The annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection features five of the most anticipated releases in American whiskey. That’s no small feat, considering they come out of the same distillery. With some rare exceptions — like in 2021, when Buffalo Trace said the batch of George T. Stagg wasn’t up to quality standards — each year’s collection features five whiskeys. And it’s common for multiple expressions to end up on numerous “best of” yearly roundups.
In 2023, Buffalo Trace released all five expressions, with the following stats:
Thomas H. Handy: Cask strength (124.9 proof) rye whiskey
Sazerac Rye 18 Year-Old: 90-proof rye whiskey
George T. Stagg: Cask strength (135 proof) bourbon whiskey
William Larue Weller: Cask strength (133.6 proof) wheated bourbon whiskey
Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old Bourbon: 101-proof bourbon whiskey
We tried the full range of expressions and rated them based on aroma, taste, and finish in individual reviews linked below.
Here are all five 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskeys ranked from lowest to highest score
Barreled in 2011, this year’s William Larue Weller is — as per usual — a true rarity in American whiskey: A 12+ year wheated bourbon bottled at cask strength. It’s more often than not a favorite of the lineup, due largely to its combination of rich fruit, robust spice, and a lengthy finish. (Who says all wheated bourbons are “smooth” and “easy sippers”?)
While this year’s WLW brought those elements, it lacked some harmony in bringing the flavors together. There’s a bit of discord here: sweetness leads, and a strong medicinal cherry note hits almost as an afterthought. Both of those notes stand in slight contrast to the spice, and the palate is a bit like a V8 engine that keeps getting stuck in a lower gear. Fortunately, a bit of water livens things up considerably, so keep a dropper handy.
In this ranking, third and fourth places were separated by a razor-thin margin. This year’s Thomas H. Handy — aged just over six years, as per usual — is slightly lower proof than other recent releases, but it packs plenty of flavor into every sip. The palate starts off bready, transitions to sweet, then carries spice the rest of the way through. Things build toward a nice crescendo on the finish.
It’s another solid showing from Handy, and if it weren’t for a slower-than-hoped build on the palate, this could have been ranked one or two spots higher.
Edging out Thomas H. Handy for best 2023 Antique Collection rye is Saz 18. This might be a polarizing placement, as the past few years have seen Handy trending over Sazerac when it comes to collection-wide rankings; at 90 proof, Sazerac 18 is certainly playing with different tools.
However, this year’s version brought a rare balance for flavor and that lower proof point, and it hit just about every section of the rye whiskey flavor wheel: spicy, sweet, herbal, and fruity, with oak appropriate for its nearly two decades in a barrel. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a pour, take your time, as it rewards thoughtful, deliberate sips.
This year’s George T. Stagg is like a good fastball: even when you know what to expect, it hits quickly and forcefully. This 15 plus year-old bourbon opens big on the nose with hot cinnamon candy and brings things home on the tongue with cola, nutmeg, and cherry. Each sip brings different notes, and a few drops of water only complicates things in the best possible way.
The best Staggs challenge drinkers to wrestle with pronounced flavors that don’t so much dance around the tongue as stomp. It’s doubtful that many would call this the best-ever from the George T. Stagg lineage, but it’s certainly a worthy addition.
Eagle Rare 17 is an older, more complex version of one of bourbon’s best daily drinkers (the widely available Eagle Rare 10 year). But at 101 proof, you can find yourself wanting more from such a highly-aged bourbon. When ranking Antique Collection releases, it rarely places among the top three.
The 2023 version of Eagle Rare 17 is, simply put, better than it has been in years, and likely the best since the expression moved up from 90 to 101 proof in 2018. (It also happens to be the oldest-ever release as part of this line, with the liquid inside ticking over 19 years.) It exhibits beautiful balance without hiding wonderful flavors of tart fruit, bananas foster, black cherry — to name a few! — and it’s all elevated by an undercurrent of delicious wood tannins.
This year’s Eagle Rare 17 received one of VinePair’s highest (to date) scores for an annual American whiskey release. It’s immediately a contender for this writer’s favorite bourbon of the year, and at this later point in release season, it’s doubtful anything will overtake it.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come from both the expression and broader Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. This is simply excellent whiskey, through and through.