Sometime around 1773, Hancock Lee began distilling whiskey near what is now Frankfort, Kentucky. Back then, it was part of the British colony of Virginia. Three years after Hancock started distilling, the 13 colonies declared their independence from England and Mr Lee passed away. The Buffalo Trace distillery (formerly known as the George T. Stagg Distillery) now stands on the site, which some claim is the oldest Distilling site in the United States. The Sazerac Company owns the distillery, where they produce a wide array of spirits, including:
- Buffalo Trace bourbon
- Ancient Age bourbon – my grandmother’s preferred brand
- Blanton’s single barrel bourbon
- Rock Hill Farms bourbon
- Sazerac rye whiskey – my Pretty Little Wife is from NOLA, gotta show love for the Sazerac
- Pappy Van Winkle bourbon
- Eagle Rare bourbon – the subject of today’s ramblings
Way back in 1975, a little over 200 years after Hancock Lee, Master Distiller Charles L Beam (Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, class of 2010) created a 101 proof ten year old straight bourbon for his employer, Seagram (the people who tried to ruin Four Roses), and named it Eagle Rare. In 1989, the brand was acquired by Sazerac and found a new home at the Buffalo Trace distillery. They no longer make the 101 proof ten year old. These days, your options are an award-winning, 10 year old 90 proof single barrel available year-round and a 17 year old 90 proof single barrel released in limited quantities every fall.
I picked up my first bottle of Eagle Rare 17 year about 4 years ago. It was Christmastime and I was shuffling up and down the bourbon aisle of a Liquor Barn in Lexington, KY, looking for something good to take back to Texas. I’m not certain now just why the bottle caught my eye. Maybe it was the relatively small label…this bottle really puts the bourbon inside on display. I bought it. I brought it home. I loved it. Eventually, I finished the bottle and I was sad.
Lucky for me, a few bottles make their way to Dallas every fall and several of the local liquor stores have bourbon lovers for managers. While the ultra-premium scotch, cognac, vodka, and tequila go into the locked glass case at the front of the store, the high-end bourbon sits in the manager’s office waiting for a customer who knows what to ask for and who to ask.
On August 7, 2010, I brought a bottle of 17 year old Eagle Rare to the room in downtown Dallas’s Fairmont Hotel where my groomsmen and I were supposed to get ready for my wedding. Kurtis, Devin, Phil, Kurt, the Good Reverend Steve, and I (with a bit of help from Travis and the photographer) toasted our way to the bottom of the bottle and somehow still managed to get our ties on straight. We even beat the ladies to the wedding venue (the Crow Collection of Asian Art… it was an awesome wedding). I’m convinced that if not for the exceptionally smooth and tasty liquid courage, the Good Reverend Steve would have been too nervous to make it through the ceremony.
I am currently in possession of one bottle of 17 year Eagle Rare – a gift from friends who are like family – and one bottle of 10 year Eagle Rare – a gift from family who are also great friends.
First up, the ten year. Right out of the bottle, the nose is ethanol and sweet corn. The ethanol is a bit on the powerful side. With a minute or two to open up, vanilla, honey and fall fruit notes – apple and pear- start to appear. The ethanol is still pretty powerful. This whiskey has a rich, almost oily mouthfeel. The taste is pepper and oak, warm and spicy. The finish is long and warm. Oak and cinnamon drift off to a lasting heat. I give it three and a half stars. The Pretty Little Wife just took a whiff and nearly passed out on the fumes.
Next in line, the seventeen year. Bottled in the fall of 2010, my 17 year Eagle Rare is a somewhat darker amber color than the 10 year. The nose is much gentler up front, initially showing brown sugar and char with notes of rye, leather, and oak appearing as it opens up. The flavor is sweet caramel drifting toward leather, oak, and tobacco. This whiskey is much drier than its younger sibling. This is definitely a sipping whiskey. The finish is warm and clean with a lingering hint of dried fruit. For me, this is a five star whiskey. I will be truly sad if I make it to the bottom of this bottle without acquiring a replacement.