I don’t know very much about rye whiskey and my experience of it is even smaller. I know that to be called rye the mash bill has to be at least 51% rye (analogous to bourbon’s 51% corn mash bill) but I’m not sure if there are more restrictions a la bourbon. I guess I could google it but I don’t want to give the impression that I am an active, resourceful sort. Indeed, I would not have made it in Park City, Utah in the 19th century. That’s a non-sequitur, you think, but the joke’s on you! High West is located in Park City, Utah, which I am assuming was settled in the 19th century (see above for my ambivalent relationship with the idea of googling to find things out).
This rye isn’t distilled there, however. I believe High West’s own distillate is still maturing. In the meantime they are bottling spirits that their website says they “found back East” . Doesn’t that sound nice? They “found it”. It’s like David Perkins was out for a walk through all of the American East and came upon barrels of Rye resting underneath a waterfall, guarded by an army of enlightened beavers who handed it over to him as they recognized that he was the guardian foretold in ancient beaver lore. Or perhaps he stole it and now an army of angry beaver warriors has sworn a blood feud against him and his descendants that only the One–born of beaver and woman–will be able to settle.
More likely it was purchased from an industrial distillery in Indiana, which is the unofficial home of American whiskey.
This particular rye is a blend of a 6 yo rye with a mash bill that was 95% rye and 5% barley, and a 16 yo with a mash bill that was 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% barley. (Okay, so I looked that up, what can I say, I am a complicated man). I am not sure where that falls in the spectrum of composition of contemporary ryes. Anyway, let’s get to it:
High West Rendezvous Rye (46%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Well, this smells like rye (“Thanks for the insight!”, ed.); lots of mint as well and some pine resin, and just a hint of dill. Beneath that there is some toffee sweetness and some caramel. Quite mellow. After a while I get some clove oil and something rooty (reminiscent of some Indian herbal toothpastes). Hmmm, water intensifies and integrates the nose interestingly (try saying that three times fast). The pine comes to the fore after a bit.
Palate: Quite mellow on the palate as well. Bright and sharp (though not overbearing) notes of mint and pine, and some cinnamon “heat”. The darker sweet notes from the nose don’t appear at first. They don’t appear at second or third either, and, on the whole, there isn’t a terrible lot of development. Very little bite from the wood. The mouthfeel is a little thin. Water might be a bad idea but in the interest of science: on the palate water brings the mint and cinnamon to the fore.
Finish: Medium. Mostly minty and a little spicy. Water lengthens the finish but doesn’t draw out anything new.
Comments: This is very pleasant and approachable; better without water, in my opinion. Despite the very high rye content in both the mashbills this does not hit you over the top of the head with its ryeness. If this were Scotch I would feel comfortable asserting that the mellow quality comes from the older whiskey in the blend, but if there were a lot of it in there surely there’d be more wood influence? Or is rye not required to be aged in freshly charred oak the way bourbon is? Or is it the influence of the barley in the mashbill? I don’t know that I’d get a bottle for sipping–I’d probably be most likely to use it in a Manhattan.
Thanks to jsaliga for the sample!
Rating: 84 points.