During my recent weekend trip to New Orleans, I was able to complete my personal trifecta of fall limited release cask strength bourbons from Buffalo Trace, with the purchase of the Col E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof 2019 release. I snagged a William LaRue Weller and a George T. Stagg in December.
While these releases are now next to impossible to find on a liquor store shelf at regular retail prices, I do see these bottles on a number of bars. So, this review will give you my thoughts for when you are looking at a nice restaurant or bar whiskey list trying to decide on which one to splurge.
I have reviewed each of these bourbons individually in the past, but, they do vary slightly from year to year. These bourbons are unfiltered except through a screen to get the wood chunks out. Sampling bourbon that came right out of the cask is always something special.
William LaRue Weller, 128.0 proof – This of course is the Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon at cask strength, read cask strength Pappy Van Winkle. On the nose is deep rich corn syrup, clove, and oak notes. Mouth watering. Color is deep red; I suspect this bourbon is around 15 years old. Swirl has wonderful thick long legs. The palate is hugely complex – sweet, silky, cinnamon rolls, clove, baking spice, long lingering finish. If I had a criticism of this year’s release, it would be that the mouthfeel is a little thin – it is medium and not as full bodied as prior releases. However, for some this may be a feature and not a bug. This year’s edition definitely holds its own against prior releases flavorwise, and it reminds me of just how much better this is than the Van Winkle bourbons. Given its high proof, I think the angels took more of their share than usual of the water, and those seriously have to be some happy angels.
George T. Stagg, 116.9 proof – Probably the lowest proof George T. Stagg I have ever seen, which is Buffalo Trace’s low rye recipe bourbon at cask strength. Color this year is more amber than mahogany, so I think this one is a bit on the younger side, maybe thirteen years old. On the swirl though there is a serious film with huge legs. Very traditional bourbon nose – caramel, vanilla, with slight apple note, some nutmeg, and some slight floral notes. Very nice indeed. On the palate, this bourbon has a wonderful mouthfeel, just short of syrupy and definitely heavier than the William LaRue Weller. The vanilla flavor is wonderfully present, some slight caramel, some dark chocolate but not too bitter, a touch of herbal rye, that then turns into cinnamon and oak on the lingering finish. Extremely smooth at the lower proof and I think it allows the drinker to appreciate the subtle flavors in George T. Stagg. There is less oak on this one than on prior releases, and while I love heavy oak I can’t say this is a shortcoming on this year’s release, as it seems to let the other flavors really shine. A truly excellent release of this amazing bourbon.
Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, 129.3 proof – Col. E.H. Taylor Bourbons are aged in a warehouse at Buffalo Trace that was built by the Colonel himself. The warehouse had heating added to it to keep the bourbon at higher temperatures during the cold Kentucky winters. Most E.H. Taylor releases are Bottled in Bond releases at 100 proof to honor Taylor’s efforts in getting the Bottled in Bond Act passed. The Barrel Proof releases are the sole exception. On the swirl, this year’s edition has nice film and legs, much like the Stagg. Color is a deep amber, slightly lighter than the Stagg, so this is likely at ten years or so bourbon. But, given it’s high proof, these barrels were losing water and not alcohol. Caramel and apple pie notes on the nose, very rich. On the palate, the typical wonderful fried apple pie notes are there, but this release has a tremendous amount of herbal rye on the palate and the finish. The mouthfeel and finish are really think and rich, syrupy, but with very little oak. The herbal rye and rye spice are so prevalent. I think someone at Buffalo Trace snuck some Blanton’s barrels into the Taylor warehouse. Very reminiscent of the one time I got to try Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel. While most E.H. Taylor releases are thought to be the low rye recipe, this one definite is the high rye. I have often though that the only thing missing from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a cask strength high rye recipe bourbon. This is definitely that.
What a wonderful cask strength tour this ways of Buffalo Trace’s three different bourbon mashbills. You can’t go wrong with any one of these if a bar or restaurant has these on the menu. However, my recommendations for sampling the 2019 releases is as follows:
1. E.H. Taylor: Lord knows when they will release a cask strength high rye bourbon in the United States again. Get this before it is gone. It am not recommending this necessarily because this one is the best, but because the flavor profile is the most unique this year.
2. George T. Stagg: The low proof really allows you to appreciate all of the subtle flavors in this year’s George T. Stagg. I think I am a pretty stout bourbon drinker, but this year’s release allows a couple of extra passes over the tongue which is well worth it.
3. William LaRue Weller: I can’t believe I am putting this third, as I have previously proclaimed this to be the Platonic form of bourbon. This release is definitely that, but its thin mouthfeel this year and that there is nothing particularly different in this year’s release means what? It’s a slight third among equals. It’s truly excellent.
One final note. I saw a video of Freddie Johnson of Buffalo Trace telling a story of a wealthy guy who was at the Trace for a tour and a tasting, and he pointed out how many bottles of the various limited release whiskies he had in his private stash. Freddie pointed out that after three generations of his family working at that distillery that there will always be great barrels of bourbon aging in those warehouses, but the people in your life matter the most. That gentleman later wrote Freddie because after he got back home and his son and a a few of his college friends came to visit, he brought out one of those bottles and opened it and shared it with his son and his friends, and that was the first time his son had hugged him since he went off to college.
Well, that inspired me. Over the Christmas holidays, I did a tasting with my step son Jack and his girlfriend Olivia, who are both Greek at LSU and probably drinking Fireball or some such nonsense. I first poured them drams of Buffalo Trace and Weller Special Reserve, then we moved on to Eagle Rare 17 and Pappy Van Winkle 23, and then to George T. Stagg and William LaRue Weller.
It was a truly splendid evening. While some would say, what were you doing, sharing such rare whiskies with college kids?
Making memories, and sharing my good bourbon with my step son whom I love very much, and his girlfriend for whom I have come to care about as well. And, for the whiskey critics who would say this bourbon was wasted, they understood what was going on based on their continued appreciation for that night and because I invited them into my world. I shared something most precious to me with them. They understood that, and that is far more important than detecting subtle tasting notes.
That, and these bottles and others got raided over New Year’s Eve and the College Football Championship parties at my house and so there will be a few more upcoming reviews of partially emptied limited release whiskies. Because, lest we forget – that is precisely what these whiskies are for. To share, with those closest to you.
Jack and Olivia are coming back to visit this weekend and I am going to have them try the E.H. Taylor. And it will be another truly splendid evening.
Which reminds me of the whole point of this blog, that I write with Robb Gibb, Mike Bonin, and my brother, Brian Drell, with a whole lot of input from my cousin Wallace Levy and my buddies Tom Spencer, Ken Brown, Kemp Wright and Hudson Funk. This blog is not to show how erudite we are when it comes to spirits. It is our way of having a really good drink with the rest of the world.