Category Archives: Rye

Notes from Domaine Select Wine Estates Pop-Up Tour, October 2012

whistepig 111 300x224 Notes from Domaine Select Wine Estates Pop Up Tour, October 2012Our friends at Domaine Select Wine Estates (which handles a lot more than wine) are on the road, “popping up” in a half-dozen cities to let their producers show off their wares. I recently dropped in on the San Francisco installment to experience a few wines that were new to me (1982 Borgogno Barolo, yes please) and some spirits, including a line of Armagnacs from Castarede that are slowly making their way to the States, and WhistlePig’s new limited edition “111″ Rye Whiskey. Notes follow!

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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012


Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding


HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Review: George Dickel Rye Whiskey

DG RyeWhisky 250x300 Review: George Dickel Rye WhiskeyEveryone is getting in on the rye game, and the latest to join the party is George Dickel, which has crafted this whiskey from 95% rye and 5% malted barley, then aged it for five-plus years. Sourced from Indiana (where plenty of rye is being produced for just about everyone), it’s still made to Tennessee whiskey specifications: Chilled, filtered through charcoal, then bottled at 90 proof.

As with Dickel’s corn-based whiskeys, Dickel Rye is very silky smooth, that “charcoal mellowing” having done its duty admirably. But there’s ample rye character here — chewy raisin bread with ample cinnamon notes. Vanilla a-plenty. Cocoa powder finish. Overall, the body is light and easygoing, a pleasant and sweet rye that would work well in any cocktail.

Compare to Bulleit Rye.

Shipping in November 2012.

A- / $25 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Tennessee Rye

How do you know when white whiskey has become a Big Thing? When Jack Daniel’s, the largest spirits brand in the world, gets into the game.

By way of backstory, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 uses a fairly traditional Bourbon-style* mashbill, 80% corn, the other 20% rye and malted barley. This is the way it has been, and (undoubtedly) the way it shall always be.

But that doesn’t mean JD can’t make other products. Gentleman Jack is charcoal filtered twice instead of just once, like Old No. 7 is, for example. Not a big difference, but it’s something.

Now JD is working on its biggest line extension since Prohibition, with its first wholly new mashbill: an honest-to-god rye whiskey. Made of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley, it’s unlike anything JD has ever offered before.

It’s also not going to be ready for a few years.

JD is taking an interesting step in deciding not to wait until 2015 or so to release its new whiskey and is instead giving the unaged version a limited release. You’re reading this correctly: For its next trick, JD is releasing a white whiskey based on this future product. This is actually the first time I’ve ever heard of this being done, but it makes sense, a kind of sneak preview of a whiskey to come.

Looking at JD Unaged Rye as it stands today, you won’t find any massive surprises or departure from the current state of white whiskeys. Lots of grain on the nose, very raw, and typical of unaged whiskey no matter what the mashbill is. The body is surprisingly mild, and the funkiness of most white whiskeys is almost absent here. Instead, touches of chocolate (cocoa powder), coconut, and some tropical notes, particularly banana, dominate. The finish is smooth and light, almost harmless — that JD charcoal mellowing process really does strip out a lot of the more unpleasant flavors. The overall effect is interesting, but it’s honestly far from earth shattering.

The biggest problem with this is that Jack is suggesting a $50 price tag for this 80-proof spirit, which puts it at roughly three times the price of a bottle of JD that’s spent years in a barrel. That would also suggest that, once this rye comes out of barrel for its official, aged release, it should cost on the order of $75 or more. Both of those are crazy ideas, and I suspect that calmer heads will prevail such that Jack Daniel’s Rye (or whatever it’s called), when it’s finally released, won’t hit more than $25 or $30 at your local liquor store.

That aside, how can you get it? Per the company: Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye is scheduled to be available in December at select retail outlets throughout Tennessee including the White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the Jack Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg, Tenn.  In January 2013, it will be available in limited quantities in other select markets throughout the U.S.

Update: Reader Matt Bradford says JD expects to sell the new whiskey beginning (around) December 15, 2012.

* I know, JD isn’t Bourbon.

B+ / $50 /

jack daniels unaged rye Review: Jack Daniels Unaged Tennessee Rye

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

There are a few things you can count on in the whiskey world, and one of them is the annual release of Buffalo Trace’s always-anticipated Antique Collection, a compilation of five very old and very rare American whiskeys that pretty much sell out immediately once they land on store shelves. (I’ve seen bars where these whiskeys are locked up behind iron grates.)

Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2012 Collection stack up.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Big rye on the nose, with some honeysuckle in the mix. The body is sweet, with touches of tobacco. More wood develops with time in the glass, and a splash of water. Lots of tannin on the finish, all that time in wood leaving behind a lot of dusty sawdust character. Water helps. 90 proof (as always). 90 proof. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Very sweet, almost no woodiness for a 17-year-old Bourbon. Quite a bit of citrus under the caramel notes, I don’t get the “dry and delicate” character that the distillery describes in its official notes, but rather a classic whiskey with just a touch of tawny port character on the finish. Scarily drinkable though less complex than I might like. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Chocolate and coffee notes a-plenty in this classic heater — 142.8 proof this year. Plenty of wood on the mid-palate, but it’s not overly hoary like the 2011 edition. A warming, sweet finish brings everything together. Make no mistake, this is hot, old whiskey — 17 years old for the 2012 bottling — but complex, burly, and quite delicious. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon –At “just” 123.4 proof, this year’s Weller is a lower-proof baby compared to previous renditions. Less exciting on the nose, this wheated Bourbon is mild, ultimately exhibiting some licorice and nutty, tree-bark flavors. Tannic and drying on the finish, even with water. 12 years old. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Definitely my least favorite of this year’s collection. The nose is innocuous, hinting at dark cherry character alongside cinnamon and some cocoa notes. The body, however, veers into somewhat overpowering astringency. Though just 6 years old, the woodiness is pungent and overbearing, leaving behind an oily, sawdust-driven finish that hangs around for a long, long time. It opens up with time in glass, but the overall effect just doesn’t come together the way it should. 132.4 proof. B-

about $70 each /

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2012 Edition

Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Rye Whiskey

Buffalo Trace’s Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. brand continues rolling along with this fifth expression, a bottled-in-bond rye.

The mashbill is interesting and unusual: Only rye and malted barley, no corn. The proportion of each isn’t disclosed, but it’s definitely heavy on the rye.

At 100 proof (like all bottled-in-bond whiskey is), it’s surprisingly hot. I was generous with the water to help bring out this rye’s character, though it dilutes the pretty amber color.

The nose offers classic rye notes: Lots of spice, with no restraint at all in its brashness. That’s not bad. I like rye to taste like a real rye. It’s sweet, but with lots of power backing it up and a long finish. Taylor has that, and water doesn’t impact that body at all (just tones down the alcohol burn). Lots of character to go around: Orange-infused caramel quickly fades and leaps into flavors of red pepper, rhubarb, strawberries, and cinnamon, then fades into an orange-flower honey finish. Great balance, with many layers.

My sample bottle was emptied well before my experience of this whiskey was, a rarity in a world where so many spirits wear their character on their sleeve.

100 proof.


E.H. Taylor Rye Review: Col. E.H. Taylor Rye Whiskey

Review: Knob Creek Rye Whiskey

Part of the Jim Beam family, the overproof Knob Creek has always been a go-to Bourbon when you wanted something a bit beefier, when the week has finally caught up with you — and yet which still exuded quality.

And now you can get the kick in the form of a rye, with Knob Creek Rye launching nationally this month. A purported blend of ryes up to nine years old, there’s no data on the mashbill here, whether it’s all rye or a corn blend (my guess).

At 100 proof, Knob Creek has always been a bit boozy, and the Rye is similar. Big alcoholic vapor notes coming off the ruddy amber whiskey attack the senses when freshly poured, requiring a few minutes to let them blow off.

Once they do, Knob Creek Rye reveals big cherry notes, some racy grain character, and hints of sawdust, especially in the nose. You get the spice on the finish, a burn in the back of the throat not caused by the alcohol, a warming character that almost speaks of menthol, but which also offers vanilla in the denouement.

The more I sip on this, the more I get a dusty wood component in the nose. This isn’t unpleasant, but it does give this rye more of a rustic character than you might expect. And then that vanilla sweetness kicks in again, inviting another sip. Good stuff.

A- / $40 /

knob creek rye Review: Knob Creek Rye Whiskey

Review: Jailers Tennessee Whiskey, Breakout Rye, and Forbidden Secret Cream Liqueur

Today we look at three new whiskey products brought to us by  a new company, the Tennessee Spirits Company, a division of Capital Brands. Formed by a group of spirits industry veterans, the focus here is (obviously) on Tennessee whiskeys, with this trilogy the inaugural releases.

