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The Story of Eagle Rare Bourbon

Updated: Mar 3


Eagle Rare bourbon

Image by Eagle Rare/ The Whisky Ardvark


It's the year 1975, and the whiskey market is struggling. Charles L. Beam, the grandnephew of Jim Beam and the fourth master distiller of Four Roses decides to create a new luxury 10-year-old bourbon brand called Eagle Rare. Beam, a Bachelor of Chemistry and an army veteran, joined the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, in 1962. Within six years, he became the master distiller and launched his first bourbon, Benchmark, in 1968.

The rest, as they say, is history. But we all know there's a bit more to the story.



 

The Eagle Under Seagram's


Eagle Rare is often considered one of the last bourbons created before the era of small-batch bourbons. It was created when younger generations in America rebelled against their elders, and clear spirits became more popular, leading to a decline in bourbon and whiskey sales. This trend was broader than just the US, as many Scottish whisky distilleries closed down or were mothballed in the 1980s due to overproduction and a drop in sales.


During the 1970s, Wild Turkey was one of the most popular bourbons on the market. Some speculate that Seagram wanted to create their own bird-themed bourbon that was also 101 proof (50.5% ABV). In support of this theory, an advertisement was created in 1979 to undermine the competition, with the tagline 'Carve the Turkey. Pour the Eagle'.


Eagle Rare bourbon ad 1970s

Image by ABV Network


The Seagram's Four Roses distillery (then known as the Old Prentice distillery) in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, served as the birthplace of the contender bourbon brand. Master distiller Charles L. Beam was assigned the task of creating the perfect whiskey, and he came up with a low-rye bourbon aged in heavily charred virgin oak barrels. He offered it at least ten years of age to make it stand out from the competition.


Although marketed as an expensive bourbon in the past, Eagle Rare's relative affordability is now one of its major selling points.


Eagle Rare bourbon ad 1980s

Image by Eagle Rare - Advert 1980s


 

The Eagle Finds a New Home


Sazerac acquired Seagram's brands Benchmark and Eagle Rare in 1989. At the time, the company, based in New Orleans, did not have its own distillery. Therefore, the two whiskey brands were temporarily produced at Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Charles L. Beam's relatives, Parker and Craig Beam, looked after the distillation. Bottles of Eagle Rare from 1989 to 1992 were labelled with New Orleans as the place of origin - with the final bottles reportedly hitting the market in 1997.


Eagle Rare bourbon Old Prentice distillery

Images by Whisky Auctioneer



In 1992, Age International (Takara Shuzo) put the George T. Stagg distillery up for sale. Sazerac acquired it, surprising Heublein Inc. (later part of Diageo), which also wanted to buy the distillery. After the acquisition, Eagle Rare became one of the many brands distilled, aged and bottled at the site, now renamed the Buffalo Trace distillery.


Eagle Rare is a bourbon whiskey that uses the same 'Mash Bill #1' as other popular brands like Buffalo Trace Bourbon, George T. Stagg, and Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. This mash bill contains '10% or less' rye content and is classified as low-rye. Eagle Rare is aged in heavily charred 'alligator char' barrels.


Eagle Rare 10-year-old 101 proof was discontinued in 2005 and replaced by a 90-proof (45%) version. Since then, the label has undergone only minor changes, such as moving the promise of 10 years of age from the neck of the bottle to the back label. There have also been limited edition bottlings labelled 'single barrel' for specialist outlets.


In 2000, the Antique Collection was introduced, which included older expressions of premium whiskey brands by Buffalo Trace, including a 17-year-old Eagle Rare. Around the same time, a 15-year-old (53.5%) version was exclusively released for the Japanese market. From 2000 to 2018, Eagle Rare 17-year-old was bottled at 90 proof. In 2019, it was raised to its original 101-proof strength.


Eagle Rare bourbon

Images by Buffalo Trace/ Whisky Auctioneer


 

Premium of The Premium


Buffalo Trace released its oldest expression of Eagle Rare to date in 2019. The highly limited Double Eagle Very Rare was aged for 20 years and presented in a chic eagle-topped crystal decanter. Each bottle comes in a silver showcase and includes an individually numbered letter of authentication.


The first release was limited to only 299 bottles worldwide, with a 45% ABV. This was followed by the second release in 2020, which had 499 bottles and the same ABV. The ABV was raised to 50.5% for the following expression and limited to just 199 bottles. The 2022 release had 1,000 bottles. Unfortunately, we could not verify the batch size of the 2023 release.

Eagle Rare Very rare 20 year old

Image by Buffalo Trace



To the surprise of many bourbon enthusiasts, in October 2023, Buffalo Trace Distillery announced one of their oldest expressions yet - but this time, it wasn't a 25-year-old Pappy Van Winkle (which was released in 2014). It was the Eagle Rare 25-Year-Old.


The suggested retail price of $10,000 (~£8,250) was set at the time of the release. The bottling is limited to only 200 bottles worldwide and was bottled at an original 101 Eagle Rare proof. Presented in a silver-laced box and a silver-wrapped crystal glass decanter, the whiskey undoubtedly aims to compete in the highly collectable whiskey market.

Eagle Rare 25 year old

Image by Buffalo Trace


Buffalo Trace has invested $20 million in its experimental program over the years. The 25-year-old bourbon was aged in Warehouse P, one of two experimental state-of-the-art warehouses on site, under the watchful eye of master distiller Harlen Wheatley. The distillery promises a smooth, old bourbon unlike any other. This release is even more interesting because it was distilled before 1999 when Buffalo Trace was still known as George T. Stagg Distillery.


It is uncertain if there will be additional releases beyond 2023.

 

Have you had the pleasure of tasting Eagle Rare whiskies? What was your favourite? Let us know in the comment section below.







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6 Comments


I currently have 5 bottles of ER 10 yr..Everytime I drive by I call to see if they have any in stock. At $43 you can't beat it..Taste great.

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Not a Fan of Eagle Rare. Love the Bottle though. E H Taylor and Blanton’s are much better IMO.

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Eagle Rare 10yr is my favorite I've had other ER but I compare the taste as well as the price point and the 10yr stands the test of time

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I love the 10 yr ER so much I don't even want to try the 17 (just so I can remain ignorant and put more $ towards more 10 yr). My favorite Bourbon!

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Eagle Rare has been my favorite for a long time but it's too hard to find now. The 17 year is incredibly smooth.

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Replying to

Hi John, Thank you for your comment.

It is definitely one of the best value-for-money bourbons on the market if you can find it from a reliable retailer. For us, Eagle Rare was the one that made us fell in love with bourbons.

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