Thomas H. Handy Sazerac – 2017 (127.2 Proof) Review

In September we reported on the 2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release, which this year yielded about 15% more Thomas H. Handy Sazerac barrels than the previous year.  A few days ago I was fortunate enough to snag a 2017 bottle to go alongside my 2016 release.

We previously reviewed the 2016 release, which clocked in at 126.2 proof, here and here.  The product release sheets for 2017 and 2016 show the few subtle differences, including a slightly higher 127.2 proof, but both are Buffalo Trace’s low-rye (51% rye) mash bill, aged for 6+ years, and bottled at barrel proof.

This weekend I sat down with both bottles to compare.  The results were quite satisfying.

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High Proof Rye Blind Tasting

Willett, Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye, Pikesville Straight Rye, Thomas H. Handy

I recently acquired (shout out to Chris Crow) my first bottle of Willett Straight Rye – a recently released 3-year cask strength (111.2 proof) bottle. It actually features a blend of Willett’s high-rye mashbill (74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley) and its low-rye mashbill (51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley).

This particular bottle interested me because it is the first rye batch that Willett has distilled since the early 1980’s. Between the 1980’s and 2012, Willett functioned as a non-distilling producer, aging and releasing bourbon and rye that many believe was sourced from Heaven Hill (which is about a half mile down the street in Bardstown, Kentucky).

To aid in my introduction to Willett rye, about a week after sampling the bottle, I decided I should compare it to some other high-proof ryes. So, I selected three others: Pikesville Straight Rye (110-proof, reviewed here and here), Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye (100-proof, reviewed here), and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye (126.2-proof, reviewed here and here).

To further enhance the experience, I also decided to arrange them blind. Below are my notes, guesses, and then the reveal:

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The 2017 Best Rye Whiskeys

Jim Murray Whiskey Bible

Last year, I purchased my first copy of Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible.  Many of you know it was a controversial year for Murray (more below).  Notwithstanding and not limited to this controversy, I learned quickly that it is an interesting resource, but a “Bible” it is not.  While there is some objectivity in the review of whiskey, the scale weighs heavy on subjectivity.  So to Jim Murray, some of your beliefs I concur, some I do not, but to your insight, opinion and research I value.

This past weekend I sat down with friends to enjoy our first sips out of our newly acquired Booker’s Rye.  Jim Murray calls it the “Whiskey of the Year,” and the best Rye Whiskey aged 11 years or over.  To make this sampling even more interesting, we decided to break out a few other complementary bottles.  It is no mere coincidence that those bottles selected just happen to be some of Jim Murray’s highest rated Rye whiskeys over the past two years!

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