Looking for information on Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2021? We'll update this post as soon as the distillery releases specifics, which usually happens early fall.
A combination of smart acquisitions, sound marketing and exceptional bourbon has made Buffalo Trace a juggernaut of American whiskey. The distillery is the arbiter of hard-to-find (or pay for) hooch — Blanton's, Weller, E.H. Taylor Jr. and even standard Buffalo Trace all go for well above their suggested retail prices — but the stuff bourbon enthusiasts chase more than any of them is known as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC for short). And while bottles within the collection aren't all as expensive as the older Pappys (which Buffalo Trace is also responsible for), they're typically viewed in better light by whiskey nerds, many of whom view Pappy as good whiskey gone "tater bait." So why are folks spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on individual bottles of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskey? Here's what it is, and advice on tracking it down.
What is the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection?
BTAC is an annually released, five-bottle collection of hard-to-find bourbon and rye whiskeys. Each of the five is different; whether by mash, maturation length or proof. The distillery releases the collection every fall, and each bottle's suggested retail price is $99.
George T. Stagg
Made with Buffalo Trace's Mashbill #1 (more on that here), Stagg is the most or second-most valuable bottle within the Antique Collection, depending on that year's release (age, proof and reception can force significant value shifts). It's barrel-proof bourbon whiskey aged for at least 15 years. The name comes from the distiller-owner who owned what would become Buffalo Trace Distillery (which was called George T. Stagg distillery before being renamed). It's a strong safety of a whiskey; hard-hitting, but there's a finesse and calculated approach under all that muscle.
Street Price: ~$850 street price
Proof: Varies, usually 115 to 140
Notable: An extremely rare opportunity to drink extra-aged, full-powered Buffalo Trace bourbon.
Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old
Also made with Buffalo Trace's Mashbill #1, this is effectively classic Eagle Rare that's a little longer in the tooth (standard Eagle Rare is aged for 10 years). It's 90 proof just like its namesake bottle, too. Tasted side-by-side with regular Eagle Rare, it's far dryer and the finish far longer. The vanilla-fruitiness of Eagle Rare is secondary to those flavors born out of seven more years in a barrel.
Street Price: ~$1,250
Age: 15 years
Notable: Along with Sazerac 18-Year, Eagle Rare's big brother has experienced a significant jump in value; two or three years ago this bottle could be had for half its current going rate.
William Larue Weller
The other most valuable bottle in the Antique Collection. King of the Weller line, it's a barrel-proof wheated bourbon, the base of which is the same as the brand's Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys. There's no stated minimum age for this bottling, but it's usually between 10 and 12 years old these days (early releases were matured as long as 19 years), and it's named after the man who it's said invented the wheated bourbon, which replaces rye as the flavoring grain in a bourbon mashbill with wheat.
Street Price: ~$1,600
Age: 10 to 12 years old
Proof: Varies, usually 115 to 130
Notable: This is effectively Turbo Pappy. Where Van Winkle bourbons range from the low 90s to 107 proof, William Larue Weller typically arrives in the high-120s or thereabouts.
Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old
The first of two non-bourbon whiskeys in the collection. Old Saz is dry, spicy and light on the tongue thanks to its 90 proofing. It, along with its fellow BTAC rye coming up next, receive the least attention from the whiskey community (but are still exceedingly difficult to track down). That doesn't mean it'll come cheap, though.
Street Price: ~$1,200
Age: 18 years old
Notable: Most whiskey makers agree that rye whiskey doesn't need as much time in a barrel as bourbon whiskey to hit a flavor profile that balances maturation and grain-driven notes, so it's pretty uncommon to try well-aged rye whiskey. This rye is old enough to vote, making it an especially rare treat.
Thomas H. Handy Rye
Decidedly younger than the rest of the collection, Handy Saz is uncut and unfiltered rye whiskey. It's usually between 6 and 8 years old and 130 proof or thereabouts. Expect some heat and lots of grain-forward flavor dimensions. This is the only whiskey in the collection that isn't exhibiting the power of long maturation.
Street Price: ~$600
Age: 6 to 8 years old
Proof: Varies, usually 120 to 135
Notable: Whether due to shorter maturation period or barrel proofing, Handy is probably the BTAC bottle with the widest range of flavor profiles over the years.
How to Find Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Buffalo Trace Distillery whiskeys are distributed “on allocation," so there are a specific number of bottles allocated to each state, delivering throughout the year. This is common practice for booze in high demand, as it's meant to provide a more equitable spread of the product, allowing more customers an opportunity to buy. Because Buffalo Trace ceased its practice of providing barrel counts for each bottle in 2019, we no longer know (roughly) how many bottles are hitting shelves each year. There are three steps you can take to bettering your chance at finding a bottle for yourself:
Be a good customer: the whiskey world is filled with bottle-flipping money grubbers, so many store managers are rightfully wary of shoppers they've not seen around before asking about "what's in the back." Patronize your local store. Talk to the staff about new bottles coming in. Loyalty is often rewarded with access to the bottles everyone else is lusting over.
Look at a calendar: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection typically rolls out late September to mid-October, so asking about bottles in April is a surefire sign you've not done any prior research, and though most liquor store employee will let you down kindly, you're not getting your hands on a bottle that way.
Break the law: Buying liquor from an unlicensed seller is illegal for the seller and the buyer. The punishment differs state to state, but it is a criminal misdemeanor and can carry heavy fines and jailtime. This hasn't stopped thousands of bottle hunters from congregating in private buy-sell-trade Facebook groups. You'll find what you're looking for quickly in these groups, but you'll pay a premium and put yourself at risk.