Category Archives: Rye

Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven Whiskey

wild turkey forgivenIs it possible that a distillery like Wild Turkey made a new whiskey by mistake… and that it turned out so well they decided to commercialize it? Well, I don’t want to get in the way of a self-described “wild tale” or this new whiskey, the first-ever widely produced whiskey that’s a blend of bourbon and rye.

Made from 78 percent 6-year-old bourbon and 22 percent 4-year-old rye, Forgiven is immediately a curiosity, though well in line with the Wild Turkey repertoire. The nose is well installed in bourbonland: Big, lumberyard sawdust notes which immediately come across as something much older than a mere 6 years of age. Mild vanilla notes come across alongside them, but the dominant aroma is purely, simply wood.

On the body there’s fortunately more to discover. Creamy marshmallow backed up with milk chocolate, some apple, and a touch of spice are well evident on the palate. Of course, there’s plenty of wood to go along with it, and here it’s almost overpowering. As for that rye, it’s not much more evident than in a high-rye bourbon. There is a slight kick on the back end as a little red pepper shows itself, but otherwise, you’d be fully forgiven (get it?) for thinking this was just a big, woody bourbon.

Forgiven is fine for a sipping whiskey, but I’m unconvinced that it adds anything new to the Wild Turkey pantheon. I’m happy to drink it — it’s completely harmless — but it just doesn’t have a lot of nuance that you’ll find either in straight bourbon or standard rye.

Was this truly an accidental discovery? It seems absurd to suggest that no one has blended two whiskeys together in the past — Wild Turkey makes plenty of both of these spirits — but having experienced the final product of putting them together, it’s easy to see why a mixture like this has never been commercialized until now. There just wasn’t any point.

91 proof.

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

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Edition

Antique Collection buffalo trace 2013

It’s always a glorious day when Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection annual samples arrive, letting us stick our noses and tongues in these classics of the American whiskey world. 2013 offers the quintet at ages of up to 19 years old. Here’s how the five whiskeys of the 2013 Collection stack up. (Hint: It’s one of the strongest showings for the Antique Collection in years.)

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Beautiful nose. Lovely rye spice meets caramel and spice aromas. The body has an easy sweetness to it, with gentle grain meeting burnt sugar, vanilla caramels, and light applesauce notes. Relatively simple, but wait for the dark molasses to come along in the finish as you let this rumble around in the glass for a while. This is a barrel (er, barrels) picked at just the right time — I don’t get the overly tannic, drying, and dusty character than 2012’s version. As it often is in the annals of the Antique Collection (because it’s essentially the same from year to year), this one’s just about perfect. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Surprise, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is this year actually 19 years old. They didn’t bother changing the bottle, though. This is always a fun, go-to bourbon, and this year it’s no exception. A bigger whiskey, it’s got ample leather and wood on the nose and the initial attack of the body, with a kind of plum/prune/raisin underpinning that arrives quickly. The sweeter, more dessert-like elements come out more clearly as the finish fades, leaving the drinker with a surprisingly complex overall experience. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – This year’s Stagg was aged on lower floors of the Buffalo Trace warehouses, and the proof comes in at 128.2 proof, one of the lowest (if not the lowest) I’ve seen since starting this website. (Higher warehouse locations are hotter, which causes more water to evaporate than alcohol, which leaves higher-proof whiskey in the barrel.) OK, with that resolved, what you’ll find is a classically structured barrel-proof bourbon, heavy with wood notes (and plenty of straight-up alcohol despite the lower proof level) up front but balanced by a surprising fruitiness underneath. Chewy with notes of figs, plums, and currants, it’s got a brooding character you don’t often see in bourbon and which is not the usual way Stagg presents itself. One worth exploring, as always. 16 years old. B+

William Larue Weller Bourbon – The blazing hot nose makes you think you’re in for nothing but burn, but this year’s Weller — never a highlight of the Antique Collection — has much more to show off. Lots of tobacco on the nose — both fresh and smoldering. A 136.2 proof bourbon at the (comparably) young age of 12 years old, it comes across as older than you initially expect. The tobacco and wood notes blow off after a time, bringing on restrained butterscotch sweetness, plus some banana and caramel notes. This is probably the most classically structured bourbon of the lot, with wood meeting ice cream toppings alongside a blistering overproof backbone. Plenty to enjoy for the traditionalists. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – As usual, this 6 year old rye is the odd man out in a collection populated by whiskeys two to three times its age. But last year Jim Murray made the untenably insane choice to name Handy his “Whisky of the Year,” cementing its place in the Collection pretty much eternally. This year’s expression is one of the better versions of the spirit. It’s a quite sweet rye, laden with plenty of baking spice and a particularly long gingerbread finish. The exceptional sweetness can become a bit overwhelming in the long haul, but that may be to some drinkers’ tastes. Not a lot of wood influence this year, a stark departure from 2012. I wonder what Murray will say. 128.4 proof. B+

$70 each / greatbourbon.com

Review: Whiskeys of Fog’s End Distillery

Fogs End_White Dog_300 (2)Down in Gonzales, California — where, based on my travels, there’s plenty of fog — Fog’s End Distillery makes unique craft whiskeys, of a sort. These are all made, as the company’s owner Craig Pakish explains, with the “no cook, sour mash” method. But there’s a twist: While corn and rye are both used in various products, all of Fog’s End’s whiskeys include sugar in the mash. In fact, all of these spirits are half sugar, half grain.

