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Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old Bourbon 2023 Review
Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection features some of the distillery’s oldest, rarest, and most coveted spirits. And this year’s five-expression series includes at least one standout when it comes to age and pedigree: Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon, which in this particular case went above and beyond that minimum age statement.
At 19 years, 3 months-old, it’s the oldest-ever release in the expression’s 23 year history as part of the Antique Collection. It was distilled in the Spring of 2004 and aged across warehouses C, I, K, M, and Q. (For reference, the 2022 version was distilled in 2005 and released at 17 Years, 5 Months old.) The final expression is bottled at 101 proof.
How did this year’s Eagle Rare hold up, and did extra time in the barrels impart better flavor? Let’s dive in and find out in the full review below.
Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old Bourbon 2023: Stats and Availability
If you find this on a reputable shelf for $124.99, I’d highly recommend purchasing the bottle and thanking your lucky stars after the payment clears. All Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expressions tend to command premiums well over MSRP, and Eagle Rare brings some of the highest; it’s not uncommon to see this listed for over $1,200 in certain areas at retail and on the secondary or auction markets.
Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old Bourbon 2023 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
The first smell is a punchier-than-the-proof-implies aroma of chocolate covered cherries, the confectionary and fruity notes hitting simultaneously. There’s also a hefty helping of flambéed fruit, specifically plums, peaches, and tart apples.
Tart fruit gives way to bananas foster, an altogether sweeter concoction topped with a kiss of ethanol heat.
Each sniff brings multiple layers of oak influence, including strong wood tannins, newly fired charcoal, and freshly split logs. And, boy, is there pepper here, something I generally expect on the traditionally punchy (and much higher-proof) George T. Stagg but revel in at this lower ABV. Ground black and white pepper lead, followed by pink peppercorns and a bit of numbing Sichuan peppercorn spice.
Frankly, there aren’t many areas of the bourbon scent spectrum this isn’t touching upon with enough returns to the glass. I’m almost (but ultimately not quite) saddened when I need to stop smelling and start tasting.
The 2023 release of Eagle Rare 17 is one of the most cherry-forward bourbons I’ve tried in quite some time. And it isn’t just one type: black, sweet, tart, and Maraschino are all there with enough time and an inquisitive palate. While the nose’s cherry components came hand-in-hand with chocolate, in this case, the pairing is more akin to frozen custard or a thick egg cream. The mouthfeel itself is relatively thin, but it gets the job done, carrying most of its flavors with somewhat equal force.
Subsequent sips bring more fruit — ripe honeydew is a standout note — and oakiness that builds gradually without ever turning over into ashy or burnt (though I certainly tried to find the line with more than one refill). There’s a touch of leather, but it’s part of a well-composed whole, as if flavors were reverse engineered around the strong wood influence. Frankly, this reminds me of some fine barrel-aged cocktails, the profile built to use a barrel’s drying astringency to maximum effect.
The midpalate swings back to chocolate ganache as things transition from the tongue to the throat on a lengthy and mouth-watering finish. Dried and semi-sweet fruit pair with a continued leathery note; they remind of the strips of tart fruit leather I’d wolf down as a kid. Even at the finish of each sip, there’s an eyebrow-raising amount of complexity with this year’s Eagle Rare 17. Prepare to take your time accordingly.
Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon Rating
Honestly, I can’t remember another Eagle Rare 17 release I’ve liked quite as much as this year’s. It’s atypically old, yes, but the bourbon does more than just lean on strong oak influence. Fruit and pepper accent each pour from the tip of the tongue to the finish, resulting in a bourbon that’s both rich and complex; there’s breadth AND depth of flavor aplenty.
The expression immediately makes its case for one of the year’s best annual-release bourbons. If you’re fortunate enough to encounter a pour for reasonable prices — better yet, a lucky bottle — prepare to sip, savor, and ideally compare notes with your friends.
*Photo sourced from the Buffalo Trace Distillery