The annual release of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (BTAC) bottlings generates as much panic as it does excitement. The demand for the well-regarded, high proof American whiskey selection outstrips its supply many times over – they’re outlandishly difficult to get hold of, and sadly often destined for the secondary market or unscrupulous retailers where their once reasonable RRPs dissipate, and greed, obsession and fetishism take over. I tend to let all this pass me by each year, life is just too short. However, I never pass up the opportunity to try the series, particularly at whisky shows, where, if you’re quick, you’ll be able to taste what is commonly regarded as the best of the best from the Buffalo Trace stable.
The 2017 William Larue Weller is the only wheated whiskey in the BTAC lineup (which also consists of Eagle Rare, Sazerac, Thomas H. Handy and George T. Stagg). It was distilled in 2015 and aged in three different warehouses – D, I and P – being married together 12 years later and bottled at 128.2 proof – a cracking 64.1% ABV.
Nose: Incredibly rich and highly intense burnt caramel, vanilla and hard candy toffee are mixed up with bold cinnamon and nutmeg spicing. As if this wasn’t sweetshop enough, there’s lashings of demerara sugars and cream icing. Water, which you may find to be a bit of a necessity here teases out some of the wider aromas – rich corn, old wood, leather and some underlying earthiness.
Taste: A big smack of an arrival that delivers an incredibly viscous, syrupy sweetness first, before moving across an array of bright and rich fruits – dark cherries, orange peels, roasted banana. The spice here is quite prickly with both cinnamon and pepper, but it merges exceptionally well with the wider flavours of wheat corn, and vanilla to create something akin to iced buns, cinnamon swirls and freshly baked pastries. The liquid is so thick and weighty that even dilution doesn’t particularly reduce the heavy mouthfeel – it does however add some semblance of subtleness to proceedings, with both drinking chocolate and coffee being served amidst a dusty library filled with leather-bound armchairs.
Finish: Medium to long – nothing particularly new here – cherries and spices, particularly cinnamon.
The 2017 BTAC William Larue Weller is full bodied and intensely flavoured. Cherries and spice are the order of the day here and both are delivered richly and penetratingly. Overall, I find it slightly less compelling than the 2016 edition (when it was my pick from across the BTAC selection for that year), but in the best possible way – whereas the higher proof 2016 bottling brought a surprising amount of poise and balance, the 2017 version is much more single-mindedly concerned with the delivery of straight-forward, but huge flavour – and in that regard, it’s a massive success.
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