TSC doesn’t have its own distillery (yet) but plans to build one, including a visitor’s center. These three spirits are obviously private-label creations for now (one doesn’t just start a business and sell an 8-year-old rye the next day), and it will probably take a few stabs at this to hit the right groove while that distillery gets up and running.

Jailers Premium Tennessee Whiskey – A mashbill of 80% corn plus assorted rye and malted barley go into this whiskey, which is double distilled, steeped in maple chips, then aged for 4 to 5 years in charred white oak barrels. It is chill-filtered and bottled at 86 proof. Very fruity, it’s got distinct macerated Bing cherry character, then the wood — charred cherrywood — comes along after a bit. This is a hot whiskey with a moderate body, quite sharp, with a warming finish. It’s a Tennessee whiskey that’s hard to peg: It’s not the easy drinker of, say, Jack Daniel’s, but there’s so much fruit here it’s hard not to imagine it in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. B+ / $25

Breakout American Rye Whiskey – A mashbill of 51%-plus rye (plus corn and malted barley) goes into a double-distilled whiskey that is put into white oak barrels for eight years. Like Jailers, it’s bottled at 86 proof. This is a tricky and unexpected rye. Malty and dusty, this has the distinct character of a whiskey that’s spent too long in wood. Some buttery toffee character lives on the nose, but it’s quickly subsumed by all that wood, coming together with a bit of a sawdust character. In the end Breakout just doesn’t have a great rye body to it, and the whiskey doesn’t ever come together the way it should. C+ / $45

Forbidden Secret Dark Mocha American Cream – A Bailey’s clone, though the “artificial liqueur” label on the bottle doesn’t instill confidence. Essentially this is a blend of Jailers Whiskey, cream, chocolate, and espresso, and it tastes like you think it does: Sweet, creamy, and and much like a boozy version of something you’d order at Starbucks. All the elements listed above are here, in a pretty good balance. If you like whiskey/cream liqueurs, you’ll dig this one, “artificial” or no. 30 proof.  A- / $25

tennessee spirits company Review: Jailers Tennessee Whiskey, Breakout Rye, and Forbidden Secret Cream Liqueur

Review: Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky

With 1910 Pendleton (based in Hood River, Oregon) takes its Canadian whisky upmarket, bottling this 100% rye after a lengthy 12 years in oak. (The name is a reference to the first ever Pendleton Round-Up rodeo, which took place 102 years ago.)

I’ve previously discussed the standard, blended Pendleton bottling as overwhelmingly sweet, but things are more mellow with this expression. Intensely fruity, it offers lots of thick cherry notes, orange marmalade, and well-integrated spice throughout. Sweetness is still there in the form of a bit of butterscotch syrup, but it’s not overwhelming in the way regular Pendleton is.

Good balance and a strong but not overpowering body. Surprisingly mellow finish considering this is a 100% rye spirit.

80 proof.

A- / $40 /

pendleton 1910 Review: Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky

Review: Wild Turkey Rye 81 Proof

Following on the release of its lower-proof Wild Turkey 81 Proof Bourbon, Wild Turkey is at it again, releasing a new Wild Turkey Rye at 81 proof. Wild Turkey makes a 101 proof Rye at present, but this is not widely available and in fact I’ve never tried it. In fact WT says that a recent run on rye has left WT Rye 101 largely out of stock. However, you will find the distillery’s Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye far more commonly available.

This rye comes in at a relatively youthful 4 to 5 years old (though WT calls this “extra-aged”), and it’s aged in deep “alligator” char barrels. The exact mashbill is not disclosed, but I would wager this is not much over the 50% mark in rye, with corn making up the rest.

Much like Russell’s Reserve Rye, this is a sweet and not overly “spicy” rendition of the grain. With that characteristic Wild Turkey apple and cherry character, with lots of vanilla on the finish along with that woody, charcoal character you’d expect from a whisky aged in heavy-char barrels like this. Plenty of cinnamon throughout the body, the only real hint that you’re in the rye world here.

Tasted blind, I would bet that most tasters would peg this as a young Bourbon, and that’s not intended as a slight. This is a mild and smooth whiskey that would be just dandy in a Manhattan — but maybe not man enough for a Sazerac.

B / $23 /

wild turkey rye 81 proof Review: Wild Turkey Rye 81 Proof



Review: Willett Single Barrel Rye 3 Years Old

No big ceremony here: I can’t find much info on the mashbill (or anything else, really) for this whiskey, but I found this little Kentucky gem at Costco for all of $32.99.

