Review: Coppersea New York Raw Rye

Coppersea Bottle Shot (photo by John McJunkin)Coppersea Distilling is a new upstate New York-based craft distiller that’s doing things the old-fashioned way. Based on a farm in the Hudson Valley, the grains are grown locally, floor malted and milled on the premises, distilled, then blended with on-site well water.

With this product, the end result is an unaged rye (75% unmalted rye, 25% malted barley) — a rustic yet surprisingly refined spirit, which master distiller Angus MacDonald describes thusly: “The Raw Rye is what you would have gotten if, around 1825 to 1880, you walked into a bar in upstate New York, and said: whisky.” Just imagine: Frontier drinking right in the backyard of bustling Manhattan!

Cereal notes attack the nostrils from the start, but it’s touched with just a hint of honeycomb and golden syrup. The body builds on that, adding layers of complexity that I hadn’t thought I’d find. Notes of flinty stonework, mustard seed, tahini, and some burnt caramel character follow. That’s a lot to swallow, but Coppersea turns a melange of flavors into a fairly cohesive whole — at least for a white whiskey. You won’t escape that brash youthfulness here, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.

90 proof. Best with some water.

B+ / $70 / coppersea.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014 Edition

buffalo trace 2014 BTAC

 

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection needs no introduction, I’m sure — this is one of the most well-respected and sought-after annual whiskey collections on the market. Closely allocated and tough to find, you’re best off starting your hunt now. These releases formally hit the market in late September/early October.

Thoughts on the 2014 lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – It’s an open secret that Sazerac 18 has been sitting around in a stainless steel vat for years and doesn’t really change (effects of oxidation notwithstanding), making this less of a special release and more of a limited allocation of a very special spirit. Sazzy 18 rarely fails to disappoint. This year is no exception, with the whiskey showing a woody — yet fresh — nose, cherries jubilee up front on the body, and a finish that takes you to places of marzipan, apple pie, and streudel. Watch for apple cider notes to come along after you think the finish has faded away. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – This edition of Eagle Rare 17 is a vatting of whiskeys from the second, third, and sixth floors of Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse I and K. Aged “nearly two decades,” according to the company — so as with last year, it may be a bit older than 17 years. This one’s a smooth operator, not quite the burly old guard that it can sometimes present as. Instead, it’s all silky caramels, bittersweet chocolate, Bing cherry, and graham crackers. Some spicier notes of cloves and allspice develop in the finish. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – The one you’ve been waiting for. The bruiser of the bunch. The hottest bourbon that isn’t named Pappy. It’s telling that the Stagg is set apart from the rest of the batch in the photo above, I think. This is a monster of a whiskey. Just look at the depth of color compared to the other whiskeys in that lineup — and remember, there are some 18+ year old whiskeys in there! As always, this is the kind of whiskey that, as grandma used to say, would put herr on yer chest, and at 138.1 proof it’s nearly a return to the heady days of 2012 and prior, when the whiskey regularly hit 70% alcohol. Fear not the water on this one — a selection of barrels from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q distilled in 1998 (making it 16 years old). You can douse it 1:1, water to whiskey, and still get plenty of its character. And that would include tobacco, (very) dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee bean, slate, and pencil lead. A smattering of spices arrive in time for the finish — cinnamon and cloves, the usual stuff — which help to season what is, as always, a dark, mammoth, brooding whiskey. This year, Buffalo Trace has just about nailed it. Stagg is always a tough nut to crack — and my palate tends to prefer more nuanced spirits — but the sheer depth of its flavor has me finding myself drawn more to this release than it has in recent years. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – A massive blazer, this is the hottest release of Weller in history. This is a 12 year old bourbon from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th floors of warehouses D, K, and L — basically a mutt from all over the place. An initial rush of smoke starts things off with thoughts of log cabins and a touch of mothball. The palate settles down after adding significant amounts of water, ultimately revealing some plum, chocolate, and coconut — but in the end the wood and smoky qualities take hold, pushing everything else out of mind. 140.2 proof. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Last year Jim Murray named the 2013 Handy Rye his #1 whiskey in the world. This created a massive run on Handy, despite the fact that no sane person would ever name this cask strength rye — typically 6 years old, as it is again this year — the best whiskey in the world. 2014’s Handy was aged on the fifth floor of warehouse M and arrives at a fairly typical strength for this spirit. This year’s expression exudes classic rye notes — lots of roasted grain character, chewy scorched cereal notes, some caramel, some baking spice, and a lengthy, campfire finish. Over time, some curious notes come forth — I can describe them only as fresh upholstery. Ample water is a must. I like it fine, but it frankly doesn’t hold a candle to the Sazerac 18 — which will probably be a hell of a lot easier to find thanks to Mr. Murray. 129.2 proof. B+

$80 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Tap Rye Port Finished Canadian Rye Whisky

Tap-rye-White

Astute readers might recall Tap 357 Maple Rye Whisky — made with maple syrup, natch — which we reviewed a few years ago. Now Tap is back, ditching the 357 for its second product, a Canadian rye that’s been intriguingly finished in Port wine barrels.

