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This bottle was an entirely accidental find at Premier Wines & Liquors in Buffalo. We walked into the store and there, for no reason, were eleven bottles of this just sitting there for the taking. After high-fiving each other in the middle of the store for a while, Chris and I picked up a bottle each (should've bought more, damn it!)
Who is Thomas H. Handy? Born in 1830, he worked for the owner of the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans; when the owner died, he bought the place. He and his friend Antoine Peychaud Jr. served Sazerac cocktails to great success. When Handy decided to replace French brandy with American rye whiskey, patrons raved and business grew even more.
This is a strange whiskey to be part of Buffalo Trace's Antique Collection, since it carries no age statement and is likely very young, probably six to seven years old. But then again, the flavour profile is probably more similar to the rye whiskies of yesteryear than the 18 Year Old, or the standard Sazerac Rye. It is uncoloured, unfiltered and cask strength (hence the variations with every annual release).
The colour is a deep dark golden colour with reddish highlights. On the nose, dill pickle (with eucalyptus?), raspberries, cloves and vanilla pods. Tons of spices, actually, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Old leather. Some caramel as well. Beautiful, but with water it's perfection, with more mint and rye spices but retaining the fruitiness.
On the palate, quite hot and mouth-drying. Lots of mint, oak, leather, and ginger. Hugely spicy, lots of pepper and tobacco. Incredibly complex. Water works wonderfully, taming the alcohol and adding a little smoke with cayenne. Not for the faint of heart!
Finish is extremely deep and powerful, warming but also very clean, with lots of spice, cloves, and late-arriving spearmint. This is power, beauty and complexity in a glass. If you find this, or any Antique Collection bottles, buy them immediately. This is a stunning spirit. Previous releases have won such awards as Best North American Non-Bourbon Whiskey from the World Whiskies Awards (2011) and the 2011 Release won 2013 World Whisky Of The Year from Jim Murray. This 2012 Release scored a 92 from John Hansell in Whisky Advocate. Well deserving of everything.