Blind Tasting: What is The Best Bottle in the 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection?

In all honesty I doubt many folks are dying to read an introduction to this post, so I’ll just make mention of the highlights of the 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and share that I am really excited to set these blind pours out and take notes to see which is my favorite out of this elite lineup.  Something to note for this year is that this is the oldest release of Eagle Rare 17 year to date (at 19 years, 3 months) and the suggested retail price of each bottle in the collection has risen to $125 this year.  Let’s face the facts though–if you’re not in a control State (or winning a liquor store lottery) there aren’t great odds of seeing a bottle at all…let alone for $125.  Okay, with that out of the way let’s dive in and see what the best bottle of the 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is.


John H.




April 12th, 2024

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Today’s tasting really doesn’t need much in the way of preamble, as nearly everyone with interest in the bourbon world has heard of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, so I’ll do what I can to keep this section somewhat brief and get to the tasting.

I cover the press release of BTAC every year, and as Buffalo Trace Distillery releases the press sheets for each of the bottles I add them into the living spreadsheet I maintain to track the releases. If you haven’t seen my BTAC Master Data sheet give it a peek sometime to see the major differences from one year to the next, and any notables of the release itself (like the fact that this years Eagle Rare 17 is the oldest release ever).

Being the data nerd I am, I find it fun and interesting to look back through the years of BTAC releases and see things like the warehouses each batch came from, the amount of evaporation, and the proof changes in the barrel proof BTAC offerings. Digging through my spreadsheet you’ll likely notice a substantial change for 2019, as it marked the year where Buffalo Trace Distillery stopped releasing the number of barrels that went into the release for each bottle. A data point that (when combined with the evaporation of each batch) had previously allowed the enterprising bourbon fan the ability to roughly estimate how many bottles of each label were produced per year.

Alright, alright, I said I wouldn’t make this a long post with a bunch of lead-up, but here I go digressing into nerdy garbage. Let’s move on to the format for this tasting and how I’ll rank these bottles as I go.

I have each of the samples of these bottles shuffled around and marked (A through E). I’ll pour each into a Glencairn and place the sample in line according to the order it was poured. I realize this isn’t the most blind tasting possible–but it isn’t as though I don’t know which bottles I’m tasting. This is simply about ranking them without knowing precisely which one I’m sipping. I will not know what I am tasting until the end when I reveal them. Let’s do this!

A – Sazerac 18 Rye (2023, 90 proof, 18 years 5 months, chill-filtered)

Sweet, spicy, punchy. Sweet tea, a touch of grape bubble gum, oak, rye spice, orange peel, raw honey, rich barrel char with a hint of earthiness.  Rounded and soft with nice complexity and a lingering finish.

B – William Larue Weller Wheated Bourbon (2023, 133.6 proof, 12 years 6 months, no filtration)

Rich oak, butterscotch, dark fruits, Dutch cocoa, buttercream, caramel, buttery palate and longish finish with a symphony of sweet notes.  A desserty-tasting pour with a lot going on.

C – Eagle Rare 17 Bourbon (2023, 101 proof, 19 years 3 months, chill-filtered)

White fruits, apple pie notes, sweet cream, waffle cone drizzled with homemade buttery caramel, black cherry pie, dash of maple and a solid oak backbone.  This is a dessert pour all the way.

D – George T. Stagg Bourbon (2023, 135 proof, 15 years 3 months, no filtration)

Big oaky vanilla mixing with dark chocolate covered cherries, a nice background of baking spice, chocolate candy, a hint of Dr. Pepper, chewy effervescent cherry cola, unmistakably Stagg.  A long, long finish.

E – Thomas H. Handy Rye (2023, 124.9 proof, 6 years 2 months, no filtration)

Wow this is a vibrant nose with charred oaky sweetness, a background of orange spice cake, and big bright and wild fruitiness.  Layers of black pepper, white fruits, dark jammy figs, a long finish with vanilla and plenty of rye spice, great on the palate and well rounded, the most impressive of the lot.  Easy winner.

Bourbon Finder Winner – Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Final thoughts…

Just a couple of quick notes here to wrap this up. While this was a blind and I had no intention of making guesses as to which product was which, the George T. Stagg profile just stands out so much to me that it was evident to me which glass that was–apologies for the disenchantment on that, but I wanted to be transparent in my notes. On to bigger news, the young gun in the lineup (Thomas H. Handy) truly struck me as the best tasting of the lot. This is a damn fine rye, and in the company of these bottles, it’s the youngest by a huge margin (the nearest being WLW at 12 years 6 months)!

It should go without saying that any chance to sip through a flight of rare whiskey is something special, and that there are no losers in a blind like this. I have always wanted to line up the entire Antique Collection and compare them for fun–and this was certainly fun. I have to say that I tend to like the Thomas H. Handy releases each year, but I was really impressed with the 2023 release more than I would have ever expected. To stand with juggernauts (as the youngest whiskey of the bunch) and come out on top is really something. Now to try and find a bottle of it…

Be sure to subscribe to the Whiskey Raiders Podcast to hear Jay and myself share first impressions, tasting notes, perspectives, and some wild one-liners.

The Whiskey Raiders Podcast thanks Buffalo Trace Distillery for graciously providing sample/s of their product and the images used in this post. Being able to try new things in the whiskey space, without strings attached, is an opportunity we greatly appreciate. Per our review ethos, we provide objective reviews and commentary on media samples of spirits and products; remember, friends, these are the good old days of whiskey!

Our grading system: As mentioned in our About Us page, we’re excited to share bourbon with our friends, family, and readers. There are enough critics, cynics, and curmudgeons in the whiskey world as it is, so our goal is to foster the bourbon community in a positive way by bringing fun and entertaining content whenever possible–as such–we decided that applying precise scores to whiskey was simply too serious for us (and didn’t accurately showcase variability in taste from day to day). We use a simple grade school system to apply a grade to the whiskeys we review because we feel it is indicative of the whiskey’s grade for us on that particular day. A grade of a “B” today may very well be a “B+” or even a “B-” on another day, so rather than focusing on a precise score today that may not stand the test of time, we are just sharing our overall grade of that pour for that one tasting. Pour a bit and enjoy, friends, these are the good old days of whiskey!

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