Limited production information is available. This is a blend of pot-distilled Canadian ryes aged up to 8 years in barrel. A limited edition, the company says it will not be produced again after this production run is sold out. No mashbill information is available, but the whisky is finished in Port barrels and then gets a touch of actual Port wine added to the final product before cold filtration.

All of that aside, I can readily report that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree here — or rather, the sap doesn’t drip far from it. The nose is immediately full of maple syrup and cinnamon-raisin oatmeal. I would have guessed it was a flavored whiskey if I didn’t know better. Exotic nose aside, the body is gentle and indistinct, much like Tap 357, offering a fairly simple blended whisky experience that features mild grains, gentle wood notes, and light touches of brown sugar and burnt caramel. Port? Maybe you catch a touch of raisins on the nose, but otherwise the dessert wine’s distinctive character, so amazing when done right as a whiskey finish, is all but absent in the finished product here.

84 proof.

B / $40 / tapwhisky.com

Review: Willett Family Estate Straight Rye Whiskey 2 Years Old

willettrye

 

With Willett’s renaissance running high, people have been waiting with anticipation for the first 100% rye offering from master distiller Drew Kulsveen’s new operations at the distillery.  Thankfully, patience has paid off and the whiskey was worth the wait. This small batch rye is like a rookie baseball player stepping up to the plate and hitting a walk-off home run at his first major league at-bat. Don’t be deceived by the label’s youthful age statement: this bottle presents a maturity that belies a rye aged only two years. It’s immediately evident in the nose; where there’s a wild complexity of citrus and spice that proceeds to a dose of floral notes. Tasting is another matter altogether: there’s an immediate hot punch usually reserved for rye spirits 4 to 6 years older, with wood and cinnamon giving way to a finish generous with fruit and mint that lingers for a pleasantly long time.

This is just the opening volley for something potentially incredible happening down the road in Bardstown (an expression with a Grand Marnier finish is on tap for later this fall), and as a bonus we get to reap the benefits of time. As the stock gets older, it will be interesting to mark the contrast between younger and older siblings of the same stock. If this two-year rye is indicative of things to come in the future, get ready for the media myth-making maelstrom to catapult the Willett brand into the stratosphere.

109 Proof.

A- / $40 / kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Journeyman Distillery Craft Whiskeys: Silver Cross, Ravenswood Rye, Featherbone Bourbon

With over a dozen spirits on offer, Three Oaks, Michigan-based Journeyman Distillery has a specific focus on craft whiskeys, bottling six expressions of the stuff in its permanent lineup. Here we review three — all young and punchy, and all worth sampling at least once.

Thoughts follow.

Silver_sqJourneyman Distillery Silver Cross Whiskey – Made from a mash of equal parts rye, wheat, corn, and barley. No age statement. The nose is youthful and grain-focused, with citrus notes and some sea salt character along with touches of menthol. The body, as you might expect, has a ton going on. Alongside some surprisingly supple grains, I get notes of chocolate caramels, butterscotch, and Bit-O-Honey. It’s a rustic liquid dessert all the way — unusual for a young craft whiskey. A drop or two of water goes a long way toward smoothing out its rough edges and coaxing the sweetness forward. 1% of proceeds from the sale of this product go to a local golf-oriented charity. 90 proof. A- / $50

Journeyman Distillery Ravenswood Rye – An organic blend of Minnesota rye and Michigan wheat, aged in 15 gallon barrels. No age statement. Notes of licorice and phenol on the nose, settling into an intense herbal character. The body is racy and on par with craft expectations: Very young, punchy, and heavy on granary notes. Give it some time, though. As with Silver Cross, notes of chocolate and caramel emerge, along with touches of orange peel, quinine, and a touch of Bing cherries. Less enticing than the Silver Cross (though, againFeatherbone_750, water is of benefit here), but a solid effort. Reviewed: Batch #29, bottle #50. 90 proof. B / $50

