Today, we add the final piece of the Buffalo Trace Distillery mash bill #2 puzzle: Ancient Age and Ancient Ancient Age.
[For the final conclusions and links to the other Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 reviews, click here.]
Ancient Age Brand Overview:
The Ancient Age product line has been produced at what is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery since at least the 1940’s, and possibly earlier. According to Buffalo Trace Distillery’s website, the Ancient Age brand dates back to only 1946. The bottle, however, references a “Distilling since 1869” date.
The Schenley company lays claim to have created the Ancient Age brand around 1936, shortly after Schenley acquired the George T. Stagg Distillery (could the brand date back to 1869 as part of the George T. Stagg acquisition?). When Schenley originally “created” this product, it was purportedly using “bourbon type” whiskey produce in Canada to produce Ancient Age.
The George T. Stagg Distillery would be renamed the Schenley Distillery on acquisition, and at some point shortly thereafter Ancient Age became a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey produced there. That same distillery would be renamed the Ancient Age Distillery in 1969. Later, it would be renamed the Albert B. Blanton Distillery, the Leestown Distillery, which would then become the Buffalo-Trace Distillery owned by Sazerac.
In 1983, Schenley sold the Ancient Age brands to a company that would become Age International. In 1992, Age International itself sold to a Japanese company. After each of these sales, the Ancient Age products continued to be produced at what is now Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Although the exact dates are uncertain, Ancient Age began as an 86-proof whiskey, but was later reduced to 80 proof. Ancient Ancient Age began as a 10-year product, but was later dropped to a “10 Star” product without an age statement. Purportedly, the AAA 10-Year product was available in Kentucky for some period of time after the creation of the AAA 10 Star, but it too has been fully discontinued.
As to AAA 10 Star, at its inception, it purportedly contained bourbon that was around 6 years old. In the past 3 or 4 years, an “Aged at least 36 months” age statement was added (you have to look very closely at the neck near the Surgeon General’s warning), and the age of the AAA 10 Star bottlings thereafter dropped to around 3 years. There have likewise been other bottlings of all these products, including a Bottled-in-Bond and an Ancient Ancient Age 8-year that is still available in the Japanese market. The current 3-year AA and AAA 10 Star are the only products still produced and available in the United States.
Ancient Age (80 proof) (At least 36 months)
Nose: Unmistakable rubbing alcohol; corn; floral; ginger spice; caramel candy and a light amount of vanilla.
Palate: Thin same rubbing alcohol as the nose; corn, light caramel and finally some spice burn that isn’t the ethanol; wet wood.
Finish: Short with corn and some lingering citrus and rye spice; a weird waxy coating.
Overall: Not good. Harsh from beginning to end. Frankly, probably not even a suitable mixer, unless you have something that can overpower even rubbing alcohol.
Ancient Ancient Age (90 proof) (At least 36 months)
Nose: Deep caramel but not quite butterscotch; candy corn sweetness, light oak; some citrus and bing cherry fruit; some alcohol that isn’t overly harsh but not necessarily pleasant.
Palate: Vanilla, corn and rye/baking spices; some light oak notes that hint at caramel, but still candy corn; apricot.
Finish: Short to medium; initial candy corn with a touch of oak; lingering spice; the alcohol leaves the tongue a bit numb; what is left behind is like unsalted corn chips.
Overall: A HUGE improvement over standard Ancient Age. It is a pleasant, easy drinker with good traditional bourbon flavors. I wouldn’t necessarily mistake this for top shelf bourbon, but I’d comfortably pour anyone a glass of this neat. With its scarcity, I wouldn’t necessarily mix it, but I suppose it would pair nicely at 90 proof with many cocktails.
Ancient Ancient Age (90 proof) (Discontinued; non age stated, believed to be about 6 years)
Nose: Rich honey, vanilla and caramel; toffee; cherry; some alcohol on the nose, but definitely backseat to the honey and vanilla.
Palate: An incredible amount of honey/agave nectar and vanilla; corn; butterscotch; toffee; spice.
Finish: Slowly fading honey and the chewy caramel candies; much less burn/numbing than the younger 3 year.
Overall: Don’t let the lack of color difference between the 3-year AAA and the 6-year AAA fool you. Just like the 3-year AAA took a giant leap over the AA, this too takes a giant leap over the 3-year AAA. It is delicious. It has a candied sweetness that combines rich honey and caramel. I think someone could (and should) make a candy just like this.
For those curious about how these compare to the mash bill #2 single barrel bottles…
All as compared to Hancock’s President’s Reserve: Hancock’s adds a certain citrus note and refinement that is lacking in the Ancient Age expressions. It remains corny with caramel notes, but lacks the delicious honey notes of the 6-year AAA. An improvement over the AA and the 3-year AAA, but I have to say the 6-year AAA will give this one a run for the money (should I mention it’s at least twice the price, or at least it was before it was reduced to a 3-year expression).
All as compared to the Elmer T. Lee: The ETL brings a significant improvement in the nose with a rich brown sugar/fruit sweetness. It does bring back a hint of that honey sweetness of the 6-year AAA. The palate is much more like the AAA 6-year, but with the addition of brown-sugar sweetness. The finish adds a rich buttery richness. Overall, the richness and thickness of the ETL is a step above in quality to any of the Ancient Age products or the Hancock’s. But….but… if you can find the AAA 6-year, it is a nice cheap substitute for the ETL.
All as compared to Blanton’s. Blanton’s brings butterscotch and finally some rye spice. Many argue whether the nose on the ETL or the Blanton’s should prevail. I’m a strong vote for ETL. But the palate and finish? Two votes for Blanton’s. This brings rich dried fruit (raisin/dates/figs), citrus and floral notes that are lacking in any of the other offerings. But, this is about Ancient Age. Thus, to say that any of the AA products here are a substitute is a stretch. Pick up a 6-year AAA to substitute for ETL: sure. For Blanton’s? No.
All as compared to Rock Hill Farms: RHF has the strongest rye notes of the mash bill #2 expressions that are available in the U.S. Paired with the highest proof, it also seems to have a much bolder flavor across the board, and longest finish to boot. As a result, it is very difficult for AAA 6-year to keep up. Really, AAA 6-year’s plastic jug compared to RHF’s elegant decanter basically says it all.
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.