What does that make these products? To its credit, Fog’s End does not call any of them “whiskey,” but I’m at a loss as to how to describe them as well. Only one of the products is aged. Most of them are straight off the still.

Anyway, arguments over semantics and monikers aside, here’s what you’ll find if you crack into one of Fog’s End’s inimitable spirits.

Fog’s End Distillery California MoonShine – “Made right on the left coast,” this 50% corn/50% sugar whiskey is moonshine through and through. And how. Intense popcorn notes on the nose lead to a pure, overpowering white lightning. Notes of coal, honeycomb, and fresh linens can be found on the back end, but getting there is a hell of a ride. 100 proof. B- / $30

Fog’s End White Dog – Made from a mash of 50% rye and 50% sugar, its much, much softer than the MoonShine, almost innocuous with a very mild body. The sugar is more than evident, with a sort of maple syrup character in the way it all comes together. Notes of apples and cherries add nuance. Altogether it interesting stuff for a white whiskey (of sorts). Use as an alternative to vodka. 80 proof. B / $34

Fog’s End Monterey Rye – Quite a misleading name, this is actually the white dog (50% rye, 50% sugar), aged for an unstated time and then bottled at a higher 90 proof. Definitely a step up from the white dog in complexity, the wood influence adds a significant caramel character and the extra alcohol gives it some heft. Still very sweet, but with more of a sense of balance. Some notes of cloves and cinnamon on the back end, but like the white dog, it leaves quite the sugary finish. B+ / $43

Fog’s End Primo Agua Ardiente – Literally “cousin’s fire water.” 50% corn and 50% sugar-based white whiskey, spiked with chili peppers, unaged but with a light yellow tint to it. Very spicy, but not overpowering the way some pepper-spiked spirits can be. The heat sticks in the back of throat, which has the secondary effect of drowning out pretty much everything else in the spirit. Fun for parties. 80 proof. B- / $34

fogsenddistillery.com

Review: Dad’s Hat White Rye and Rye Whiskey

dad's hat ryeBased in Bristol, Pennsylvania, Dad’s Hat is one of the darling craft distillers of the modern mixology movement. Focused exclusively on young rye whiskeys, the basic Dad’s Hat mashbill involves 80% rye, 15% malted barley, and 5% malted rye. Grains are sourced locally, and aging is done in smaller barrels.

These two whiskeys make up the core offering, while a vermouth-finished rye is being added this summer. Various special editions, including a cask strength whiskey, are also available from time to time.

Thoughts follow.

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania White Rye – Immediately fiery, this white whiskey settles down to reveal big grain notes, some citrus, and a long, almond-fueled finish with a touch of smoke on it. Plenty of spice and a sweet back end elevate this above the usual white whiskey fare. Nothing I’d probably sit around sipping straight, but cocktailing opportunities abound. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey – Plenty of brash grain influence remains in this whiskey, which is aged a minimum of 6 months in quarter casks. But man, so much character can be found once you push into the spirit. Caramel and vanilla, cherry cola, and touches of licorice and ginger on the finish. Yeah, this would be a better whiskey if it had further mellowed out, but Dad’s Hat is really on to something here. Try it in a Manhattan. 90 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

dadshatrye.com

Review: Few Spirits American Gin and Rye Whiskey

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits makes old-timey spirits and even bottles them in old-timey decanters. Today we take a crack at two of the company’s bottlings — the “American” gin and an aged rye whiskey.

Thoughts follow.

few ginFew Spirits American Gin – Big and malty, this is a far different experience than most dry gins you’ve likely encountered. Many call Few’s gin closer to a genever, and that’s a fair descriptor. I think it’s more like a flavored white whiskey, intensely grain-focused and a little funky. Atop that, you get some gin-like character. Clear lemon oil from the second you crack open the bottle, for starters. Hints of vanilla on the finish. But by and large this offers beer-like malt and hops character throughout the body, overpowering the more subtle botanical elements in the whisk… er, gin. If you told me there was no juniper in this at all (you can catch it if you hunt for it, but then you start to wonder if it’s your imagination), I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2-2-13, bottle #91. B- / $40

