We tasted through countless bourbons this year at the VinePair HQ, but one particular bottle stood out in the mix, and left a lasting impression on our minds and palates. That whiskey was this year’s expression of Eagle Rare 17 from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
Let’s just say 2023 has been a big year for Eagle Rare. On top of stunning the bourbon community with the release of the ultra-aged Eagle Rare 25 — which fetched a jaw-dropping MSRP of $10,000 — the brand also unleashed its oldest-ever expression of Eagle Rare 17. The whiskey was distilled in Spring 2004, making it 19 years and 3 months old at the time of bottling.
Currently, the coveted Buffalo Trace Antique Collection consists of three bourbons (Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, George T. Stagg, and William Larue Weller) and two rye whiskeys (Sazerac 18 Year Old and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac.) The folks lucky enough to get their hands on any of these annual releases usually favor George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller, but this year, Eagle Rare came out swinging, well rested from a 19-year slumber, and ready to take the title as our favorite bourbon.
It might seem shortsighted to directly attribute a whiskey’s quality to its age statement, but we firmly believe that that extra time spent in barrel truly made all the difference for the 2023 release of Eagle Rare 17. Whatever flavor and nuance that developed during that extra bit of time pushed Eagle Rare to the next level.
From nose to finish, Eagle Rare 17 dishes up everything we love about the spirit in one pour.
On the nose, we detect cherries, caramel, brûléed bananas, and grilled peaches, all with a warming umbrella of boozy heat overhead. The palate kicks off with fruit and oak entering a fiery tango for the spotlight, though neither manages to upstage the other. This release’s 101 proofing reveals the barrel’s drying astringency to full effect. The flavors all work in tandem to highlight the wood’s influence without it feeling overwhelming — it’s just another part of the orchestra.
Upon its release, Eagle Rare 17 had an MSRP of $125. And if you can find it for that price, we strongly recommend buying it before someone else realizes the deal they’re looking at. All Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expressions tend to command prices well over MSRP, and Eagle Rare 17 is often the biggest culprit of spiked after-market prices, with this year’s bottle already listed for over $1,700 on secondary and auction markets.
Were there other bourbons that stood up against Eagle Rare 17’s quality this year? Sure, there were plenty. But at the end of the day, Eagle Rare came out a step ahead in the photo finish, and ranked not just as VinePair’s best bourbon of the year, but its best spirit overall of 2023.
To that, we propose a toast to 2023’s Eagle Rare 17: an all-around fantastic expression and a true milestone for bourbon at large.