Review: Antique Ryes – 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy

Two rye whiskeys are a part of the highly anticipated Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) released each fall, Sazerac 18 year and Thomas H. Handy. The later is a youthful 6 year old bottled at cask strength, while it’s older brother of 18 years is released at a more composed 90 proof. Their greatness cannot be disputed, at least not by me. I cannot recall a year when these whiskeys have not been at worst very good, and at best, some of the top whiskeys released in a given year.

So as not to add to the frenzy over these releases, I was leaning towards making Sour Mash Manifesto a BTAC free zone for 2012. That went out of the window as I simply I have no self control (for the record I’m sticking to my Pappy free zone pledge for 2012). Thanks goes to Brad Kaplan, of Thirsty South, for sending me a sampling of the Saz 18. Brad has an excellent post on the make up of this whiskey. It’s really quite interesting, and rather than rehash it, I’ll just link to his well written post.

Below are my tasting notes and ratings on these two rye whiskeys.

2012 Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00
Color: Medium/Deep Amber
Nose: Bright notes of mint, vanilla, spiced orange tea, cinnamon and old, dusty rye with a core of caramelized fruits (banana, orange), ripe berry, and hints of maple. Gorgeous layers and complexity. Softened by time.
Palate: Drier, and only moderately sweet. Toffee is fleeting now with a plethora of sweet orange flavors (marmalade and candied rind) dominating the palate. Vanilla, mint, clove and cinnamon add sparkle with hints of coffee bitterness.
Finish: Old wood, bitter orange, berry fruit, and hints of toffee.
Overall: Time continues to soften this whiskey into an even more harmonious sip. Perhaps the finest rye whiskey made today with one of the best noses in all of whiskey. Not much has changed with this one, but I consider it a must buy if you can locate it.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

2012 Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, 66.2% abv (132.4 Proof), $75.00
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich and syrupy – maple sugar, caramel, ample blasts of mint, licorice, and Big Red chewing gum. Hints of sticky fruits – cherry, raisins, and candied orange.
Palate: Bold and brash – big rye influence. Honey, maple syrup, kirsch, chili and cinnamon heat with bitter burned sugar.
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, wood spices, and sweet fruit.
Overall: An exceptional pour even at 6 years of age. Rich and concentrated with ample spice, fruit, and enough sweetness at it’s core to keep the whiskey anchored. What’s more – perhaps the easiest BTAC whiskey to located. Requires a healthy dose of water to wake things up.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

In spite of the family lineage – the 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy are two very different whiskeys. One uses finesse and well developed flavors that only time can create. The other – brute force and concentrated sweetness, fruit and spice. Both are superb.


  1. While I love the reviews, it hurts badly that these bottles cost only $ 75 in the USA and sets us back at least € 110 ($ 145).

    Still, I want both.


  2. Rick says:

    Just an idea, but why not have a list of the highest rank reviews? Or maybe a ‘best of’ page for bourbon rated over 9.0?

  3. ScratchDad says:

    I second Rick’s suggestion!

  4. jeff says:

    Don’t worry Sjoerd, they may theoretically cost that in the US, but they are effectively unavailable. If they can be bought for €110 where you live, you are luckier than most of us. Where I live, they can’t be bought for any money.

  5. Ray O says:

    Jason, I’m looking forward to your reviews of the 2012 versions of Weller and Stagg. This year, I have been incredibly fortunate in obtaining a bottle each of the Stagg and Weller, as well as a bottle each of PVW 15 and 20, but I haven’t opened any of them yet and would be curious to read what you think. I’ll be very slow to open these bottles after going 2 years without getting my hands on any of this stuff. I may not be so lucky next year.

  6. Eric says:

    I second what Jeff said. I don’t even try to find any of the BTAC releases.

  7. Matt says:

    Tomorrow is supposed to be the day they finally land in Los Angeles. Wish me Godspeed…

  8. ChrisB says:

    I love the Handy! Didn’t get any this year but I’m still hoarding my bottle from last year along with the Saz 18.

    So is that the extent of the Handy lineage? Or is there an older version somewhere down the line? I can see that it must be tempting at that price to ship it all out at 6 years but one has to wonder how much better it could get….

  9. Sean says:

    Those both sound excellent…

    It’s a shame I live in Canada though, they’re both over $200 a bottle here with tax.

  10. James says:

    Last years Handy was still available this summer. I know one store that had 4-5 bottles of it. I’ve seen the 2012 Handy on the shelf at a few places so far this fall. Prices ranged from $85 up to $99.