few rye whiskey
Few Spirits Rye Whiskey
– A rye/corn blend (actual mashbill unstated) that spends “less than four years” in new oak barrels, Few’s rye offers a plethora of youthful flavors and chutzpah, a punchy whiskey with intense elements of cornmeal, fresh bread, and malt. As with many very young whiskeys, it is a little brash and angry, a brooding spirit overflowing with grain. Oddly, it doesn’t come across as particularly hot, though it’s bottled at 93 proof. Instead, it gets its fire in the form of toasted grains, and the ultra-long finish speaks more of gentle smokiness than heat. What I don’t get is a lot of fruit — just touches of applesauce. The cereal notes are simply overpowering of everything else. Reviewed: Batch #11-85, bottle #77. B / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

fewspirits.com

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon, Rye, and 15 Year Old Expressions of Both

james pepper 1776 bourbonJames E. Pepper is an old, old name in the whiskey world (Kentucky is plastered with the name), and the heritage of the Bourbon associated with the name is deep, rich, and (if you go to the whiskey’s website) fun to look back upon. In fact, Bourbon has been made under the James E. Pepper label since the 1800s.

James Pepper’s stills went silent in 1958 and in recent years the brand has changed hands and is now owned by Georgetown Trading Co., which produces Pow-Wow Rye and John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey. The company has spent years reproducing James E. Pepper to match the flavor profile of the original, “Old Style” James E. Pepper whiskey. While I’ll never be able to comment on how successful (or wise) such an endeavor might be, I can give some thoughts on the whiskeys — four of them, total — that are now being produced under this banner (in Indiana).

Thoughts follow.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey – The standard bottling of the brand. This Bourbon carries no age statement but has a solid structure to it. Modest wood notes here, with restrained yet polished sweetness. You get less of the typical vanilla notes but more citrus in their stead, a refined and balanced experience that provides a touch of racy red pepper, baking spices, and a little gingerbread on the finish. Very mild for a Bourbon — especially one bottled at 100 proof — this is both an easy sipping whiskey and a capable mixer. It’s far from the powerhouse experience that so many modern whiskeys attempt to create, but I found its hidden charms intriguing enough for repeated visits. B+ / $30

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey – Racier and more powerful than the Bourbon by a mile. Stronger citrus and more grain influence here, this 90% rye (no age statement) is a textbook expression of the spirit. The body is modest, lively, and full of dense bread-like notes on the back end. The finish is long and lasting. It’s just on the edge of being a little too hot, though a splash of water in this 100 proof whiskey can help to even things out. B+ / $28

These 15 year old whiskeys are bottled at barrel proof — actually lower than the 100 proof of the younger whiskeys, a quirky result of where in the rickhouse these barrels were aged. These two are just now arriving on the market.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 Years Old – Amazing what 15 years in barrel has done to this whiskey. Gorgeous chocolate, lightly burnt caramel, and toasty oak notes — both on the nose and on the body. That dark chocolate character is impossible to get away from, it’s just omnipresent and really quite beautiful. The wood is also well integrated into the spirit, and although I would like a touch more sweetness on the back end, this is a unique and exciting Bourbon, highly worth seeking out. 92 proof. A / $100

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey 15 Years Old – Lots going on here. Racy, lots of citrus, ample spice and some crazy tropical character here — guava and overripe banana. The wood creeps up behind, giving the whiskey a finish that is heavy on alcohol and some of the more astringent notes. It’s definitely an intriguing upgrade over the standard bottling of the rye, but it can’t touch what Pepper’s doing with the 15 Year Old Bourbon. 91.3 proof. A- / $150

jamesepepper.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [ALSO HERE FOR THE 15 YEAR OLDS]

Review: Widow Jane Rye Whiskey

widow_jane_ryeI raved about Widow Jane’s Bourbon late last year. Now I’m taking on a new product: A 2 year old Rye made in Kentucky and finished, like its Bourbon, in Rosendale, NY using local mineral water from the Widow Jane Mine.

Bottled unfiltered, you’ll notice a distinctly visible haze in this brilliant amber Rye — little chunks of this and that suspended in the bottle, and lots of ‘em.

The nose is hot, not quite a fireball but spicy enough. Lots of smoky notes here, tempered by sweetness, though, giving it a burnt marshmallow character at times.

The body is racy but not overpowering, with wood — certainly comprising a good portion of those chunks floating in the bottle — the dominant character. Charred notes are strong, here taking on something akin to dark, possibly burnt, coffee. The body ultimately comes across as somewhat chocolaty, before that fades into a spicy, grain-driven finish. Lots going on here, sometimes harmoniously, and sometimes not. I’m also not totally sold on the unfiltered angle and have half a mind to run this through a coffee filter.

91 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15, bottle #75.

B / $40 / widowjanespirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey

angels envy ryeAngel’s Envy is one of the best affordable Bourbons on the market, and now its mad master distiller, Lincoln Henderson, is raising expectations again with Angel’s Envy Rye, one of the best rye whiskeys on the market.

