Review: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

old overholtOld Overholt’s been making rye since well before rye was cool. Part of the Beam Suntory empire, the brand claims heritage back to 1810 and was reputedly the whiskey of choice of Doc Holliday himself.

Old Overholt is commonly used as a mixer — and is a frequent denizen of the Sazerac cocktail — but let’s take a look at how well it stands on its own two feet. While there is no official production information available (including the mashbill), some say Overholt’s trimmed its barrel time down to 4 years while simultaneously raising prices.

True or not, as of 2015 Old Overholt drinks a lot like a young, rye-heavy, mainstream bourbon. On the nose, menthol notes and some hints of leather and cloves. The body is lightly sweet, heavy on notes of cinnamon and clove, bitter roots, and some simple, sawdusty wood character. Sampled neat, Old Overholt drinks as a simple spirit, light on the tongue, a bit bitter, and with a touch of red pepper on the finish. Pleasant and cordial enough, but best as a mixer, where, true to form, it proves quite versatile.

80 proof.

B / $17 / beamsuntory.com

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3 Responses

  1. Frederic April 6, 2015 / 8:53 am

    Also trimmed their proof. Some people have Old Overholts through the ages and the proof drops from 100 down to 80 over the years and the flavor changes around the time that Beam bought the brand. There is a chance that they bought the name but not the recipe (which is common such as Old Medford Rum).

  2. John R April 11, 2015 / 3:55 pm

    on the age question raised in your post, my bottle of OO has a three year age statement not so conspicuously present on the back of the neck label. so it looks like they have reduced the age even further than you speculated.

  3. Sam Komlenic April 14, 2015 / 4:05 pm

    Old Overholt was the last Monongahela rye distillery in existence, and distilling ceased about 1951. It was rye and barley malt only back then (no corn), distilled as a sweet mash whiskey, in a three-chamber still, and was aged in warehouses that were heated to maintain at least 70 degrees year round for at least 4 years and bottled at 100 proof.

    It is now distilled in a column still after fermenting as a sour mash whiskey with a substantial proportion of corn in the mash, and is stored in unheated warehouses for 3 years and bottled at 80 proof.

    There can be virtually no similarity between the product now and then. Its transformation has been gradual but relentless, eventually making it a modern interpretation of Kentucky rye having little in common with its Pennsylvania ancestor.

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