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Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey (2015, 126.9 proof) Review

Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey (2015, 126.9 proof) Review

Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey is part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection that is released every Fall. It has the distinction of being the youngest whiskey in the lineup (6 years old and change) and is usually the second most produced bottle each year, right after George T. Stagg.

What has always fascinated me is that the 6 year old, 90 proof Sazerac Rye (known as “Baby Saz”) seems to carry all of the same specs as THH except for the high proof and is sold at almost a quarter of the price. Does the proof really make that big of a difference?

Age Statements and Barrel Proof Rye

In 2015, barrel proof rye whiskey with an age statement was much harder to find than it is in 2021. Your options were somewhat limited to: 1.) Willett’s rye whiskey they were sourcing 2.) Michter’s first release of their Barrel Strength Rye whiskey and 3.)

The scrappy new startup, Whistlepig and their Boss Hogg Release #1 (which was released a few months after this bottle). Buffalo Trace’s product promised a much more “Kentucky” Rye Whiskey experience by using a “barely legal” rye grain mashbill and a yeast strain that produced a nice fruitiness across all of their various whiskey distillates.

To most enthusiasts, THH is one of the more unpredictable whiskies in the BTAC lineup each year in terms of if it is worth its value. Young rye whiskies can be like that, but Buffalo Trace tries its best at selecting only the best barrels that it can find. So how did they do for the 2015 release? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A blanket of fruit scents like warm cherry pie, black cherries and raspberry jam seems to dominate the nose. Other sweet notes like cinnamon rolls, nutmeg, seasoned oak and a bit of butterscotch pudding make this all smell sweet and rich like a bourbon rather than a rye whiskey.

Palate: The strong punch of fruits on the nose carries over to the tongue. Cherries, candied oranges, lime zest, rhubarb and mint all collide for a spectacularly delicious flavor array. The high proof leads way to some moderate heat while spices like cinnamon stick and peppercorns stick out.

Depending on your experience level, this will either come off as hot or “just right.” Sweetness comes by way of honey and caramel. Finally, this really shows it’s rye roots with flavors of ginger root shavings and peppermint candies that give layers of complexity to each sip.

Finish: Loads of fresh mint, pine needles and ginger stick to all surfaces of your mouth while oak, melon rind, and floral notes provide a contrast between new and old flavors. Lingering spice like peppercorns and red pepper flakes keep the coals smoldering while slightly burnt toffee provides the perfect amount of sweetness.

Score: 8.5/10

While this bottle certainly packed the flavors and intensity of a well-made rye whiskey, there were some things that kept it from achieving the higher ratings of its barrel proof BTAC brethren. There’s no denying this was loaded with sweets, fruits and spices, but it didn’t seem to break away from the mold of other rye whiskies already being made at the time.

In fact, it leaned a bit too much into “bourbon” flavors to really satisfy my rye itch. That is to be expected as many Kentucky ryes are the same way. Personally, I would have loved more citrus, licorice and floral notes.


But before you think I’m grasping at straws, a bottle that wears this label and comes in at this price (secondary or retail) needs to check all of the boxes that one would expect.

If more unique flavors are developed by keeping it in the barrel longer or using a higher rye content, then Buffalo Trace should look into adjusting the way they produce this. The bottom line is that the hype this bottle gets on the secondary market does not fully match the contents within.

Final Thoughts

Despite everything I just said, it’s not like this was not enjoyable. I’d gladly sip on this rye anytime if supplies were not as limited as they were. If you like your rye whiskey more on the “bourbon” side of things, this one is definitely for you. But seeing as how many modern day barrel proof rye whiskies are equal to or better than THH, it maybe be worth your time to sell any unopened bottles you may have.

Ratings Breakdown

1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)

2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it

3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)

4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)

5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)

6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)

7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)

8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)

9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)

10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)

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