The mashbill will likely sound familiar to regular readers — 95% rye and 5% malted barley — the signature grain blend you’ll find in ryes from Bulleit, Dickel, and just about everyone else in the business who’s sourcing whiskey from LDI in Indiana (though AE will not confirm this). But as with AE Bourbon, Henderson has tricks up his sleeve to make this otherwise commodity whiskey his own. To wit: He finishes six-year-old rye (older than most already) for 18 additional months in Caribbean rum casks. (Those casks in turn began as Cognac barrels, making Angel’s Envy stop #3 on the road to boozedom. The Cognac is originally from Ferrand; the rum is a 10-plus year old bottling from Barbados, part of Ferrand’s Plantation Rum XO 20th Anniversary release.)

Bottled at 100 proof, 30,000 bottles have been made, at least so far.

That spin in rum casks really does a number on what would likely otherwise be a perfectly drinkable yet undistinguished rye. It starts with a nose of intense baking spices — gingerbread, cinnamon, and coconut notes. The body has more where that came from. Sip and you’ll get chewy vanilla caramels, banana, marshmallow, and just the barest hints of spicy rye grains on the back end. It’s very sweet, but not overpowering, a good balance of the more dessert-like flavors you’ll find in both rum and whiskey. It’s a bit hot for drinking straight, but seasoned whiskey enthusiasts won’t mind. A splash of water cools things down but doesn’t dull the flavor.

You’ll find this a far different whiskey than any other high-end rye on the market, and that can be good and bad. I’m really enjoying it neat as an after dinner sipper, but wouldn’t dream of trying to put it in a Manhattan.

Available this summer (in time for Father’s Day).

A / $70 / www.angelsenvy.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Craft Distillers Low Gap White Rye and 2 Year Old Wheat Whiskey

low gap white rye whiskeyWe reviewed Craft Distillers’ Low Gap White Wheat Whiskey two years ago. Who knew that the company would radically broaden its horizons to launch plans for four different Low Gap whiskeys, a Wheat (previously reviewed), a Rye (reviewed below), a Bourbon (coming soon), and a mystery blend (coming after that)? Will a mere four white whiskeys cut it?

On top of that, all of these whiskeys are going to be aged, as God intended, of course. Two years after the introduction of Low Gap White Wheat, the aged, two year old version is now available. We sampled both the new white rye and the aged wheat. Thoughts follow.

Low Gap White Rye Whiskey is made from malted rye, double distilled in Craft Distillers’ antique copper pot still. There is lots of malty grain on the nose, but it’s quite mild, not the hoary, fuel-infused character you get from most white whiskeys. On the tongue, it’s surprisingly mild. Yes, the expected notes from the granary come through, but the rounded body also offers light orange and mandarin notes, banana, and a touch of coconut. The finish is grassy, and slightly smoky. A quite credible white whiskey. 85.4 proof. B+ / $45

low gap 2 year old wheat whiskeyLow Gap California Wheat Whiskey 2 Years Old takes Low Gap White Wheat, made from double-distilled, 100% malted Bavarian Hard Wheat, and drops it into three kinds of barrels: new American oak, used Bourbon barrels (from Van Winkle), and used 350-liter Limousin oak barrels (formerly used for Germain-Robin brandy). It’s young stuff, and the barrels are still doing their magic here. On the nose, it’s enigmatic… lightly woody, the grain character still dominating. The body’s a different animal. A rush of vanilla sweetness hits you first, quickly followed by huge Cognac notes. That Germain-Robin has done a real number here. The finish is all raisins, Sugar Babies, plums, and a chocolate finish. It’s got very little resemblance to any conventional whiskey on the market, which is a good and a bad thing. Anyone walking into Low Gap expecting a light version of Maker’s Mark is going to be in for a real shock. But who doesn’t like trying something new? 84 proof. B+ / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

craftdistillers.com

Review: Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye

hooker's house bourbonColor me a bit of a skeptic. Hooker’s House label declares these whiskeys as “Sonoma Style,” as in the California wine country. Where they do not make whiskey. Right? Heck, HelloCello (aka Prohibition Spirits) — best known for its artisanal lemoncello (and other flavors) — makes this whiskey. What on earth do these guys know about Bourbon? How good could it possibly be?

Plenty. And pretty good, it turns out.

Named after a Civil War veteran, Joseph Hooker, who lived in Sonoma, these whiskeys are not actually distilled in California (the company cites only “Bourbon-belt” production; I’m presuming they are born at LDI like pretty much everything else on the market). But Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye, like many of my favorite craft whiskeys, are decidedly non-traditional spirits: Both are finished in (different) wine barrels that have been retired from local wineries.

That, I guess, it was “Sonoma Style” is all about. And you can count me a full-on convert.

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