Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Have just tried - Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Thomas H. Handy is an American rye whiskey which is made at the Buffalo Trace distillery.  It is a whiskey that has been the centre of attention during the last week, as the Batch 2011 has claimed the prestigious accolade of 'Whisky Of The Year' in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2013, the latest edition in the best selling series.  Traditionally, winners of this award sell out fast so it may already be too late to grab one.  However, we were lucky enough to track down a sample ...

The distillery is located in Frankfort, a town in the famous American whiskey making state of Kentucky. The distillery was officially founded in 1812 by Harrison Blanton, although records show a distillation facility on the site from 1773 and owned by Hancock Lee.  It is the oldest distillery currently still in operation in the USA and is named after the famous 'buffalo trace' - a path used by migrating buffalo, which stretches across North America.  This track is said to have crossed the river next to the distillery before the area was urbanised.

The whiskey is named after Mr. Thomas H. Handy, a New Orleans based entrepreneur who ran his own whiskey company (The Sazerac Company) and is credited with designing the classic Sazerac cocktail in the late 1870s.  Thomas H. Handy Sazerac is released as part of Buffalo Trace's highly anticipated Antique Collection.  The distillery makes numerous brands and they have been releasing some special editions of these on an annual basis since 2000. Other whiskies in this series include famous and well regarded names such as Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Sazerac Rye and W. L. Weller.

Top dram?
Following the Jim Murray news last week, we set about trying to locate some to sample.  That was not an easy proposition as only one small batch is released each year and very little of that makes it across to the UK.  Our luck was in and we found a Buffalo Trace 'pop up bar' built for London Cocktail Week that had a bottle of the Batch 2012 (not Jim's favourite sadly, but the latest expression).  We convinced them to pour us a glass (pictured).  It was a bit pricy but worth it.  Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Batch 2012 is bottled at 66.2% ABV and costs around the £100 from selected specialist retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a dark golden amber and the nose is highly perfumed.  There are plenty of aromas fighting for attention and this makes the nose very complex.  There is a heady mix of rich vanilla sauce, fudge, milk chocolate, spiced orange peel and deep cereals (think of rye or soda bread especially).  Underneath are some punchy wood spices - imagine nutmeg, aniseed and some earthy ginseng - plus late hints of polished wood/lacquer, leather and a weird whiff of celery.  It is very, very promising.

On the palate, this simply explodes with flavour.  The feisty spiciness is much more prominent than on the nose - it is juicy, fresh, vibrant and doesn't let go of your taste buds.  This spiciness shows itself in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg, with some heat coming from a white pepper note.  Some much needed sweetness appears to balance these woody spices (think of vanilla, honey and plenty of butterscotch sauce), along with some luscious bittersweet cereals (imagine rye or spelt bread), freshly sawn wood shavings and a strong note of thick cut marmalade.  The high ABV alcohol level seems to exaggerate these flavours as they bombard the inside of your mouth.  Again a clean vegetal note of fresh celery and cucumber appears very late on, which cleanses the palate even further.

The finish is immaculate, clean and very long, combining a well balanced sweetness (the vanilla and honey particularly) with the drying wood spices.  There are interesting notes of lemon zest and spearmint which develop with time and they leave a mouthwatering freshness in the mouth.

What's the verdict?
This is a superb whiskey and one which is full of great and complex characteristics.  Is it our 'Whisky Of The Year'?  Probably not.  Why not?  The nose is sensational and blows you away with its fantastic set of aromas.  The palate is very good, but never quite lives up to the high promise of the nose.  The same applies to the finish.

That said, it is one of the best American whiskies that we have tasted for a long time and also not the same batch that Jim Murray gave his accolade to.  He has traditionally loved most of the special releases from Buffalo Trace, so while we couldn't try last year's winning version, we are sure that this new expression will feature highly in next year's book.

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