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To clarify, this is the 23 year old version-
Buffalo Trace continues to release 1/2 bottles as part of its Experimental Collection, which affords folks the opportunity to see how various factors can affect or contribute to the product in the bottle. With this recent release, Buffalo Trace put out 19 year old and a 23 year old offerings that were aged in Giant French Oak barrels - holding 135 gallons rather than the usual 53. In addition, the barrels had a #3 char rather than the usual Buffalo Trace #4 char. Both offerings use rye bourbon mash recipe #2, were chill-filtered, and bottled at 45% ABV. I missed out on the 19 year, having the option to get one rather than both, and wanted to see how the 23 year did, more out of curiosity than anything else. I also really wanted to compare it to the Pappy Van Winkle 23, which I found over-oaked, as a distillate of similar age, but almost certainly less wood contact.
Nose: Sweet and a little sour, the obvious influence of the wood, but there's no varnish here. First nosing is a bit dark, chocolate flecks, dry sawdust, nougat, and a drop of kirschwasser infused chocolate. There's a strong dose of vanilla, but always hidden behind the other flavors, and that's followed by cinnamon and caramel touched dates. There's no obvious rye grain on the nose, but it reminds me, in terms of structure, of a bottle of Pappy van Winkle 20 from the early 2000s, though darker and with less coconut, and a mix of a delicious 18 year old Willett that I had not so long ago.
Palate: Sweet on entry, medium-body, but it has a bit of a watery texture, if you know what I mean. Honey, fresh tree bark, and then some pepper (there's the rye!). In the mid-palate, the oak shows much more with bitterness and some pleasant varnish(!). Nougat-caramel and something incredibly herbal. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it reminded me of a twig with some small leaves that one would find in a medieval apothecary. Also some cinnamon infused vanilla.
Finish: Medium length with a bit more wood as well as some dry and unsweetened chocolate, like a dusty powder. A little coconut and both soft and spicy cinnamons. Vanilla in the recesses, akin to a kitchen after a cake is just put in the oven. The wood plays a strong hand in all this and it has its oaky moments, but never overwhelming. It could stand a bit more strength, a la 48%, but you can tell that much above that and it could well be too tight. A nice, complex little package. B+. I'll give it an 88, but it's probably +/- 1 depending on my mood.