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Sazerac Rye 18 Year-Old 2023 Review
Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection release is always an exciting time for American whiskey fans, and of the five hallmark expressions, only two carry consistent minimum age statements: Eagle Rare 17 and Sazerac 18. While a specific year’s releases may end up older (certain George T. Stagg expressions come to mind), Sazerac 18 is normally the elder statesman of the bunch. And in the current lineup, at 90 proof, it’s also the mildest as far as ABV.
That gives the whiskey — often shorthanded to “Saz 18” — the double burden of carrying the highest age statement with the least strength. And of these five annual high-end releases, it’s also the expression I’ve personally found to exhibit the most variance from year to year.
According to Buffalo Trace, the 2023 version of Sazerac 18 Year-Old Rye is blended from barrels “filled between the fall of 2004 and the spring of 2005 and aged in Warehouses K, L, and M.” Let’s see how this particular version — with some whiskey ticking up toward 19 years of age — held up from barrel to bottle.
Sazerac Rye 18 Year-Old 2023: Stats and Availability
As with all Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases, demand generally far outstrips supply. Consumers who find this for the suggested retail price of $124.99 should consider themselves lucky, as the expression often commands well over $1,000 on both retail shelves and secondary market sources. Consumers in government control areas may often get the best deals if state-run lotteries fall their way.
Sazerac Rye 18 Year-Old 2023 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
Black pepper and citrus hit first on the nose, with both lemon peel and bitter orange rind making their presence known. A little more time brings out baking spices just a shallow layer beneath that pepper; clove especially, with a secondary amount of ground ginger. There are more herbal and grassy notes than in some prior releases, not quite the dill-forward scent of a very high-rye mash bill but enough to evoke wintergreen and spearmint, along with caraway seeds.
After several more returns to the glass, the fruit evolves beyond citrus with gentle notes of dark plum and apricot folded into the herbal elements. We’re off to a fascinating (and strong) start!
The first sip brings a delicate but pronounced note of macadamia nut blossom honey, the taste immediately veering into slightly sweeter territory than I anticipated based on the nose. It’s one of the more delicately spiced rye whiskeys I’ve sampled in recent memory, and though the proof is a relatively mild 90, there’s texture here that evokes both syrup and fat. It coats the tongue and then gradually diminishes toward the back of the palate with rare finesse.
Speaking of: There’s light rye spice toward the midpalate and back of the palate, but it’s not as intense or complex as on the nose. Instead, clove is coupled with oak, which could lean toward astringent if not for some faint continuation of that sweetness from the beginning of each sip. For an 18 year-old rye, there are a lot of delicate flavors here. While Sazerac 18 doesn’t always hit the perfect intersection of proof and taste, the 2023 version shows just how well that balance can be achieved under the right conditions.
The finish is still honey forward, like the last remnants of a caramel or honey drop candy. But that honey also comes with a cooling, minty (almost menthol) sensation, almost at chewing gum levels of intensity, which transitions into a medium-length finish that curtails that sweetness just enough to keep things very interesting — and it certainly calls me back to the glass.
If I have one (fairly minor) criticism of this rye, it’s that the finish may start a touch too minty for drinkers who want to bask in an oakier, lengthier aftertaste. (There’s oak aplenty here, but less than an 18 year-old rye expression is capable of carrying well.)
Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old Rating
Sazerac’s latest 18 year-old rye is my favorite of the line from recent memory, but it may not please every rye drinker angling for a bottle (or single pour). It lives at an uncommon convergence of herbs, oak, spice, and sweet, with a finish that leans closer to menthol than some might enjoy for a final note.
However, with a welcome and impactful undercurrent of honey and cloves, I found the 2023 Saz 18 to be a pour that balanced proof and age for an enjoyable, rounded sip. If you’re lucky enough to come across a bottle, I’d welcome any agreeable (or even conflicting!) opinions.
*Photo sourced from the Buffalo Trace Distillery