    The Saz18 is a dinosaur. I’ve been trying to get my hands on one, passing on Stagg and Weller just hoping I’ll find it.

  11. Joey says:

    What Jeff said. I’m in Oklahoma (with liquor laws circa 1933) and it’s pointless to even bother, unless you travel for business. We can’t even have alchohol shipped here.

  12. Texas says:

    I am banning BTAC and PVW stuff from Buffalo Trace. If they think it’s great that it is hard to get and you must work at it, then more power to them. There is a lot of whiskey that is just as good that I don’t have to work at to get…

  13. Jack Willow says:

    An odd thing is that most rye loving reviews I’ve read have the opinions flipped: the Handy comes out as great stuff, while the Sazerac 18 YO is very good, but not great.

  14. iskch1 says:

    Second Joey. The closes thing you can get in Okie land to B.T.A.C is Eagle rare 10 yrs!! If you are lucky to find one!

  15. JFo says:

    I had some Sazerac 18 with lunch today (thanks to having just seen this review), and when the server arrived, the scent hit the table before the tray. Awesome stuff! The ancient barrel flavor lingered forever, in a good way.

  16. JFo – the nose is amazing. One of the best in whiskey.

  17. woodisgood says:

    Walked around today in my old haunts in Brooklyn; walked into a liquor store I had frequented at times. Great Ceasar’s Ghost! I spied a bottle of the Sazerac 18!! Then I looked at their price tag and my heart dropped: $130. Sorry, not going to give you the benefit of reaping a ridiculous markup.

  18. e4tango says:

    ^Agreed! Recently spied some Thomas Handy in a Tampa area store at $129.95 and passed on it. 🙁

  19. Justin Victor says:

    I am also in OK and have scored two bottles of the BTAC this year: Eagle Rare 17 and the Handy Rye. Neither purchased in OK. I look foreword to opening these over the holidays and sharing them with friends. These are the first BTAC bottles I have ever had. I hope they stand up to the hype and their price tags. (ER17 was $70 in WY and Handy was $70 in MO)
    Stop by for a dram if you are in the neighborhood.

  20. Dillan Thomas says:

    As someone who works at a liquor store in Kansas, we got two on the 18 year Sazernac Rye on hand, along with the Stagg and Wells. Love a surprise delivery of anyone who is looking for a trade (don’t know if any one does that via this site or frowned upon). Picked up a Pappy Rye today for personal enjoyment and wonder how it stacks up with the Sazernac now.

  21. Josh says:

    Justin Victor: fellow (but former, now) Oklahoman here. Merry Christmas and enjoy those whiskeys. Both are incredible, with the edge going to the Eagle Rare, in my book, for its extra measure of finesse and balance. That’s a very slight edge and strictly personal. You’ll love them both.

  22. Nathan says:

    I’ve got a few bottles of Handy on hand. Would love to trade for other BTAC bottles.

  23. n2thecloud says:

    Just tasted the 2012 Thomas H Handy and it was excellent! It has a nose that takes a good 10-20 minutes to fully open up, so take your time. It is worth the wait. The candied fruits, blueberry, spice and maybe a hint of “green tobacco” leaves are stunning. I love Rittenhouse Rye at $20 but this THH Rye is truly amazing at $75. P15 lovers take note! There is competition out there for your taste buds.

  24. I have read so many articles regarding the blogger lovers but this post is genuinely a good
    piece of writing, keep it up.

  25. FINALLY got around to writing up some tasting notes on the 2012 Handy. Goodness gracious it is a beautiful best of a rye. I really don’t think I’ve ever had a rye with a more prominent mint/wintergreen component to it. Great stuff. (thanks!)

  26. Latinpig says:

    I am just curious why this is so easy to locate in the marketplace compared to some of the other BTAC offerings?

  27. Ricky says:

    I have handy and saz 18 but dieing to have a PVW rye! Anyone know where I can get it? I work at a large liquor store but never seen it.

  28. Good post however I was wanting to know if you could write a
    litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Kudos!

  29. Truly when someone doesn’t understand then its up to other people that they will assist, so here it takes place.

  30. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored at work so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break.
    I love the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.

    I’m shocked at how quick your blog loaded
    on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..
    Anyways, fantastic blog!

  31. I every time spent my half an hour to read this webpage’s articles all
    the time along with a mug of coffee.