Earlier in the month I had a review of a craft whiskey from a distillery in Montana that I had not heard of till a friend gave me the sample. Here now is a review of another whisky I had not heard of till a friend gave me a sample. It is from a place even more inscrutable and mysterious than Montana: Canada. And in no sphere is Canadian inscrutability better embodied than in its whisky industry. No one knows which distillery anything is distilled at. In fact, it’s not clear if there’s more than one distillery or if Alberta Distillers just slaps different labels on its bottles on different days of the week. Adding to the confusion is the fact that producers are allowed to flavour their whiskies with anything they like. I’m told most use maple syrup. Which means this mystery Canadian whisky is even more unusual still for it is made by adding amontillado sherry to the original rye. Now you might say that adding sherry to whisky is effectively what most Scottish distilleries do too, with their sherry finishes and whiskies “matured” in casks pressure treated with cooking sherry. But trust wild, impetuous, madcap Canada to flaunt their lawlessness in all our faces and just go ahead and pour sherry right into their rye. What a bunch of outlaws! Continue reading
Here is my first and quite possibly last review of a whisky from a Dutch distillery. It was distilled at the small Zuidam distillery. The distillery started up in the mid-1970s. A family-run concern it operates on a very small scale, making gin, genever, rum and whisky in a pot-still. Whisky has been produced at the distillery since the mid-1990s. They currently put out a handful of single malt releases from 5-14 years of age from a number of different cask types, and a 100% rye whisky. The rye is said to be at least 8.5 years old but as per the source of this sample, Florin—stunt double for Lionel Richie in the “Dancing on the Ceiling” video—this particular release was an 11 yo, distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2015. It was matured entirely in new American oak casks, which continues to be the norm for the Millstone rye. Perhaps to stick with the “100” branding they also bottle this at 50% abv. I remember when this first came on the market in the middle of the decade. I was very tempted to buy a bottle but for one reason or the other never got around to it. Florin sent me the sample in 2016 and as is my wont I promptly forgot about it as well. But I recently dug it out and here, finally, are my notes. This is not an entirely irrelevant review, however: Millstone rye appears to now be available in the US. Continue reading
It has been eight months since my last review of an American whiskey (I think my review of Jack Daniel’s was the previous one). To be frank, I’ve not been drinking much American whiskey this year. Scotch whisky is very much my preference and I’ve also been trying to get control of my vast collection of single malt samples (with little success) and my open bottles of single malt whisky (with a lot more success). I do enjoy good bourbon and rye when I drink it though, even if I feel far less confident of my ability to tease out nuance in those categories than I do with single malts. All of that should give you a good sense of how seriously you should take this review of Wild Turkey’s 101 Proof rye. The source of this sample, Michael K., tells me it’s from a recent release. That’s worth knowing because the 101 proof straight rye had disappeared a few years ago, replaced by a 81 proof version, and I don’t think the previous incarnation’s mash bill was the same as that of this revived version—which is, I think, a “barely rye” with just 51% rye in the mash bill. Anyway, I’m at risk of sounding like I know what I’m talking about, and so I’m going to stop here and just get to the notes. Continue reading
I closed out last week with a review of a batch of Noah’s Mill, a sourced bourbon put out by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, who also own the Willett brand name, and who recently restarted the Willett Distillery. Here now is a rye released under the Willett Family Estate name. Though this name might make you think otherwise, this is also sourced, and the odds are that it was sourced from MGP (if someone knows something definitive about this one way or the other please chime in below). This is a single barrel release but I’m not sure if it was just a regular single barrel release or if it was picked by someone (for some store) in particular. Why can’t I just ask whoever I got the sample from? Well, because I got it among one of many bottle splits and can’t remember who the source was. Getting older is so much fun! Anyway, this is not going to have to be very good to be better than the last rye I reviewed. Continue reading
Coppersea are a new’ish New York craft distillery. In the world of American spirits very few phrases evoke the kind of terror that “craft distillery” does. Despite what their websites say, many craft distilleries seem to stand for unpleasant, undrinkable spirits you pay vastly inflated prices for while the well-meaning, young people with beards who run them figure out how to make whisky or whatever with some production twist that is meant to intrigue as well.
