Food & Drinks

The Latest Rare Bourbon Releases From The Makers Of Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey

Autumn is upon us. Perhaps you’re looking forward to more temperate weather, changing foliage—football, even. But for fans of highly-allocated American whiskey there’s a whole other reason to celebrate the season. It’s around this time each year when Buffalo Trace Distillery announces the release of some of its rarest labels of liquor. And, true to form, today they dropped details on the 2020 edition of the esteemed Antique Collection, now in its 20th iteration. Here’s a first look at what’s in store in the weeks ahead.

Pay To Play

BTAC, as it is colloquially known, is actually a series of five bottles—three bourbons and two ryes. Sold individually, each one hits shelves at a suggested retail price of $99; an exceptional value for some of the world’s most coveted whiskies. And you’re probably already saying, “OK, take my money!” But keep your wallet holstered for now. These are supremely limited liquids that typically only reach consumers after a significant markup on the secondary market. To wit, last year’s releases are unattainable for under $500 a bottle.

The Five To Find

The specific labels are quite familiar to anyone who has followed BTAC in years past. 2020 features the same brands as 2019, only at different bottling strengths.

George T. Stagg jumps in proof from 116.9, last year, all the way up to 130.4. Nonetheless, a consistent profile emerges: strong on cinnamon and candied cherry. Buffalo Trace reports a 59% evaporation loss from this particular batching. Higher than usual, meaning more concentrated flavors.

William Larue Weller is perhaps the most revered in the whole lot. It shares the same wheated mashbill as its Van Winkle cousin. This rendition is a touch younger than 2019’s at just under 12 years in age. But it’s also stronger. Uncut and unfiltered and clocking in at 134.5 proof. Remember that the highest a bourbon can legally enter the barrel at is 125. That means that this high octane caramel-bomb crept up nearly 5% in alcohol as water seeped out the oak through a dozen successive Kentucky summers.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye. The first rye on our list scored a whopping 99 points at this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge—as high as any whiskey across all categories. Here the eponymous grain brings a kiss of anise and dill into the 129-proof mix.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old. A perennial crowdpleaser for its vanilla cream and pepper tonalities, this one isn’t as hot as the aforementioned whiskies on this list. But at 50.5% ABV it is by no means ‘watered down’. From its fresh fruit aroma to its lingering herbal finish, this is a complex liquid that demands careful contemplation.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old. This one is the truest re-creation of its 2019 predecessor. You’re getting the same age statement, the same 45% ABV and the same whispers of dark chocolate, cacao nibs, and cracked pepper.

A Prelude To Pappy

As excited as you should be for BTAC, remember that it merely marks the start of holiday whiskey season over in Frankfort, Kentucky—home of Buffalo Trace. In mid-October these precious bottlings will be long gone. By then the bourbon world will have turned its gaze towards the imminent release of this year’s Pappy lineup. Procuring those will make scoring BTAC seem like a walk in the park. As with all things allocated, though, your best bet is to curry favorable relations with local bottleshop owners throughout the calendar year. Inquire regularly—and respectfully. And most importantly: be at the right place at the right time. Clear eyes, full bottles, can’t lose.

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