Journeyman Distillery Featherbone Bourbon – Named for the Featherbone Factory, a Prohibition-era factory that made buggy whips and corsets and in which Journeyman is now based. Made of midwest organic corn, Michigan wheat, a little rye, and malted barley. Noage information offered. Credible craft bourbon here. It’s frontier style stuff, with a grainy, rustic attack, but the body settles down to reveal lots of vanilla, milk chocolate, and a touch of hazelnut. As with the Silver Cross, Featherbone eschews fruit in favor of dessert, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 90 proof. B+ / $45  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

journeymandistillery.com

Review: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond

Rittenhouse_100

One of the classic examples of this spirit, Rittenhouse is a 4-plus-year-old, 100 proof bottled-in-bond rye. The winner of all sorts of accolades and awards, the Heaven Hill-produced Rittenhouse Rye Whisky (the company’s spelling) recently updated its packaging with a “1930s inspired” label. (Fun fact: the brand was known as Rittenhouse Square Rye at the time.)

But inside the bottle, nothing seems to have changed. But here are some fresh thoughts on Rittenhouse based on a fresh tasting.

The nose is racy — iconically “rye” — filled with baking spices but also crushed red pepper notes that hint at heat. The palate is initially a bit hot — a drop of water or a few minutes are all it takes to let the vapors dissipate — but it quickly settles down to reveal layers of fun stuff. Gingerbread, orange peel, creme brulee, dark chocolate, light wood oils… all of these elements combine to create a really lush, pretty whole with just the right amount of wood. With a near-perfect flavor profile and just the right mix of bite and sweetness on the finish, Rittenhouse continues to hit it out of the park, and at these prices, it’s no wonder that many stores limit how many bottles you can buy.

100 proof.

A / $26 / bardstownwhiskeysociety.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel-Rested Ginever

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Wigle (aka Pittsburgh Distilling Company) is an up-and-coming craft distiller that makes loads of products including, in a page taken from the Tuthilltown/Hudson Distillery playbook, a wide range of different whiskeys — seven of them at current count.

Today we look at two of the company’s products, a rye and an aged “ginever,” both curiosities that you’ll only find from a true craft operation.

Thoughts follow.

Organic-Rye-Deep-Cut-375_5Wigle Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut – Called “Deep Cut,” per the company, because of the “bold cuts taken on this Whiskey to create our most assertively Rye-forward, spiciest Whiskey.” I presume that means they leave more heads and tails in the still with this than the do with other products. Whatever the case, the description is apt. A small-batch product, it’s made from local, organic grains. Aging time varies from bottle to bottle, but is set at about a year in 10- to 15-gallon casks.

Deep orange in color, it looks like an intense Bourbon. At full cask strength — nearly 60% abv — it’s a fireball in the glass. The nose is intense with roasted grains, wood smoke, and tar. Sipping it at full proof doesn’t reveal a lot — I don’t often balk at cask strength whiskey, but this one’s just too much to parse without water. Adding a healthy slug of H2O is a huge help, revealing a gentler smokiness that’s balanced by deep cereal notes, lush allspice and cinnamon. There’s a brutish core to this whiskey that is somehow balanced by its celebration of the underlying grain. It is fire and earth, both at once. Though when push comes to shove, fire is winning. 117.5 proof. Reviewed: Batch DCK#3, aged 14 months. B+ / $61

Aged-Ginever-750Wigle Organic Barrel-Rested Ginever – This aged gin (nothing really to do with genever) is made from a pot-distilled mash of local and organic wheat, rye, and malted barley (don’t call it ginwhiskey!), the white spirit is infused with a collection of botanicals, including juniper berries, cardamom, cubeb, and lavender (among other undisclosed agents). The resulting spirit is aged for an unstated length of time. Racy nose, offering a complex collection of aromas in the world of dried herbs, licorice, modest juniper, dried apricots, and raw wood notes. It’s muddy, but vaguely enticing, too.

The body is equally weird. It starts out almost bitter, with a quinine and licorice/root beer character to it. Sweetness emerges quickly to wash this away, and here the vanilla notes driven by the barrel aging start to take hold. The finish is both fruity and floral, offering a fresh apricot note flicked with honeysuckle, brown sugar crystals, and cardamom spice. Some cinnamon and nutmeg come across on the finish.

Weirdly lovable, it’s like a gin and whiskey mix, maybe with a dash of amaro in it. Endless cocktail possibilities. 94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. A- / $50

wiglewhiskey.com

Review: New England Distilling Gunpowder Rye

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Based in Portland, Maine, craft distillery New England Distilling is likely the easternmost distilling operation in the United States (correct me if I’m wrong). It’s a producer of several spirits, including this increasingly popular and available rye.