A really young, high-proof rye (110 proof), this lil’ upstart demands water and plenty of it. Without agua it’s just too brash (not to mention alco-fueled) to get a real handle on. Bring it down to a temperate level, though, and you’ll find lots to love: Big, candied orange notes, tangerine almost, caramel sweetness on the back end, plus honeycomb and toffee. But oranges over everything.

For all it has to offer, this is still a very young rye, which is no more evident than in its relatively thin body, which fades away far too quickly. Lovely character. Would love to see this rye’s power at 5 or 6 years.

Reviewed: Bottle #9, lot #33/170.

B+ / $33 /

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 2011 Rare Rye Selection

Every year Woodford Reserve releases a limited-release Bourbon, usually with a special finish or mashbill. This year it’s not releasing a Bourbon. It’s releasing a rye. Or rather, two of them. I caught a sneak peek of this being prepared for bottling when I visited Woodford this summer. Now here it is, on my kitchen table.

The 2011 Master’s Collection from Woodford is called Rare Rye, and it comes in two formats: New Cask and Aged Cask. The former is aged in a new, unused cask (like all Bourbon is), the latter is aged in an ex-Bourbon barrel (time in cask is not disclosed). Otherwise the spirits that go into these bottles is made the same. Both are 100% rye and bottling proof is identical at 92.4 proof. The bottles are sold together: $100 gets you 375ml of each.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection New Cask Rye is a deep, dark amber in color. The nose offers strong and spicy hints of what’s to come: Punchy, authentic rye character, and surprisingly easy-drinking despite the proof. This is one of the more easygoing rye whiskeys out there; I’d put it in line with Bulleit’s Rye, which should be taken as a compliment. Considering how wood-forward Woodford’s Bourbon tends to be, this whiskey is a surprising, and quite delicious, change of pace. A-

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Aged Cask Rye couldn’t look more different in the glass: Pale yellow, like a very young Scotch. If nothing else these two bottles are amazingly instructive in the power of old vs. new wood on aged whiskey. As expected, the nose is more reserved, but similar. The body is quite dissimilar: That rye grain comes on strong on the front of the palate, but caramel and vanilla notes punch their way in within seconds. While the New Cask version is ready to go, this Aged Cask Rye would easily benefit from a few more years in cask, to meld all the flavors going on here. It’s still quite good, but I find myself, when putting these side by side, returning mostly to the comparatively more intense New Cask version. B+

$100 for two 375ml bottles /

woodford reserve masters collection rare rye 2011 Review: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection 2011 Rare Rye Selection

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

We’ve been writing about Buffalo Trace’s awe-inspiring Antique Collection for longer than I can remember, and each year it seems like these five Bourbons are better than the last time out. This year that streak seems to be taking a breather, with a mixed bag of very good and merely “OK” whiskeys.

I’d still drink any of these in a pinch but, hey, every year can’t be a masterpiece!

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – If you like rye you’re going to love this rendition. Massively intense on the nose, it screams on the palate with heavy middle Eastern spices, toffee, and lacy smokiness. Could use a touch more sweetness to lighten up the finish, but on the whole it’s yet another winner from Sazerac. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Actually 18 years, 7 months old. Not much of a nose here, and for a 17-year-old whiskey the palate is on the mild side. If I didn’t know better I’d swear this was a younger spirit, and while the flavor — caramel, vanilla, a touch of chocolate — is there, it lacks the austerity that this whiskey usually brings to the table. 90 proof. B+

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Nobody doesn’t like George Stagg, and this burly monster is again ultra-hot — 142.6 proof — and redolent of deeply charred wood and coffee beans. Bruising and tough, it unfortunately lacks the nuance that prior years of Stagg have brought to the table. The 2011 edition I’m frankly finding tough to crack. The soothing finishing sweetness that usually comes with a solid Stagg release just doesn’t happen here. This makes Drinkhacker sad. 18 years old. B

