Every year Buffalo Trace releases their Experimental Collection: 375 ml bottles of some wacky experiment (or in one case some old barrels they found). When they first came out, these things were impossible to get and, though priced around $45 in Kentucky, often went for $200 in California. Lately, it seems they have been a bit more reasonable and a bit more available (though they are by no means plentiful). A friend shared with me some of the latest release which was announced in December and hit shelves earlier this year.
This year's Experimental consist of two bourbons with different secondary grains (the grain added in addition to corn and a small amount of barley malt). One uses oats and the other uses rice.
Now, I don't usually pay much attention to reviews in selecting my bourbons, but it's always interesting when someone has a very passionate reaction. John Hansell reviewed these bourbons in a post provocatively titled Don't buy this whiskey! He particularly disliked the oat bourbon and had this to say about it:
The one thing I am sure of: I could randomly pick any bourbon priced at $10 or more from any retailers’ shelf and be pretty confident I will like it more than this. And, with a suggested price of $46.35 for a 375 ml, bottle, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this whiskey.
That may be the worst thing I've ever heard him say about a whiskey, certainly a major distillery whiskey. Anyway, I was more than a little intrigued, and since I particularly like to chase down the bad stuff, I had to try it. Is it as bad as Hansell suggests? Let's see.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection "Made with Rice," 9 years 5 months old, 45% abv
The nose on this is definitely a bit different from the average bourbon. It's got some definite spice similar to a rye spice but also a sort of wet cardboard sort of aroma. On the palate, well, it doesn't taste like Uncle Ben's. The palate is extremely subtle and muted, but quite pleasant. It's also on the weak side, tasting much weaker than 45%. The finish is very light, just a bit of bourbon fumes and then a sort of graininess, really the only discernible rice-like flavor I've gotten from it (and if I didn't know it was made with rice, there is no way I would have identified it that way). This one is sort of nice in its understatedness. It's not something I would seek out, but it's perfectly nice for sipping. I actually think there is something to it, and if I were BT, I'd probably thing about further rice experiments as they could use the formula to end up with an ideal flavor profile for someone who wants a lighter bourbon.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection "Made with Oats," 9 years 5 months old, 45% abv
The nose on this is similar to a rye recipe bourbon, sweet and spicy, though there is also a bit of a plastic note. The palate starts off with medicinal notes which yield to a bitterness that lasts into the finish. I have to say I agree with Hansell that this one is not very good. I would never guess that it was oats, but the bitter notes don't do it any favors. Still, it's not horrible. I've had much, much worse, but it's certainly flawed.
So the rice showed some promise, but the oat was not good. Maybe BT should give potatoes a try.