Do Coppersea have a production twist? Yes, they do; more than one actually: they make their whiskey from grain that is still germinating (thus green malt) and they don’t kiln it; and they apparently use some barrels made of New York oak (locally sourced!). They have the inflated price down too. The retail price for this rye is $95 for 375 ml. That almost makes up the upcoming Booker’s Rye seem like a bargain at $300—after all, at Beam they actually have been making whisky a long time and Booker’s Rye is probably going to be very good and aged longer than the .6 years this one was aged for. (Yes, you read that correctly: there’s a decimal point before the 6.) I guess they couldn’t wait another .4 years. Continue reading
The first release of High West’s Bourye was in 2010. As Sku tells us, this was not the first blend of bourbon and rye (hence the name—everybody at the company must have been very tired that day) but it was the first premium blend of bourbon and rye. It was very well received (I wasn’t drinking much American whiskey then myself). I’m not sure how many more releases there have been of it since. In his review of a 2016 batch Sku refers to “the return of Bourye”, but this sample is from a 2015 release. If anyone knows more about this please chime in below. And please chime in as well if you know what exactly the 2015 release is a blend of. [Update: see the comments.]
I’ve not had very many of High West’s releases and while I’ve liked all I’ve tried a fair bit, I’m yet to have one that I’ve truly been blown away by (i.e nothing has made it to 90 points in my system). But I do appreciate that, unlike so many new American distilleries they don’t just release re-labelled sourced whiskey with only a tedious story tacked on to it. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
I have previously reviewed Batch 2 of High West’s Rocky Mountain Rye, which was a 21 yo. (I’m assuming that the batch number here refers to the “Rocky Mountain Rye” part generally and doesn’t mean that there have been 14 previous releases of a 16 yo Rocky Mountain Rye—as always, my knowledge of American whiskey is profound.) That one was a “barely legal” rye with 53% rye in the mash bill. This one, a blend of two ryes, is at the other end of the continuum: as per the distillery’s website*, one of the components was from a 95% rye mash bill from LDI and the other was from a 80% mash bill from Barton. Of note is that the 95% mash bill did not contain any corn (I’m not sure if this is common with ryes). (It’s not clear what the proportions of the two components are in the blend.) Also of note, is how transparent High West are about where they’ve sourced their whiskies from. More American distilleries/brands should follow their lead. Continue reading
I had this rye on my list of potential reviews for November but was not super motivated to actually review it. But then last week everyone’s favourite whisky writer, good ol’ Jim Murray went and put it at #2 on his list of the best whiskies of 2015 and now I get to be very, very timely for once. As you know by now, the #1 whisky was a Canadian rye, a pick which even patriotic Canadians are having some difficulty getting behind. No, it’s not Whistlepig or even Lot 40, but some undistinguished rye from Crown Royal: Crown Royal Northern Harvest. Just in case you think that Comrade Murray is striking a blow for the common people (or for Canada even) please be advised that it’s his standard operating procedure to create as much controversy as he can. Still, the Crown Royal selection, as far as I can tell from what Canadians who’ve actually tasted the whisky are saying, seems analogous to picking Speyburn 10 or Jack Daniels as the top whisky of any year. Murray may well be taking the piss. Continue reading
This is another of High West’s high concept whiskeys. It is a blend of two rye whiskies, one a 6 yo 95% rye, and the other a 16 yo 80% rye, finished in port and French oak casks. In other words, it’s the Rendezvous Rye finished in port and French oak casks. As to whether it goes into the finishing casks in sequence or whether some fraction is finished in one and the rest in the other and then vatted together, I have no idea.