William Larue Weller Bourbon – Smells innocuous, but as with many a Weller of yore, the palate of this wheated Bourbon burns with intense cinnamon notes — almost like red hots candy. Again the finish doesn’t gel the way I’d like, more bitter than bittersweet, and incompletely satisfying. Weller’s never been my favorite of this collection. 133.5 proof, 13 years old. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Curious: The palate is immediately redolent of not grain or wood notes but licorice, making this an oddball installment in the lineup. Fortunately you’ll also find lots of sweet caramel and spicy rye notes here, giving it a lot of flavor. With plenty of heft at 128.8 proof, it doesn’t pull punches, but it’s perhaps a bit too young to really compete with the big boys. (That said, this year perhaps Handy’s youth — 6 years old — is its greatest asset.) B+

about $70 each /

2011 buffalo trace Antique Collection family shot Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

Review: Redemption Rye and High-Rye Bourbon

Distilled in Indiana and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, Redemption is part of a growing cadre of craft distillers who go guerrilla on getting their stuff produced (a la Angel’s Envy), releasing amazingly high-quality product at very affordable prices. At Redemption, the focus is obviously on increasingly popular rye.

Redemption Rye – 95% rye, youch! This is an unconventional and very odd-tasting rye, shockingly sweet and filled with Christmas spice character. Minty, almost menthol on the nose. The body is lighter than I’d like and the finish is on the strange side — reminiscent of a younger corn-based whiskey. Perhaps it’s just too young? (Less than 4 years old, per the age statement on the back.) Probably better as a mixer. 92 proof. Aka tan label. Batch 027, bottle 915 reviewed. B / $40 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon – I’d estimate most Bourbons are in the 10% rye region. Redemption’s is 38.2% rye, 1.8% malted barley, and 60% corn. (Bourbon by law must be 51% corn, so that is indeed a lot of rye.) Though it’s conceivable younger (aged “over 2 years,” per the age statement) it’s a darker spirit and a more successful, better-balanced whiskey. Great flavors of caramel and vanilla are complemented by rich spiciness — all those sweet holiday notes are mellowed out with a big, silky, lightly tannic body. A much greater success for straight-up tippling. 92 proof. Aka red label. Batch 010, bottle 3340 reviewed. A- / $27

Review: Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

100% rye: an oddity. 100% rye from Canada, blended with Colorado-sourced water, and bottled in Sonoma, California — a real oddity.

Technically a Canadian whisky, this big rye is named after Old West lawman William “Bat” Masterson — a man who, somehow, has returned from the grave he entered in 1921 in order to put his signature on these bottles. The distillery, 35 Maple Street, is owned by Sonoma’s famed Sebastiani family. This is their first foray into whiskey.

Wine country royalty and Masterson’s autograph and picture aside, let’s look at what’s inside: As noted, 100% rye, aged for a full decade in cask. 86 proof, perfect for an old rye.

The nose is immediately huge, full of caramel, citrus, and wood notes. On the palate, even bigger: Incredibly sweet, and delightfully spicy: Cinnamon and allspice, fresh orange (not peel), with a tinge of something akin to a Moroccan spice blend lacing things up. The finish brings the essence of raisins and a drying touch, but it’s a little overwhelming in its sweetness. This kind of sugar isn’t something you often see in a rye — particularly a 100% rye — but for the most part it works. I’d love to see just a touch more balance (a la WhistlePig) in the end, but even for a bit of a sugar bomb, it’s awfully well made.

Reviewed: Batch #3, Bottle #779.


mastersons rye 10 years old Review: Mastersons 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

Review: 1512 Barbershop Rye

The story behind 1512 is almost more interesting than this, its first product.

Salvatore Cimino is a real barber in San Francisco, and his forebears include a series of whiskey bootleggers. So Cimino put the two together, in a way: With a legally produced whiskey named after his discreet Nob Hill barbershop. Cimino spends his days cutting hair, his nights cutting heads and tails as whiskey comes off the still.

Cimino set up shot north of the Bay Area, in Rohnert Park, and production here is extremely limited, under 100 liters a month of product. Distilled from rye in custom copper stills, completely unaged, and bottled at 91 proof, even in the rising world of white dog whiskey, it’s unique.

How you feel about 1512 will likely echo how you feel about unaged, white whiskeys. It’s young and brash, completely untempered by time spent in barrel. But going with rye is an incredibly prescient choice, giving the spirit character that most ultra-corny white whiskeys just don’t have. The real fun is not in the largely traditional nose but on the back end: That fuel-focused funk so common in white dog is cut with a big kick of pepper, saltiness, and something I can only describe as the essence of a summer barbeque — a little coal- and mesquite-like burn on the finish.

White dog is rarely fun, but 1512 Barbershop Rye — an enticing first volley in an upcoming line of whiskey curiosities — is both fun and rare.

