Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof

1776_RYE_BARREL_PROOFIt’s been three years since we’ve heard of anything new from the James E. Pepper 1776 line of bourbons and ryes, but now the Georgetown Trading Company is back with a new addition to its rye, a cask strength expression.

The 15 year old expressions of 1776 are also bottled at cask strength, but this one, formally known as James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof, is a barrel proof expression of the standard rye, which is currently made from a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley and bottled with no age statement. It is distilled for 1776 in collaboration with the Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana (via Pepper’s production agreement and own supplied cooperage, the company says).

This is a racy, spicy whiskey. The nose offers cayenne and cracked black pepper, burnt (burnt black) sugar, licorice, tobacco, and barrel char. The body is full of youth, which is both a good and a bad thing. Chewy and bready on the body, it’s full of that red pepper heat and pungent green herbs. Some rubberiness here and there, along with a bitter and drying character on the finish. That said, the rye benefits from water as expected, although this brings out more lumberyard overtones along with, at last, some sweetness.

If you like your rye bold and fresh, Pepper 1776 at barrel strength will likely serve you well. For me, its youth is a hindrance, unable to give it the austerity it needs to stand up to all that alcohol.

117.2 proof.

B- / $38  / jamesepepper.com

Review: Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey

hochstadtersCooper’s Spirits’ Hochstadter’s brand has been gaining notoriety for its Slow & Low “rock and rye” product, but the company makes more whiskey than just this. Witness Hochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye (also known as Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye and Hochstadter’s Straight Rye), a beautiful blend of five straight ryes sourced from various stills in the U.S. and Canada (aged 4 to 15 years old), and vatted together then bottled unfiltered in Philadelphia.

Light and fragrant, this is one of the prettier ryes you’ll find on the market. The nose offers notes of pink flowers, caramel, and rye-heavy cloves, some chocolate, and just a touch of barrel char.

On the palate, the whiskey adds apple fruit to that caramel, sweet and tart, with just a bit of heat on the back end. Baking spices endure on a lengthy but soothing finish — the whiskey never comes across as overpowering or overblown. Rather, gentle florals continue to waft into your nostrils as the denouement reaches its conclusion, an appropriately gossamer conclusion to one of the best little ryes I’ve seen in a long time.

100 proof.

A- / $35 / hochstadtersvattedrye.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey 15 Years Old 2016

whistlepig 15At this point, it seems like WhistlePig is just going to age its rye forever, releasing a new whiskey each year until the earth burns up and all the whiskey evaporates.

I’m OK with that, as long as the results keep turning out as well as WhistlePig’s generally do.

With this 15 year old spirit, WhistlePig takes its foot a bit off the gas of exotic finishes, ultra-high proof releases, and weird meritage bottlings. This beast (remember this starts out as a 100% rye that was produced in Canada), now 15 years old by the time it hits the bottle, is also finished in a second barrel, but this cask is merely a second new oak barrel made from heavily charred Vermont White Oak harvested on the WhistlePig farm. The finishing time in the Vermont White Oak barrel is just 6 months. Also note that it is considerably lower in alcohol than past offerings: 92 proof vs. 100 proof for the original 10 year old.

The nose presents a quite heavy wood influence, as is to be expected from a second spin in a new oak barrel after 10 years of initial aging. Some black pepper, licorice, and coal dust give it both brashness and austerity. It’s surprisingly reserved in comparison to many other lighter, spicier ryes.

On the palate, WhistlePig 15 presents quite a different face. Sweeter than the nose would indicate, the rye offers a punchy, spice-infused caramel note, slowly moving into notes of dark brown sugar. As the initial rush of sweetness fades, the whiskey offers notes of baking spices, flamed orange peel, and a leathery character that shifts to one of rubber as the finish starts to dissipate. Some bright citrus notes appear here as well.

This isn’t my favorite WhistlePig release, but I like what the company is doing to push the boundaries of rye and show what increasingly well-aged stocks can do. Rye fans should at least give it a whirl.

92 proof.

B+ / $200 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

JD Single Barrel Rye BottleIt’s no secret that Jack Daniel’s has been working on its rye for the better half of the decade. The company has been putting out works in progress since the beginning. “Unaged Rye” came in 2012; a brash “Rested Rye” hit in 2014. Now, in 2016, the finished product is finally here.

My math pegs this about 3 1/2 years old. The mash hasn’t changed — 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley — and the rye undergoes the same charcoal filtration as all expressions of JD (and other Tennessee-based whiskies). It is worth noting that this final release has a significantly higher abv than either of the preview bottlings — and it is, curiously, a single barrel product.

On the nose, the new rye offers nutty, roasted grains at first, backed up with sweet caramel, some chocolate, menthol, and a little red pepper. Over time, a bit of that characteristic JD charcoal emerges. The big baking spice aromas of a typical rye aren’t immediately evident, but the nose isn’t atypical, at least, of a younger, rye-heavy bourbon.

The palate paints a somewhat different picture, offering a nutty character at first, fading into more grain with a fairly heavy toast. Dark caramel, licorice, some barrel char — elements of a fairly young but relatively indistinct whiskey — are all strong on the somewhat racy body. But the whiskey, at this age, remains a bit shapeless, offering a variety of muddled, barrel-driven flavor components but little to distinguish it from a young bourbon or blended whiskey.

That said, I found the spirit enjoyable and worth a look, though it adds little to the growing universe of rye. It’s clearly a young product — and probably still quite a bit ahead of its time — that will fare best as a mixer in a more intense cocktail.