I tasted this in late December at the home of Fabulous Florin (head of small animal husbandry at the San Diego Wild Animal Park) and do know that I liked it a lot; more, I think, than I had the Rendezvous Rye itself. I’ve since found a store in the vicinity that has a bottle and so I’m interested to taste it again and see if that initial impression is confirmed.
The Willett distillery stopped production a few decades ago. What has been available under the Willett marque in recent years, in their eye-catching bottles, has been sourced whiskey (at least one of which I’ve really liked in the past). In 2012, however, they started distilling again and this 2 yo rye, released last year, was one of the most anticipated releases of recent years. And when it showed up it got fairly good reviews from people (such as Sku and the notorious Bourbon Truth) who are usually allergic to hype. Sku offered me some the last time we swapped samples and I couldn’t say no. After all, my experiences with other “craft” American whiskeys have been so positive, be they from Balcones, Koval, Corsair or Charbay….
My understanding is that this is a blend of two mash bills—one that’s 74% rye and one that’s 51% rye, with far more of the high rye mash bill in the blend.
The name of this whiskey confuses me. I assume it is a reference to some nightmarish fan fiction crossover between the worlds of The Dukes of Hazzard, Dune and the Spearmint Rhino “gentlemen’s” club.
I got this sample from Sku and his review notes that this is from the “Spice Dancer series”; as to whether all the releases of Whistlepig Boss Hog 12 were Spice Dancers, I don’t know. If so, I assume they settled upon it after rejecting “Price Chancer” for being too truthful: yes, if you thought the original WhistlePig (which I quite liked) was somewhat overpriced for a 10 yo rye (in the region of $70) then you were doubtless very excited when this was released north of $150. Doubtless it costs a lot more to truck cask strength spirit across the Canadian prairies to Vermont. As this is 100% rye, you see, it was almost certainly distilled by the Canadian Alberta Distillers (who, as far as I know, are the only source of private label 100% rye). My understanding is that going forward WhistlePig—who don’t distill a drop themselves—will be getting their rye from American sources; so the profile of their releases will doubtless change. The price strategy I’m sure will not.
After two weeks of bourbon reviews let’s do a week of ryes. First up, Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye (this is the 100 proof version). Rittenhouse is beloved of many, both for drinking straight and for mixing, and is usually a very good value. As per the estimable Chuck Cowdery, this is a “barely legal” rye, i.e with the rye content of the mash bill at the legal minimum of 51%. It is apparently made in the Pennsylvania rye tradition but I have no idea what that is. Feel free to tell me.
Rittenhouse Rye, Bottled in Bond (50%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Very mellow indeed: a bed of corn sweetness and above it the standard issue rye notes (pine, mint, dill, cold tea) float without getting too insistent. With more time there’s a bit of caramel and then some jammy fruit: plum? apricot? a bit of orange peel? Some dusty wood behind it all. Gets spicier as it sits (clove, cinnamon). With a few drops of water it gets mellow again, with a bit of citrus, a bit of pine, and a touch of cherry.
I don’t really know too much about Canadian whisky—like all things Canadian, it is an impenetrable, exotic mystery. My understanding is that most of it is distilled on a small farm in Vermont and shipped back to Canada where it’s mixed with neutral grain spirit, artificial rye flavouring and maple syrup and bottled at as high an abv as 43%. Someone should really write a book about Canadian whisky—there’s so much bad information around on it.
I do know that this Lot 40 release from 2012 has been highly lauded. It was named Canadian whisky of the year for 2013 by Whisky Advocate, narrowly beating out the two other Canadian whiskies your average American whisky drinker can name; and it’s even been spoken of warmly by people who don’t normally throw scores in the 90s around like so much confetti. I really don’t know too much about Canadian whisky and have tasted even less; part of me suspects that there’s a bit of hyperbole surrounding Canadian whisky these days, an attempt to make it the Next Big Thing by people hoping to raise their own profile by association—but I’ll be very pleased if this lives up to the hype.