We’ve got more NED reviews in the works, but meanwhile take a gander at Gunpowder, reportedly “inspired by” a 150 year old “Maryland style” family recipe. Made only from local grains — just rye and 2-row barley (70% rye, 30% barley), no corn — and spending less than two years in American oak barrels, it’s a young craft rye like few others we’ve encountered.

Aptly named, Gunpowder Rye is very pungent on the nose. Loaded with notes of menthol, fresh cut grains, black and red pepper, and — dare I say — the racy essence of gunpowder, this isn’t a shy spirit. The body is brash and loaded with power. “Smooth” is a word that no one will use to describe this rye, its raw and biting character worn right on its sleeve. Gut-punching pepper, roasted grains, and flamed orange peel come across before a fiery finish grips your throat and doesn’t let go. Mercifully, at the very end, a wash of brown sugar sweetness comes across, letting you off the hook a little.

Rye often gets stereotyped as a “spicy” whiskey when in reality many ryes can be quite fruity and easygoing. This is one whiskey that lives up to the stereotype completely.

87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4.

B+ / $39 / newenglanddistilling.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled Boulevardier

We’re finally getting around to reviewing High West’s latest products, a new rye and a second barrel-aged-and-bottled cocktail. These have both been around for a few months, so please forgive our tardiness!

High West Distillery and SaloonHigh West A Midwinter Nights Dram – Never mind the typo (it should be “Night’s,” no?) and never mind that I’m reviewing a clearly holiday-themed spirit in mid-June. Wow, this rye whiskey finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels is cherries cherries cherries from start to finish. The nose features macerated cherry fruit, steeped in vanilla and a touch of dusty wood. On the tongue, a powerful brandied cherry character emerges, with notes of ginger, vanilla cream, rhubarb, and fruitcake. OK, maybe I’m imagining the fruitcake, but the festive name of this spirit couldn’t be more appropriate. Initially a bit off-putting with its incredible fruitiness, the whiskey eventually settles down into something that’s quite enjoyable and wholly unique. Reviewed: “Act 1, Scene 1313″ of this “limited engagement.” 98.6 proof. A- / $80

High West Distillery and SaloonHigh West The Barreled Boulevardier – A Boulevardier cocktail is composed of 1/3 bourbon, 1/3 sweet vermouth, and 1/3 Campari. Here, High West uses Vya vermouth and Gran Classico in lieu of Campari, then ages the combination in ex Bourbon barrels. Here, some ice helps to bring this to proper cocktail temperatures and to add a little meltwater to the mix. The result is an interesting mix of cocoa powder, red cherries, honey syrup, and a bitter, spicy kick on the finish. It’s a strong drink, one which benefits from slow sips and lots of reflection, as the bitter aftertaste it leads can be hard to shake. For a segment of the populace in love with the Negroni, this will probably have them endlessly abuzz. 72 proof. B / $55

highwest.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Rested Rye

Jack Daniel's Rested Rye - bottle shot

Hey, remember a couple of years ago when Jack Daniel’s decided it was going to make a rye whiskey? Give Jack credit: Rather than simply buy someone else’s rye and put their label on it, Jack decided to make its rye itself, legit.

The catch: Making whiskey takes time, so in 2012, when the rye trend was hitting its stride, all JD had was unaged whiskey on its hands, which it sold. For $50 a bottle.

Fast forward to today, roughly a year and a half later, and Jack… still doesn’t have a finished product. What it does have is a very young rye whiskey, which they’re calling “Rested Rye.” (This is the same mashbill of 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% malted barley.)

That’s probably a good enough descriptor of a noble whiskey that, like the Unaged Rye, no one is going to buy. Here’s why.

The nose offers wet, over-ripe, nearly rotten banana, plus some coconut husk notes. There’s an undercurrent of cereal notes, but little wood as of yet. The body is quite sweet — those bananas don’t pull any punches — with a lengthy finish that wanders into orange juice, clover honey, and cream of wheat territory. Unsatisfying and flabby, I get little spice, no pepper, nothing really approaching classic rye characteristics at all, or the promise of them to come. Believe it or not, I’d much rather drink the white dog than this whiskey as it stands today.

Of course all of that really means very little. This is a work in progress, and as any amateur taster of white dogs can tell you, the white spirit rarely has much resemblance to the finished product, and this “rested” version probably won’t have much in common with the final release either. We’ll see, I suppose, either way, come 2018 or so.

80 proof. Available in limited quantities.

C / $50 / jackdaniels.com