Monday, October 19, 2009

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – breaking the piggy bank

The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a series of 5 bottles distributed by Buffalo Trace Distillery. The first release was in 2000 and consisted of only 3 bottles which, in my opinion, were more true to the namesake of Antique; Eagle Rare 17, Sazerac 18 and Weller 19. All super aged whiskey and all sitting at 90 proof. Following are the release details by year:
2001: Eagle Rare 17 year, Sazerac 18 year and Weller 19 year, all 90 proof
2002: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, Weller 19 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 137.6 proof. This is the first time we see GTS and the last time we see Weller 19.
2003: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 142.7 proof. Any proof above 140 is legally considered Hazardous Material, thus this second release of Stagg is affectionately called Hazmat I.
2004: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 129 proof
2005: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 121.9 (first release year). This year alone there were 3 Stagg releases. George T. Stagg ~15 year, 130.9 (KY only Spring release), 131.8 (Spring release), 141.2 (Fall release, called Hazmat II).
2006: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 15 year 129.9 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 140.6 proof (Hazmat III), Thomas H. Handy 8.5 year 132.7 proof (first release year).
2007: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 10 year 117.9 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 144.8 proof (Hazmat IV), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 134.8 proof.
2008: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 125.3 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 141.8 proof (Hazmat V), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 127.5 proof
2009: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 134.8 proof, George T. Stagg ~16 year 141.4 proof (Hazmat VI), Thomas H. Handy 7.2 year 129 proof
2010: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 126.6 proof, George T. Stagg 17 year 143 proof (Hazmat VII), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 126.9 proof
2011: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 133.5 proof, George T. Stagg 16 year 142.6 proof (Hazmat VIII), Thomas H. Handy 6 year 128.6 proof,
2012: Eagle Rare 17 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 123.4 proof, George T. Stagg 17 year 142.8 proof (Hazmat IX), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 132.4 proof 
2013: Eagle Rare 17 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 136.2 proof, George T. Stagg 16 year 128.2 proof, Thomas H. Handy 6 year 128.4 proof 

I've collected these releases over the last three years but also have a smattering of bottles from earlier years. I'll admit I have not tried all that I have (too much whiskey, so little time) so can't speak to the profile of all releases. Taste being subjective, it wouldn't be appropriate to level a blanket statement that a particular bourbon or whiskey is better than any other. What I will share is my own personal preferences which are the only ones I care about anyway. I like the barrel strength offerings as it gives me the ability to control the drinking proof. I may want something high test because I'm in a pissy mood or lower the proof to open up the more subtle flavors that the high proof may mask. Having control is a nice feature with barrel strength whiskey. I won't speak to each individual year since I haven't tasted all years but I will give a broad opinion and rank them in order of general preference; William LaRue Weller, George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17. This list may change a bit depending on the release year but for the most part, that's how I stack them up.
Understand that these are super premium whiskey's due for the most part because of age and price. On first release these bottles retailed for around $39.99. Today, those prices have almost doubled as I've seen in Virginia where prices are over $70 a bottle. In fact, the West Virginia ABC website has last year's release listed at $42 a bottle but a friend recently informed me they have increased the price to over $60 which they blame on increases from Buffalo Trace. It's getting harder and harder to justify spending upward of $350 for the release, and that's just for 5 bottles, so chances are, I'll pass on this year's release. I have many bottles of previous years BTAC bunkered away so my consolation will be to just drink what I have.
So now my curiosity is piqued; do you think it's worth paying that much for this series?
Edit: For a review of the 2009 release, see John Hansell's review of each bottle here.


  1. As a retailer - yes, it is worth it. As a customer, it depends. What else is that good? Scotch whisky equivalents would cost $100-$150. I can tell you for a fact that the price increase came from Buffalo Trace and not from us.

  2. Thanks David for your comments. Speaking as a consumer, there's plenty of great bourbon out there for significantly less that this collection. Don't get me wrong, I love the BTAC releases but the PQR has to be considered when plunking down that much money. I did mention in my post that the increases came from BT but I know also that retailers have inflated prices prior to BT increasing the wholesale cost. It's up to the consumer to do the research and find the best price. I know of places where you can still find bottles in the upper $40's range which is certainly an attractive price.

  3. Where the rub comes in is the $85-$105 price tag for the juice.

    David is right that many honest store owners are adding a nominal fee. Each store has to make a profit, but when the price of $42-$48 from the distillery reaches the consumer at 2X+.... the product will no longer be affordable.

    Scotch is a beast within itself. Why anyone would pay big $$$$ for a mossy product aged in a second hand barrel is beyond me... but I digress... this is bourbon dork, not big scotch dork :)

  4. I bought the entire collection with 2 WLW this year.

  5. In California, $60 is pretty much the minimum you'll see any BTAC for and you're much more likely to find them in the $75-$85 range with Stagg sometimes reaching over $100.

    Is it worth it? Well, I tend to buy about one per year, so I guess I think it is. It's some great whiskey, and the ryes, in particular, have few equivalents, but I have to say, if the prices keep going up, I will probably cut back on them.

  6. Just wish I had the option in my state, but enough whining about Idaho Liquor stores. Is it worth it? If you have the $$ to spend I say yes. Trouble is fewer people have that kind of disposable income these days and the prices of good bourbon keep increasing. It would be nice to see some understanding and perhaps have BT lower prices a bit. I think their sales would increase. I'm pretty sure this bourbon popularity bubble will pop with the economy doing what it has.