This is a 100% rye from an unnamed Canadian source. This source is thought by many to be Alberta Distillers, who are also the source of the similarly 100% rye bottled as Whistlepig in Vermont. This is at a lower proof at 45%. I have now exhausted my knowledge on the subject, so let’s get straight to the review.
Jefferson’s 10 Year Rye (47%; Batch 11; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Quite sweet with pine and dill. Some toasted oak right below along with some cool mint. With another minute or so of air I’m getting some maple syrup and some caramel. The oak gets quite perfumed as it sits and the dill and pine intensify. Water brings out some nice cereally notes. Continue reading
Continuing with the theme of younger siblings of releases from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, here is the Sazerac Rye, a 6 yo*. It just barely clears the requirements for being labeled a rye whiskey, being distilled from only a 51% rye mashbill. Though it bears the Sazerac name I believe this is supposed to be the same whiskey as is sold as Thomas H. Handy in the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, only cut down to 45%. (If that’s not true please write in a correction below.) Unlike the Thomas H. Handy, however, it is both easy to find and very affordable (and easier to find and cheaper than the Stagg Jr. as well).
*As per Patrick’s comment below, there is apparently no confirmation that this is a 6 yo and I realize that Bryan’s label has the words “I think” after 6 yo. So this may not indeed be a 6 yo. Continue reading
Koval is a small distillery in Illinois who’ve released a number of whiskeys made from 100% mashbills of various kinds of grains (there’s also oat and millet) as well as a bourbon which has millet in place of the usual rye and barley complement, and a four grain whiskey from oat, wheat, rye and malted barley. They currently also have an aged 100% rye and a 100% white rye but this Dark Rye (I don’t know what “dark rye” is) doesn’t seem to be part of their current/continuing lineup. So, clearly they’re doing interesting stuff—but is it any good?
It’s not just the Dark Rye that’s gone, by the way. Their current releases don’t sport the “Lion’s Pride” moniker either. I believe the early releases were all dubbed Lion’s Pride for the owners’ son who is apparently named Lion.
Lion’s Pride Dark Rye (40%; Barrel 198; from a sample received in a swap) Continue reading
Following yesterday’s review of their 21 yo, here is another rye from High West, this time their Double Rye. With an age statement this would be a 2 yo: it is a blend of a 2 yo from a 95% rye, 5% barley mashbill and a 16 yo with a “barely legal” 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley mashbill. Not sure of the proportions but this is a similar concept in many ways to their Rendezvous Rye but with a younger whisky at one end (6 yo in the case of the Rendezvous) and a lower rye mashbill at the other end (the 16 yo used in the Rendezvous was 80% rye).
Well, let’s see what this is like.
High West Double Rye (46%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: An interesting nose, with obvious rye notes (dill) but also richer, warmer notes of orange, leather and even a bit of ginger in place of the usual cinnamon/clove complex. At least at first. With a bit of airing there’s a fair bit of pine/eucalyptus and a sweetness somewhere between sappy, rooty and herbal. But the aromas are still pretty “warm” rather than the usual rye “cool”. A couple of drops of water bring out more (powdered) ginger. Continue reading
I’ve made fun of High West a little bit before in my review of their Rendezvous Rye, but I did enjoy it and also my batch of their Campfire (a blend of bourbon, rye and peated Scotch). And I must also admit that my teasing was somewhat unfair as High West is quite upfront about the fact that the whiskies they are releasing while their own matured spirit comes online do in fact originate at other distilleries. That is to say, High West do not really represent the honesty gap on display in so many parts of the American whiskey industry. And so I’m not going to make fun of them in this review of Batch 2 of their Rocky Mountain Rye (Batch 1 was a 16 yo).
As per High West’s website the mashbill for this whiskey was 53% rye, 37% corn and 10% malted barley. Which makes it “barely legal” rye (the minimum requirement to be labeled rye is 51%). However, it is unusual in that it was matured in used barrels. Continue reading