Fans of Old No. 7 will wonder what the fuss is about.

94 proof.

B / $50 / jackdaniels.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Coppersea New York Corn Whisky, Green Malt Rye, and Excelsior Bourbon

coppersea

Coppersea, based in upstate New York, has been on a real tear lately with a flood of new (and very young) whiskey releases, running the gamut of American styles. Today we’re looking at three of them.

Thoughts follow.

Coppersea New York Corn Whisky – 80% corn, 20% malted barley, aged at least six months in a variety of second-fill bourbon, brandy, rye, and wine barrels. Powerful with grain and popcorn notes, with overtones of coal fire and sawdust. Green and weedy on the finish, with intense maltiness. Meant to be a throwback to ye olde days, but it has very little charm. 96 proof. C- / $70

Coppersea New York Green Malt Rye – 100% Hudson Valley rye malt (malted on Coppersea’s own malt floor), aged 7 months in new oak barrels. The nose is loaded with exotic incense, anise, and Asian spices, some menthol, and a slight rubber character. On the palate things settle down fairly nicely into a quite spicy groove. The base grain doesn’t stray far from the tongue, but it’s tempered by notes of cloves and rose petals. On the finish another flick of anise finds a companion in more toasty grain notes. 90 proof. B / $94 (375ml)

Coppersea New York Excelsior Bourbon – 55% corn, 35% rye, 10% malted barley, aged under one year in new American white oak barrels. Very grainy (though not terribly corny) on the nose, the whiskey offers lengthy barrel char aromas as well. On the palate, there’s surprisingly little going on, including some emerging sweetness that comes across on a slightly chalky texture with hints of graham crackers and sugar cookies. Again there’s the wood influence and youthful grains on the finish, with some gentle sweetness to temper the experience. 96 proof. B- / $110

Update 4/22/2016: Several errors regarding Coppersea’s production methods have been corrected in this post.

coppersea.com

Review: Russell’s Reserve Bourbon 10 Years Old and Rye 6 Years Old (2016)

NewRRpackage

Wild Turkey has been on a rebranding tear of late, updating its labels and corporate design in a push of gentle modernization of its image.

We took the opportunity to crack open two new bottles of its Russell’s Reserve line — the 10 year old bourbon and the 6 year old rye, both staples of the world of mid-level premium whiskey. Both have undergone their second rebranding since launching in 2007-08.

So, without further ado, let’s tuck into a fresh look at these widely available bottlings.

Both are (still) 90 proof. Pricing is current.

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon 10 Years Old2008 review; 2010 review. Classic ‘Turkey. The astringency hits you first on the nose. It needs to aerate and blow off a bit before settling into its groove, where those classic, big citrus notes come to the fore, alongside a touch of roasted nut character. The palate loads up with vanilla and caramel, more of those nuts, and a malted milk character that becomes evident, almost chewy, on the back end. A scant touch of hospital character grips on tight at the finish, but as with the somewhat funky nose, it eases up over time. Current rating: B+ / $30

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye 6 Years Old2007 review; 2010 review. Fresh rubber and banana are immediate on the nose, with cotton candy notes. The nose would indicate that it’s an ultra-fruity rye, but the body takes things in another direction. Namely: Classic rye spices, with cinnamon and clove notes, black pepper, more banana, and marzipan. A bit of gumminess on the finish makes the farewell feel a bit clammy as it fades away, though. All told, I prefer it slightly to the bourbon. Current rating: B+ / $38  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

wildturkeybourbon.com

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye – 7, 8, and 10 Years Old

redemption 8 years oldIn our recent coverage of Redemption, I mentioned some rare, older, cask strength whiskeys that the company was releasing. We unexpectedly received samples of all three — all of which are 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley, aged 7, 8, or 10 years in oak — and all “honey barrel” picks of the best of the best. It’s all MGP stock, but it’s very rare to find the company’s whiskeys at this age on the market any more, much less at cask strength.

Let’s take a dive into all three.

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 7 Years Old – Fruit and herbs both dominate the nose, with a juicy apple character tempered by ample baking spice. This continues straight through to the palate, which is warming and quite full of those apple pie notes, plus notes of brown sugar and scorched butter. Water helps, but those apples won’t be ignored. Tempered a bit, the spirit evolves clearer notes of cinnamon along with some savory herbs, with a touch of apple butter-meets-butterscotch on the finish. 122.6 proof. B / $80

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old – It’s just one year older, but what a different profile it cuts. A clearer and stronger wood influence leads the way toward some bold caramel and vanilla notes, both on the nose and on the palate. That savory herbal character appears again on the back end, particularly toward the finish. Water really brings out the best in this whiskey, both its sultry, cinnamon-stick dessert tones and its gossamer-thin savory elements. The complex interplay between the two on that lingering finish really makes the experience wonderfully worthwhile. Definitively, this is the expression to seek out. 121.5 proof. A / $90  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old – This batch was made from only six barrels of whiskey. Again things take a curious turn, as at the age of 10 this whiskey heads to new territory. Reminiscent of older bourbons, this rye pushes both its substantial barrel influence and some notes of menthol and tobacco, characters uncommon in rye whiskeys. Though considerably lower in proof, it comes across just as racily, and water is once again a huge help in coaxing out more flavor. A quite savory whiskey at heart, it presents a huge, mouth-filling body that offers notes of licorice, tree bark, and cloves. The finish isn’t as long or as satisfying as the 8 year old — here it comes across more as a study of age — but it offers some compelling notes in its own right. 110.1 proof. B+ / $130

redemptionrye.com