  7. There's no question that it's all good juice but as Don pointed out, many of us just don't have the disposable income to keep up with the price increases.

    There's no way BT will lower the price because with the limited amount of bottles available, there's always someone who can and will purchase them.

    I'm hesitant now (for the first time) in purchasing the set because of price when there are other very nice selections for less. For me, PQR comes into play now that I'm penny pinching.

  8. Greg first off thanks for putting all this info together. As for is this collection worth it, 350.00 or more year after year is just to much. First off I would not drink all of one collection year in time for the other years release. So if I did buy this years collection It would just sit on a shelf til if finished the 08. That is a lot of money to just sit on a shelf.

  9. Dan - my pleasure. I know what you're saying. I have previous years releases sitting on my shelf that I have yet to open. I think I only opened one from 2008 and the rest just sit there. As a practice, I don't sip from just one or two bottles. You've seen my open bottle collection and it's somewhere in the range of 30 bottles and I take pours from all of them. So, I may not get to a particular bottle again for a month or more. I have a bottle of '08 Handy I picked up in Myrtle Beach in June, it's still 2/3 full.

  10. Greg:

    PQR? Per Quart Revenue?

  11. Price Quality Relationship. For the normal consumer, price translates to quality. For those of us that have more insight into bourbon, we know that's not always true. BTAC are quality whiskey's no doubt but as the price increases the value we place on those offerings has a diminishing return no matter how much we enjoy a barrel proof bourbon. If one can afford paying the high price, PQR doesn't really play into the equation but for those of us on a limited income, it's a major factor. I'm in no way saying purchasing the BTAC isn't worth it. I'm just pointing out that for me, the higher prices now makes me think twice about the investment.

  12. I'd be willing to pay the price for a bottle of the Stagg or Weller, but I'm having a hard time finding a distributor in Atlanta. Any leads? Are they being offered by the online retailers?

  13. Tucker,

    If GA allows shipment of interstate liquor sales, you can go to They have the BTAC for $66.99 each.

  14. While expensive, I feel that most of these bottlings are worth the investment, but each person has their own ideas about that. Personally I pick up the ER Saz and Handy each year, I do have several of the WLW and GTS from previous years, but find that I just don't bother with them enough to keep buying them. The prices will continue to rise, so in purchasing them now, when they are still somewhat reasonable, and bunkering for the future, when they won't be, I'm actually saving money.

    One day, in the distant future, I'll be sitting in my rocker surrounded by the next generation of whiskey drinkers, sipping on whiskies that they have only heard about, in hushed tones of respect, whiskies that I will be pulling out of dusty old boxes, having paid the original retail price for, that would be worth large sums of money on the collector market by then.

    Grand Imperial PooBah,

  15. Tim - no doubt they are good bottles although the Saz is getting less appealing since it's been tanked and the ER has been the most inconsistent in my opinion. I won't be able to afford the whole set this year and will most likely focus on the GTS and WLW which are two of my favs.

  16. Actually, it's not anywhere near $42-48 from the distillery. Try greater than $50 before retail takes a cut.

  17. That's interesting because my brother just picked up an '09 Stagg in a Montgomery County, MD ABC and he paid a little over $50. This ABC is a not for profit so the markup is pretty small but if BT is charging $50 from the distillery then that ABC has very little upside on those bottles.

  18. I loaded up on the BTAC back in 2005 with 4 bottles of each (when the price was much more reasonable). Now that I have that 'foundation', I try to only buy if the newest edition sounds to be better than what I already have. WIsh I could afford to always grab the set, but there's too much good stuff out there competing for the funds! The worst, though, is when you pass on a particular bottle - only to regret it later!

  19. Kate - in my opinion the ER has been the most inconsistent and since the Saz has been tanked since 2006, that should be pretty much the same year over year until they pull barrels. That leaves Handy, WLW and Stagg. I find those to be routinely good if not excellent and worth picking up if you can afford the price. This years WLW and Stagg were rated 96 and 95 respectively by John Hansell.

  20. I'm coming in late on this, but for me, the BTAC is totally worth it, but only the barrel proofers. For my money, there's nothing else like them and I'm fortunate enough to be able to get all of these in NH for $51.99 per . . . I picked up 3 each of the Stagg & Handy & 4 Wellers. I'm also unfortunate enough to live somewhere where the BTAC is about the only interesting thing around . . . Julio's is fairly close, but there's still very little else that I've had or seen that interests me as much.

  21. This comment section is really quite remarkable looking back at 2009 from 2013. In 2009 people were upset of seeing a BTAC sold at $60-80. Today in 2013 BTAC on the shelf is never under $100, and more and more commonly $200. Maybe in 4 years someone will find this discussion and find the 2013 as "the good old days".

    1. As I've mentioned I stopped chasing after the BTAC and one of the reasons was price. Overall, the whiskey's are good to very good but the price became an issue. I did however pick up a Handy, Weller and Stagg last year that ran about $65 each plus tax. Montgomery County MD still sells the BTAC's for a reasonable price. I remember back in 2006 I found one VA ABC that had 6 bottles of Stagg on the shelf and I picked them up for $49 each.....the good old days.