Last week we were here talking about the results of the annual Scotch Whisky Masters. Well, guess what? Those some esteemed judges have just dropped their results for the top American whiskies on shelf from this past year. It includes a spate of specular liquids divided into a total of 19 different categories: premium ryes, bourbons of varying age statements, Tennessee whiskey—it’s all there for you to consider in this complete list of winners.
But today we’re focusing on the one to rule them all; the coveted “Taste Master.” No alarms and no surprises, folks. Yet again, the top spot was reeled in by the acclaimed artisans at Buffalo Trace. We say yet again because it really does feel like this distinguished distillery can do no wrong. Master distiller Harlen Wheatley and his crew are the ones who bring the world Pappy Van Winkle each autumn. They’re the same artisans that win awards for Weller, for E.H. Taylor, for Stagg, for George T. Stagg, and on and on.
…And, thanks to the discerning palates at this year’s American Whiskey Masters, Eagle Rare 17 Years Old is the latest liquid wearing hardware around its neck. As part of its revered Antique Collection, Buffalo Trace has released this particular expression once annually since 2000. It will vary slightly from year to year, so it’s important to note that the prize winner here was the 2022 iteration, bottled at 101-proof and aged for 17 years and 5 months in total.
According to the judges, the Kentucky straight bourbon in question exhibited “a nice malty aroma with sweet coffee notes [and a] silky texture with a touch of heat and spice.”
For our palate, the most recent Eagle Rare 17 stands out for its fruitier elements. There’s a piquant quality reminiscent of clustered berries balancing out peppery undertones in a prolonged finish.
A magical dram, indeed. The only problem is figuring out where to find it. When Buffalo Trace unveils its Antique Collection each October, it lists the retail price for Eagle Rare 17 at a modest sum of $99. But it’s just too good and in too limited of an allocation to ever stay on shelves at even 10 times that price. Here it is listed at $2700!
It is both infuriating and an inevitability of supply and demand economics. Added awards aren’t going to help cheapen the product, either (for those keeping score, Buffalo Trace hauled in a staggering 25 total medals at the American Whiskey Masters).
So, what can you do? Well, you can camp out in front of your local liquor store in early to mid-October, as soon as the yearly allotment goes out. Though you’ll never know exactly what day that shipment will land. Alternatively, you can develop a taste for everyday Eagle Rare, a ten-year-old expression sporting the same base distillate as its older brother, readily available for $90 a bottle.
Finally, you can go out and find well-aged Kentucky bourbons that—like Eagle Rare,—rock a high-corn/low-rye mashbill, and perhaps hail from some other reputable distillery not named Buffalo Trace. Knob Creek 15 Year is a great starting point; similar age, comparable proof, and attainable at $130 a bottle.
Remember, there was a time, not so long ago, when stuff like Eagle Rare 17 collected dust on the shelf. There could be something sitting around right now waiting to enjoy the same path to superstardom. Will you be the one to find it?