Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye (2015)

Chances are if you are still searching for the elusive Pappy Van Winkle, you are also having the familiar struggle of finding any of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or “BTAC”, as affectionately called by whiskey enthusiasts.  Since the BTAC lineup is only released once a year since 2002, it has become increasingly harder and harder to find, especially in the midst of our current bourbon boom. The lineup for 2015 includes the following:

  • William Larue Weller (Bourbon)
  • Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (Rye)
  • Sazerac 18 Year (Rye)
  • George T. Stagg (Bourbon)
  • Eagle Rare 17 Year (Bourbon)

As much as I would love to go into the history of the Antique Collection, its best to leave it up to professionals over at the Breaking Bourbon blog, they have done a tremendous job outlining the History of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and even provided a great info graphic on this year’s release below:

breaking bourbon btac fact sheet
courtesy of

For this particular post, lets focus on the Thomas H. Handy (will be referred to as ‘THH’ going forward) and come back to the rest in later articles… HAHA, jk… who do you think I am?  Even though I know where to find the rest of the set in the secondary market, there’s no way I’ll be paying over $450 for these bottles and neither should you.  I was lucky enough to find THH and George T. Stagg (GTS) for near retail this past fall, so at least look out for a GTS post in the future and I’ll do my best to acquire samples of the rest.  As you can see from the fact sheet above, most of these whiskeys are age stated, with Thomas H. Handy being the youngest of the bunch, but still coming in at a whopping 126.9 proof.

thomas h handy btac rye sazerac

Who is Thomas H. Handy anyway?  Here is Buffalo Trace’s official statement on the man, the legend:

In 1830, Thomas H. Handy was born in Maryland.  Meanwhile down in New Orleans a number of saloons veiled as coffee houses began lining the streets of the French Quarter.  A young man named Antoine Peychaud Jr. began serving cocktails made with brandy and his secret family recipe for bitters.  The cocktail become famous and was dubbed the “Sazerac Cocktail,” after the Sazerac Coffee House on Royal Street

In 1847, Thomas H. Handy arrived in New Orleans.  He immediately went to work for John Schiller at a liquor store on Royal Street.  Schiller eventually bought the Sazerac Coffee House and Handy quickly became an expert barman, concocting fabulous Sazerac cocktails for his patrons.  In 1869 Handy’s friend and boss John Schiller died. Handy bought the coffee-house and asked his friend Peychaud to join him in business.  It was the great age of coffee houses in New Orleans and there was one on every corner.  The New Orleans Times newspaper published an article stating, “The oldest and best known of these houses is the Sazerac.”

Thomas H. Handy was established and successful, but never content.  In 1873, he altered the recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail by replacing French brandy with American rye whiskey.  Patrons preferred the test of the rye whiskey over brandy because it was more robust and spicy.  The whiskey had a bouquet of pepper and clove, and wonderful flavors including citrus and candied fruit.

Thomas H. Handy Uncut and Unfiltered Straight Rye Whiskey is bottled directly from the barrel, just as it was over a century ago.  Enjoy the authentic American rye whiskey as a symbol of the timeless history of New Orleans and legacy of Thomas H. Handy.

thomas h handy btac rye sazerac

TL;DR: Thomas H. Handy was the first person to replace French Brandy with American Rye Whiskey in the Sazerac Cocktail. New Orleans loved it. Take that, France!

I want to point something out in that description, specifically the words ‘unfiltered’ and ‘bottled directly from the barrel’ because they actually do mean ‘unfiltered.’ Check out the picture below, you can actually see bits of the char from the oak barrel, settled at the bottom of the bottle.

thomas h handy btac rye sazerac

Anyway, enough chitchat… lets get to the review of the 2015 Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey.  If you’d like more information on this year’s release, I’d suggest checking out the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release letter.

Tasting Notes:

Price – $$$$$ (Retail) / $$$$$ (Secondary)

Proof – 126.9 / 63.5% ABV

Glassware – Glencairn Glass

Nose – Strong toffee with hints of cloves and cinnamon but not much of that acetone burn you would expect from a cask strength whiskey.  I can also pick up a bit of sweet nuttiness, which was very pleasant.

Taste – After the initial sip, you’ll find a fruity burst of sweetness uncharacteristic of a rye, it almost has the undertones of that dark syrup from a Luxardo marischino cherry but much more subtle on the sweetness.  It then begins to coat the tongue in a way that can only be described as ‘creamy’ – I don’t I’ve ever said that about any other whiskeys but it really does have a similar mouthfeel.  After getting the full brunt of the spirit, I started to pick up notes of roasted figs, black pepper and that cherry again.  Towards the end, the heat picks up a bit but is softened by that initial nutty sweetness from the nose. 

Overall – In all honesty, not to be biased based on all the hype and price of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but this might be one of the best rye whiskies I’ve ever tasted. Even though Jim Murray’s reputation was a little tainted this year with Crown Royal Harvest Rye being his “2016 #1 Whiskey in the World”, I think he was spot-on for his “Best Rye of 2016” in Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye.  It was an enjoyable experience from nose to tail, even for a rye whiskey that’s only a little over 6 years old.  I loved the full, rich mouthfeel and that hint of dark fruit that is usually found in older bourbons.  If I had to sum it all up, I would say this year’s release definitely has the bold, intense flavors 126.9 proof but it goes down like it’s a 90 proof.  This is a bottle I’m going to be savoring for a while, hoping I don’t drink it too fast.  I’ve yet to have any other year’s batch of THH, but the general consensus among bourbon reviewers is that this 2015 release might be the best batch they’ve had in years.  If you manage to find this in the wild at MSRP ($80), lucky you! Grab it, you will not regret it.  


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