If you’re familiar with bourbon that’s a step or two beyond the elementary level of the commercially favored, like Bulleit and Evan Williams, then you probably need little introduction to Eagle Rare (ER), a 10 year old 90 proof low rye bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. But even those familiar, and well acquainted with ER, might be unaware that the bourbon we know today as ER started out as something different; though its biography may be small, its taken a few interesting twists in its 40+ year history.
ER was originally created in 1975 by Charles L. Beam (yes, blood relative of Jim Beam) and produced by Seagram. It wasn’t until Sazerac acquired ER from Seagram in 1989, that it started being produced at its George T. Stagg Distillery, now known as Buffalo Trace, and has been made there ever since. Along with ownership changes, Eagle Rare itself has gone through a few fundamental changes as well. Starting out as a 101 proof 10 year old at its genesis, it then went to a 10 year 90 proof single barrel in 2005 and now today is simply 10 years old and 90 proof, losing its single barrel status just a few years back. ER is created using Buffalo Trace’s #1 mash bill (otherwise known as their “low rye” mash bill), which is suspected to be in the general vicinity of 10% rye. For a great read on Buffalo Trace’s mashbills and a further, illustrative breakdown, visit Blake over at Bourbonr for a great article on Buffalo Trace mash bills.
Eagle Rare is renowned for its textbook bourbon characteristics of vanilla and oak, and although this is probably what you’ll find in many bourbons, ER exerts these characteristics in spades and through an almost unparalleled balance. However complexity, at least to the fullest extent of the definition, isn’t what one typically expects in ER; oak and vanilla are usually the most prominent memories you’ll have, and the overall profile is generally on the sweeter side of bourbon. That being said, this balance and its general consistency have created a cult following for ER today, and with a 10 year age statement and price tag in the $30 range, ER is a great value…and also of a dying breed.
Healthy Spirit’s single barrel of Eagle Rare comes from Warehouse C, and is in fact 11 years old.
Eagle Rare, Healthy Spirits Single Barrel #256
ABV: 45% // 90 proof
Nose: Typical vanilla & oak. Cherries, candied lemon & tangerine peel. The tangerine had been recently peeled and candied, as it possess juicy textures as well. Big, crisp grape soda notes in classic Buffalo Trace fashion. Some green fruits as well – green apple and a little honeydew melon. Speaking of honey, theirs that too, but the honey is light, not dark. Buttered toast, raisin, spiced sarsaparilla, and a light lemon custard is all layered on top of the oak, which is more muted in this barrel, by its vanilla counterpart, which has now formed into vanilla ice cream. Their is a rubber note too, that may be more metallic actually…hard to pin point exactly. Very honest nose.
Palate: Oak and vanilla concentrate, hand in hand. Where the nose is fruit heavy, the palate is sugary sweet. Oak extends to the mid palate with some baking spices but it’s the sweeter wood spices that stand out over the oak. Cherry syrup, banana, grape skins, mocha, torched chocolate and brown sugars. The sweet wood spices keep lumbering on all the way through to the back of the palate. Things round out with oak tannins showing up and the vanilla concentrate comes back around right before the finish with more momentum this time. Very vanilla heavy palate on this barrel, and it works nicely with the spice elements. Overall mouthfeel is thin to medium, at best, but their is a lot that shines through from 11 years in the barrel. This is a great representation of Buffalo Trace’s #1 mash bill.
Finish: This is where you know this barrel stands out – the finish is fantastic. Spices climax immediately then its oak barrel tannins and vanilla beans…French vanilla ice cream, specifically. The finish continues with sugar donuts, a few wisps of light wood smoke and bubble gum. Interesting how syrupy the finish is, considering the lack of viscosity on the palate. Some waves of light spices keep the sweetness in check. The finish is on the longer side of medium and, along with the nose, is where this barrel’s highest accolade lies.
Bourbon and House Rating: 89
ER really does represent the quintessential bourbon profile. With just enough rye in Buffalo Trace’s #1 mash bill, the light spices balance well with all of the classic bourbon notes, from nose to finish, the most prominent of these being oak and vanilla. The overall integrity of this single barrel through these qualities, is what led me to give it an 89. It hits most all the notes a bourbon drinker will expect in ER, and then some.
That “some” is where this barrel stands apart. The magnified citrus peel and grape soda notes on the nose offer a more rounded complexity within ER’s hallmark profile, and the finish is longer than any ER I’ve had to date, single barrel or not, apart from ER17. The only thing that kept this bottling from getting a 90+ rating was the palate. Like most bottlings of ER, it remains on the thin side. You can find many pleasant qualities, but in the end, the vanilla, which evolved from rudimentary to creamy and rich, dominates and overshadows most of the other nuances. I, as the task of reviewing whiskey requires one, am splitting hairs though, because this is very good bourbon. For the sub $40 price range, you’d be hard pressed to find a better age stated, sub 100 proof bourbon. Seeing ER at its original 101 proof would be fantastic, but we all know that likely won’t be happening anytime soon.
I would recommend Healthy Spirit’s Single Barrel of ER to any bourbon lover, from novice to aficionado. As mentioned in the beginning of my review, ER is on the sweeter side, so for those who prefer their bourbon sweet, barrel #256 will deliver! If you’re not a fan of sweet bourbons understand that this barrel is more 3 dimensional than the standard ER – more fruit and a longer finish help balance the expected sweetness out, so don’t be weary of giving this single barrel a shot. As an every day pour, its quality to value ratio is also quite good. A solid, easy drinker on its own, this will also hold up well over ice or in your favorite cocktail. It would also make a great gift for that bourbon nerd you know who loves hand picked Single Barrel selections.
Healthy Spirit’s Single Barrel of Eagle Rare is $38.99 and available at all three Healthy Spirits locations.