Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about Buffalo Trace Distillery. Two mash bills yield over a dozen brands, most of which are highly regarded in the bourbon community.
[For our final conclusions and links to all of the Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 reviews, click here.]
Here, again, is the helpful chart from the Bourbonr blog to visually depict the Buffalo Trace brands by mash bill:
As the chart states, mash bill #1 is Buffalo Trace’s low-rye mash, considered by many to be 10% or less rye. Assuming the mash contains the typical 5% malted barley, the remaining 85% is corn. This yields, as expected, a very sweet flavor profile.
Because mash bill #1 is comprised of so many different brands, we will divide the analysis into multiple parts. First, we will examine two bourbons that are readily available, inexpensive, and well received by novices and aficionados alike – Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare.
Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare are close siblings, separated only by a few years. In addition to sharing the same mash bill, Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare are also both 90 proof. Buffalo Trace is not age stated, but many estimate it to be between 7-9 years. Eagle Rare is 10 years old.
To further aid in our analysis, we have procured single-barrel store pick bottles of Buffalo Trace and Eagle rare, to compare with the standard release.
Buffalo Trace (standard):
Nose: ethanol entwined with burnt sugar, honey, citrus, little oak, wet cardboard.
Palate: the ethanol that was present on the nose vanishes, leaving an oily, sweet brown sugar flavor with some honey. The wet cardboard is also not present.
Finish: quite short. The oily texture remains, but the sweet taste quickly disappears.
It almost feels wrong to criticize buffalo trace. Its proper place is to serve as the peak of the bell curve, or the benchmark by which to compare other bourbons. It also works well as a mixer in sweet whiskey cocktails. But, a sophisticated bourbon it is not.
Buffalo Trace Single Barrel:
Unlike a typical store pick by a particular retailer, Glazier’s, a prominent distributor in Kansas, selected this barrel from Buffalo Trace. The bottles were distributed across the State and priced only a few dollars more than the standard release.
The first noticeable difference between the two is the color. This has a richer copper color than the standard release, which would presumably be due to being on the higher end of the age scale, without the blending of the younger barrels that could dilute the color.
Nose: more oak, less wet cardboard. There is also less ethanol, which gives way to a stronger scent of brown sugar, and a bit of fig.
Palate: Not as sweet as the standard release, but with more depth of flavor and more full-bodied. The brown sugar and honey at the forefront are complemented by vanilla and orange peel after the glass has had time to breathe.
Finish: a light, lingering sweet finish.
As with most store picks, this bottle enhances the standard release’s finer qualities while simultaneously polishing away the rough edges. We sampled this bottle immediately after opening it. We all agreed that it benefited from some time to breathe to bring out some of those deeper layered flavors. Good pick, Glazier’s.
Eagle Rare (standard):
Interestingly, Eagle Rare used to be marketed as a single barrel bourbon. However, recently, a mechanical bottling system was installed. The system is not purged between barrels, which means that the first and last bottle of each run will contain a mixture of two different barrels. Therefore, the decision was made to drop the “single barrel” label, while still keeping the 10-year age statement.
Nose: oak, dark chocolate, brown sugar.
Palate: mirror image of the nose, but also with some cherry cola, both in taste and texture.
Finish: again, the oak, dark chocolate, and brown sugar come through. But, the cherry cola and dark chocolate transition into a tannic/bitter cocoa near the end of the finish.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel:
Nose: Same as the standard release, but also with a hint of mint chocolate.
Palate: A stronger, richer cola flavor with the oak/brown sugar/dark chocolate ensemble.
Finish: The tannic/bitter finish is not present. Instead, the dark chocolate and cola flavors linger and gradually fade.
As Scott remarked, this is one of those bottles that serves as a quintessential example of a particular flavor. The flavor, in this case, is cherry cola. By eliminating the bitter finish and enhancing that sweet flavor profile, this store pick is a winner.
We circled back to the Buffalo Trace Single Barrel to see whether it seemed to more closely resemble the Eagle Rare. We agreed that it did not. The Buffalo Trace Single Barrel did not contain nearly as much oak as the Eagle Rare, or the dark chocolate/cherry cola flavors. Though all we know about what separates Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace is age, the aging location must also contribute something to their differences as well.
Stay tuned for our next venture in mash bill #1, the Colonel E.H. Taylor line.