trades on the secondary market for $300. The crown is a good value whiskey but isn’t a great whiskey. The Handy is a great whiskey, but only to be consumed in special occasions, or in my case, tonight, Tuesday night.

Crown Royal Norther Harvest Rye 90/100
BTAC Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye 96.5/100



Sazerac Rye…. uncomplicated but very enjoyable… A Must Own?

It’s time to go back to Buffalo Trace and another allocated whiskey… Sazerac Rye Straight Rye Whiskey comes in a simple, yet elegant bottle, white writing part of the bottle with a cork cap.  Online I have read the mash bill is 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malt, and the age to be 6 years.  Neither of these facts, nor any facts at all, are present on the bottle, save the legally required proof of 90.
Gorgeous color, golden amber with a touch of rust

Spicy nose, cinnamon, tulips, BBQ potato chips… you can sense the heat, but just enough to make you care.  The nose invites the taste.

Very nice taste, no oil here, no wood tannins, definitely a younger whiskey.  Very crisp finish, with spice and heat happily warming me up.  The finish is good, but it’s not a highly complicated one.  This is for enjoyment, but not lie back in your leather club chair and roll your eyes back in your head enjoyment.

When adding some water, citrus appears on the nose, mostly orange peel, but the BBQ chips still linger in the background.  The water mellows out the finish, but doesn’t detract… overall I think this is fine to drink neat.  I have not used it for a cocktail, but at this price point it wouldn’t be offensive to do so.
Sazerac Rye is uncomplicated, but very good.  I’m surprised it’s gone on allocation and impossible to find though.  It’s a lovely Rye, and certainly everyone should have one on their bar, but it’s not one that you should be chasing.  I bought this one for $30, and everyone should add this to their collection for that price.  I have seen some obnoxious retailers in NYC selling it for $50+ and they should be embarrassed.

Given the extreme value and high enjoyability factor, and definitely one that belongs on all whiskey cabinet shelves, Sazerac Rye scores very well.  92/100.