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Whisky Reviews

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

 

At times, Buffalo Trace's Eagle Rare just kind of feels out of place - don't be fooled, it's often seen as one of the best from the Bourbon behemoth's portfolio of year round Bourbons - yet, nothing about its name feels like it belongs in the Buffalo Trace / Sazerac tapestry (it's not named after a historical figure or place), and its genesis can often almost feel elusive with little light shed upon it.

If you thought that way, just as I did, well you're not wrong. The Eagle Rare is the brainchild of a man of Bourbon royalty, a Charles Beam. His surname alone should clue you in - but for the sake of posterity, we should tell you how connected he is. Charles Beam is the grand nephew of Jim Beam, whose name is plastered on one of the most widely distributed Bourbons globally, whilst his uncle Earl Beam had left the family business to join Heaven Hill Distillery as its second Master Distiller. Nevertheless, Charles would go on to carve out a path of his own when he joined Four Roses Distillery as its Master Distiller.

 

An "Old Prentice" Eagle Rare.

 

At the time Charles had come to helm Four Roses (at the time known as Old Prentice Distillery that belonged to Seagram), it was the 1970's and the Bourbon industry was in what looked to be a fatal decline. This prompted Charles to figure that if the demand for Bourbon was weak, perhaps heading in the opposite direction would be a good idea. He decided to focus on creating an expression that was more premium and would be viewed as being of higher quality and therefore worth trying. This would come in the form of a 10 year old Bourbon that would weigh in at 101 Proof - the Eagle Rare 10 Year Old 101 Proof was released in 1975.

That said, folks have often rumoured that another highly popular Bourbon sounded awfully similar - the Wild Turkey 101 Proof. At the time, in the midst of a cadre of struggling distilleries, Wild Turkey was nevertheless ahead of the pack. Its 8 Year Old 101 Proof was a beacon of hope in a bleak downturn for Bourbons. Many have often speculated that the Eagle Rare was designed to be a competitor of Wild Turkey. 

 

 

By 1989, things were starting to turn around for the Bourbon scene, and Sazerac would go on to purchase the Eagle Rare brand. However, there was just one snag - Sazerac didn't have a distillery at the time. Charles would thus step in to get his cousin Parker Beam over at Heaven Hill to help produce Eagle Rare in the meantime (some Bourbon hunters actively search for Eagle Rare's that are marked as having been produced at the Old Prentice Distillery and/or in New Orleans).

Come 1992, Age International (which belonged to Japanese company Takara Shuzo, and who continues to own the popular Blanton's) had decided to put the historic George T. Stagg distillery up for sale, and who else would quickly snap it up than Sazerac, and has now been renamed to Buffalo Trace Distillery. And that is how Eagle Rare came to find its place in the nest that is Buffalo Trace, which interestingly enough, has put in a good deal of effort and continuing to grow the brand.

 

(Image Source: Tasting Table)

 

What started out as a simple 10 Year Old expression (the 101 Proof was replaced with 90 Proof), has made its way into Buffalo Trace's highly sought after annual Antique Collection which features a 17 Year Old Eagle Rare. Yet, flagship releases aside, the Eagle Rare brand has even sported a Double Eagle Very Rare 20 Year Old (which comes with a decanter top featuring a crystal eagle figurine) and more recently, a very exciting ultra-aged Eagle Rare 25 Year Old, which was the focus of Buffalo Trace's latest experimental warehouse program (Warehouse P).

Regardless, the Eagle Rare (which also comes in the form of Single Barrel Select releases for private buyers) has remained a highly regarded expression that continues to do exceedingly well in the US, but for some reason remains rather underrated in Asia.

So with all that said, we've got to give it a go (despite having tried it numerous times over the years, I'll take any chance to sip it again - hence this review). Onward!

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey - Review

Tasting Notes

Colour: Deep Amber / Mahogany

Aroma: Big confectionary and baked pastry notes - brown sugar, cinnamon, some sort of sweet glaze, vanilla frosting, caramel and butterscotch. There’s a gentle woodiness that comes through - some real barrel scents. Here and there some gentle fruits - apricots and cherries. It’s rich and sweet, but not dense.

Taste: A continuation of its aromas - baked pastries, butterscotch sweetness, baking spices, vanilla frosting, almost cake and batter like. Flecks of cherry hard candy and cherry cola. More depth here than you might expect which is giving milk chocolate with a little bit of cacao, but really loads of vanilla cream and butterscotch. Texture matches its aromas - not particularly dense.

Finish: The woody tannins tighten here and is more noticeable. As it lets up, it’s back to the Cinnabon flavours - vanilla cream, butterscotch, cinnamon spice. Clean finish nevertheless, moderate length.

 

My Thoughts

Eagle Rare has always been a real underrated gem in my opinion - heck, it should be the first Bourbon anyone tries - it’s rich, creamy, big and full-bodied on those sweeter baked pastry flavours. You could diss it, but you couldn’t dislike it if you tried. It is so ridiculously approachable and likeable - and at such a good price and year round availability - that it truly sets a high bar for any other Bourbon.

Now, before you think I’m a simp for Eagle Rare, I’m not saying it’s the best Bourbon out there - the flavours are simple but tasty yet also not anything dazzling, and it could use more depth as well - but as an entry level Bourbon, honestly you’d be hard pressed to find a better pick out there for the wallet-friendly price and how easy it is to find. And if you really wanted more variance, there’s always Eagle Rare Barrel Picks bottled for various retailers, bars and private buyers (there’s a great one we reviewed right here).

Ultimately, what Eagle Rare is is incredible value - in every single universe and possible dimension. It’s a liquid Cinnabon - if you hate it, let’s face it, you’re probably just a bad person.

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot