Category Archives: Rye

Review: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

A whistle-pig is another name for a groundhog. It is now also a compelling straight rye whiskey from Vermont — hardly the first state that comes to mind when you talk whiskey.

When they say straight rye, they mean it. WhistlePig is a rare 100% rye, aged for 10 years and bottled at 100 proof. Round numbers. Easy to remember.

In the glass, this is impressive stuff. Crafted by Dave Pickerell, a 14-year veteran of Maker’s Mark, this rye is characteristically spicy, with pepper and ginger notes laced atop a moderately sweet (but not overly so) core. Nicely balanced, the elements are all in harmony here, though that spice — coupled with the kick of extra alcohol — is always at the forefront. The finish offers notes of coal, reminding you this is not a vanilla-scented Bourbon but rather a rye.

Pricey, to be sure, but in a world with too-few high-grade rye whiskeys, it’s worth it.

A- / $80 / whistlepigwhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

whistlepig rye whiskey Review: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2010 Edition

For the third year running, we’re fortunate enough to check out Buffalo Trace’s limited release editions of five highly-sought-after whiskeys. No change to the lineup, name-wise, from the 2008 and 2009 editions, although what’s inside the bottles is, as always, just a little bit different. On the whole, this year’s whiskeys, in fact, are some of the best renditions yet. Get ‘em while they last!

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – An outstanding entry this year. Sazerac’s 18 Year (rye, with corn and barley in the mash) features a misleadingly mellow nose, but take a sip and it positively attacks the palate with huge rye notes. Gorgeous incense, burnt sugar, and flowery lavender notes are in abundance. Sweet and spice are in perfect balance here, and the overall whiskey is much more effective and perfected than 2009′s edition. A masterpiece of the rye world. 90 proof. A

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Another hit from Eagle Rare, but the finish is very dry and woody, still a bit like gnawing on a stick. Again it’s not quite back at the pinnacle of 2008′s release, but at least it’s comparatively easy-drinking compared to some of the alcohol bombs in this lineup. 90 proof, again. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Always the showstopper, this year’s Stagg is a bruising 143 proof. This edition of the Bourbon is 17 years and 7 months old and it’s a classic as usual. Cut it down and you get the essence of wood up front, with a smooth, creme brulee, cinnamon, and apple pie finish. It’s as American as playing baseball and being too lazy to vote. Another winner that you’ll savor all night. A

William Larue Weller Bourbon – Back down in proof to 126.6, but still hotter than Hades. 12 years and 3 months old, making it a bit more austere than 2008 and 2009. This one absolutely demands water, at which point it reveals nothing but caramel all over the place. 2009′s Weller was full of fruit character;  in this one the fruit takes a back seat, but it still makes itself known in the finish. Much better balance, once it’s cut down to size. The best Weller I’ve had in awhile. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac – Another rye/corn/barley blend, at 126.9 proof, aged 6 years and 3 months. Handy is always the underdog of this lineup, and compared to the Sazerac rye, it’s short. While it’s extremely hot (and very sweet), the body is muted in comparison to Sazerac’s well-aged masterwork. The honeyed character grows on you, but it lacks that punch and kick that really good rye ought to have. B

about $65 each / greatbourbon.com

Antique Collection 2010 Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2010 Edition

Tasting Report: Wild Turkey Whiskey Lineup with Eddie and Jimmy Russell

I had the pleasure to be led through Wild Turkey’s six whiskeys, courtesy of an online tasting with Jimmy Russell (of “Russell’s Reserve” fame) and his son Eddie Russell, the two men responsible for distilling Wild Turkey today at Austin Nichols distillery.

Both of the new Russell’s Reserve whiskeys have been re-released in new packaging (silkscreened bottles without paper labels (and with clearer age statements), which makes the color of the whiskey look lighter, though that’s just an illusion), but otherwise this lineup hasn’t changed much in years — particularly “the 101,” classic Wild Turkey with no frills allowed.

Thoughts on the six whiskeys we tasted follow.