Batch #3 reviewed.

A- / $30 (375ml bottle) /

1512 barbershop rye Review: 1512 Barbershop Rye

Review: High West Distillery Barreled Manhattan “The 36th Vote”

If a cocktail requires no fresh juices or other highly perishable ingredients, why not just bottle it outright?

That’s the idea behind High West’s Barreled Manhattan: It’s a Manhattan cocktail pre-bottled and ready to go.

Now this isn’t some rotgut nonsense, 10 percent alcohol bullshit in a single-serve bottle. It’s the real deal, and top shelf at that.

The recipe is authentic: 2 parts rye (High West’s 95% rye is used) to 1 part sweet vermouth, plus 2 dashes Angostura bitters. The company notes that this isn’t as easy as it sounds: You can’t just drop “off the shelf” vermouth in and resell it: Once federal excise taxes have been paid on booze, it can’t be repackaged and resole. So the Utah-based High West had to buy wholesale, pre-tax vermouth in bulk.

The mix is then put back into an oak barrel (formerly used for rye) for 120 days — and High West says that the cocktail doesn’t oxidize during this time.

Results: Incredibly impressive. This is for all intents and purposes a high-grade Manhattan like you’d get at any upscale bar. It’s a little sweeter than I might mix up, but that makes it incredibly easy-drinking. Lots of red cherry fruit character here, with that spicy rye especially evident on the nose. Go easy on the ice, or you’ll kill off some of the character here — it’s drinkable even warm, like a good whiskey. Add a cherry if you’re feeling decadent.

Incidentally, High West also sent along the un-aged version of this cocktail for comparative purposes (it’s not for sale), and it’s amazing to see how much more of a hard edge it has in comparison. With that barrel time, the cocktail gels sweeter, too — much like any whiskey — and more character. The un-aged version is a straightforward and very good tipple. The aged version is a modern classic. Bring on the ultra-high-grade pre-mixed Martinis and Sazeracs!

74 proof.

(The story behind “The 36th Vote” is left as an exercise for the reader.)

A / $50 /

high west manhattan Review: High West Distillery Barreled Manhattan The 36th Vote

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2011

The San Francisco Belle was packed but the crowds were manageable at this year’s San Francisco Whiskies of the World event. With much more room to move around than last year’s cramped fest, lots more seating, and plenty of whiskey, guests seemed to be having a great time, myself  included. Who knows what venue will host WotW in 2012, but if the organizers (and new owners) continue to put this kind of care into crafting the affair, it’s certainly going to be worth the price of a ticket.

I spent this year’s event tracking down — almost exclusively — whiskies I hadn’t tried or which were new on the market. (As much as I enjoy it, how many times can I stalk the Glenlivet booth?) You may not know some of these names, but more than a few are worth memorizing (especially that Amrut Intermediate Sherry, my favorite spirit of the night). Grades and tasting notes follow.

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo, San Francisco, 2011


McKinnon Glen 35 Years Old Cask Strength  / A- / a fine blended Scotch, but the story is more interesting — a USAF serviceman bought into a share of Ben Nevis Distillery’s new make spirit in 1971, then it went out of business; the stock languished in storage until 2006, when 484 gallons were bottled for sale; this is literally all of it, and Sam Perrine is trying to hawk it all himself: 70 bottles of cask strength and 953 bottles of 80 proof whisky!

Aberlour 18 Years Old / A / Aberlour’s best to date; a fine pairing with chocolate

Clan Denny 30 Years Old North British Single Grain Scotch / B+ / big spice finish, with a rough mid-palate

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 11 Years Old / B / lots of heat

Douglas of Drumlanrig Breaval 19 Years Old / B / odd phenol notes

Douglas of Drumlanrig Glen Grant 25 Years Old / B+

Douglas of Drumlanrig Macallan 20 Years Old / A / excellent expression of older Macallan

Douglas XO Blended Scotch / B+

Edradour Port Matured / B

Glenglassaugh Clearac / B+ / new make Scotch; surprising depth; part of a series of “how it’s made” mini bottles that Glenglassaugh puts out (see next 3 reviews)

Glenglassaugh Blushes / A- / aged 6 months in red wine casks; really interesting

Glenglassaugh Fledgling / A- / 12 months in cask; another curiosity along the way

Glenglassaugh Peated / B+ / new make plus peat; you can really see how important peat is vs. wood in peated whiskys

Glenglassaugh 26 Years Old / A- / now leave Clearac in cask for 26 years and here’s what you get… working well, firing on all cylinders

Signatory Aberlour Cask Strength / A

Signatory Caol Ila Un-Chillfiltered 1999 10 Years Old / B

Signatory Highland Park 1991 18 Years Old / B+ / bizarre; a Highland Park with smoke on the palate; even the Signatory rep couldn’t explain this one

Other Stuff

Willett 6 Years Old Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / awesome young Willett, single barrel exclusively sold at Cask in S.F.

Four Roses Single Barrel (for Cask) / A / same deal as above; both knockout bourbons

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon / A-

Mickey Finn Irish Whiskey / B / because you knew someone was going to name a whiskey “Mickey Finn” eventually…

Goldrush Rye / C- / tough

Fog’s End Monterey Rye / C+

Amrut Cask Strength / A- / sweeter style malt from India

Amrut Cast Strength Peated / B+

Amrut Fusion / B / not my favorite fusing

Amrut Intermediate Sherry / A / Amrut’s finest, which goes from bourbon to sherry and back to bourbon barrels; a perfectly balanced mix

Cabin Fever Maple Whisky / B / yes, made from maple syrup; unbelievably sweet

Craft Distillers Low Gap Whiskey / C- / bizarrely fruity

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey / B- / big corn notes

Stillwater Spirits Wylie Howell Corn Whiskey / A / the best white whiskey I’ve ever had, hands down; 120 proof corn spirit, rich in flavor and not funk

Kuchan Alembic Brandy / C+

Review: Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Tom Bulleit‘s “frontier” Bourbon has near-cult status among his admirers, and at long last the man has decided to branch out into a second product.

That product is Bulleit Rye, “the worst kept secret” in the whiskey world and a smashing way for Bulleit to double its shelf space.

Now this isn’t as big a stretch as you might think: Bulleit Bourbon has 28% rye in it already, making it the most rye-rich Bourbon on the market. Bulleit knows rye, so upping the ante to 95% rye (and 5% malted barley) shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Made just across the Kentucky border at LDI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Bulleit Rye is aged for at least four years before being bottled at 90 proof.

Results: Solid, and surprisingly easy-drinking rye whiskey. Most rye is pungent and packed with spice character, giving it a huge bite and a lasting effect on your palate. Bulleit is far more mellow: Compared to similarly artisanal ryes like WhistlePig it is reserved and easy, with a distinct toffee sweetness up front backed by molasses, light wood, and some interesting evergreen notes and a touch of herbal character. It’s a startling departure from Bulleit’s Bourbon, which is, by design, rough around the edges and a bit of a punch in the gut. Bulleit Rye is easy and doesn’t burn in the slightest. Be warned.

Bulleit Rye shows Tom’s feminine side — or perhaps his daughter and partner in crime, Hollis — demure, silky smooth, a little sassy, and, most of all, complicated. An outstanding bargain.


bulleit rye whiskey Review: Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Review: High West Whiskey Double Rye!

There is indeed an exclamation point in the official name of High West Whiskey’s latest, cryptic release. I’m not sure how Utah-based High West manages to mix cowboy imagery and metaphors with next-gen, experimental spirit-making technology, but somehow it does. The company now has about a dozen liquors, mostly whiskey, and we’ve gotten our hands on the latest.

Double Rye! is not merely a “double” rye — meant to be consumed in twice the quantity — rather, it’s a blend of two rye whiskies with very different compositions. One is an old 16-year-old (53% rye, 37% corn, 10% mystery). One is a fresh 2-year-old (95% rye, 5% barley).

The result: An oddball indeed, but an enjoyable one. Big rye notes on the nose. This is a whiskey driven by the youngest spirit in the blend, and the woodsy, herbal, and — most blatantly — menthol-like flavors dominate. The corn in the old rye balances this intensity with some sweetness, but I think it could use a bit more; perhaps things could have been skewed a bit toward the older whiskey in the blend.

This is ultimately a very drinkable whiskey, tough and rustic thanks to its baby component, but tricked out with some curious points here and there owing to its older counterpart. Tertiary character is intriguing yet difficult to grasp: Caramel, coal, root beer, licorice/fennel, and a touch of wood smoke. They’re there, but you have to keep going back to the spirit to suss them out. Heh, maybe it really is a “double” rye after all.

Surprisingly easygoing at 92 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #98 from batch #1.


High West Double Rye Review: High West Whiskey Double Rye!