Wild Turkey 101 – The classic. Hot with a lot of alcohol, to be sure, but warming and smooth underneath. Surprisingly clean and easy, with lots of rye in the mix and applewood undernotes. There’s a great amount of vanilla here, and it all works well together. Not a terribly complicated whiskey, but this is a stellar standby — and one I’ve come to appreciate over time. Prior, relatively naive review here. A- / $19

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel – The single barrel version of standard Wild Turkey, with individual barrels picked by Jimmy Russell himself. 101 proof, just like standard Wild Turkey, but so much more intriguing. Really amazing spiciness, and great interplay between the grain and the wood, with tons of orange peel and cinnamon, and a long, soothing finish. Easily my favorite Wild Turkey expression of the event. (Bottled 4/15/09, barrel 95, warehouse F, rick 25) A / $50

Russell’s Reserve Bourbon 10 Year Old – Lots of citrus character, and not quite over-oaked, but awfully close. Though just 90 proof, it somehow feels hotter than the 101. Some caramel, some hazelnut in the mix, but not overly sweet. A slight astringency on the finish. Looking over my old notes, I obviously liked this in this tasting much more than last time out — and putting the two bottles side by side, I believe the recipe has evolved a bit, turning in a smoother, more straightforward whiskey. That’s good. A- / $30

Wild Turkey Rare Breed – A small batch bourbon, bottled at a whopping 108.2 proof, cask strength versions of a collection of 6-, 8-, and 12-year old bourbons. It doesn’t come across as hot. Eddie talks about dark chocolate in this one, but I don’t get that flavor much here. It’s more of a vanilla note — quite sweet at that –and you need to add a good bit of water to get it down to a place where those flavors come out. It’s good but doesn’t hold a candle to Kentucky Spirit, in my mind. (Batch WT-03RB) B+ / $36 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Year Old – Not as flavorful as many modern rye whiskeys, Russell’s is not as “big” as the dynamic duo would have us believe. Interesting cherry notes here, but relatively mild in comparison to the rest of the lineup. I actually gave this a better rating last time out; tasted both with no discernible differences. 90 proof. B+ / $30

Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur – Wild Turkey’s liqueur. Intense honey notes, with light orange flower undertones. Not as cloying as so many of these honeyed whiskey liqueurs, and after all the regular whiskey, this is a winner of a digestif. Old review here, before this category took off. 71 proof. A- / $20

wildturkeybourbon.com

wild turkeys eddie and jimmy russell Tasting Report: Wild Turkey Whiskey Lineup with Eddie and Jimmy Russell

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2009 Edition

Once again Buffalo Trace brings us five limited-edition whiskeys, and for 2009 they carry the same names as last year. However, the formulations and barrels from which these whiskeys have been drawn are different, making them unique expressions that you’ll only get in 2009… and while supplies last.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Notes are similar to last year. Good rye spice, with a nice sugar rush on the finish, followed by a slightly bittersweet finale. Feels hot despite again being a 90 proof whiskey, but water helps immeasurably. I like it just fine. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Eagle Rare’s new 17-year bourbon is another knockout, a perfectly sweetened and surprisingly woody whiskey compared to the prior year’s rendition. I prefer the 2008 to this 2009 version, where the wood gets in the way of the nutty characters of the whiskey, leaving it tasting a bit leathery. Still quite good, though. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – Now a cult favorite amont bourbon nuts, George T. Stagg’s 2009 bourbon, at 141.4 proof, is unadulterated firewater. Add some water… or a lot of water… and its charms are obvious. Caramel and thick wood sap blend together into a melange of old-school, frontier bourbon character. I like this year’s version a little better than last year. It is more in balance, dominated by rich molasses and a huge finish. A

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 134.8 proof, far more boozy than last year’s whiskey, with, again, 11 years of age on it. Strong fruit character, with apple the big component, plus a little cinnamon on the back of the palate. A little strange, to be honest, there’s so much fruit here that I wonder if the kids’ apple juice somehow got in the mix. B

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac – 129 proof straight rye, with 7 years of age. Intensely herbal, it almost tastes like this whiskey’s been studded with cloves somehow, with a flood of fruit on the palate. Out of balance, this one doesn’t do it for me. B-

about $65 each / greatbourbon.com

buffalo trace 2009 antique collection Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2009 Edition

Review: Templeton Rye Prohibition Era Whiskey

If they were drinking whiskey this good back in the Prohibition days, I don’t feel so bad for them after all.

A purported favorite of Al Capone and “the center of his bootlegging empire,” Templeton Rye is a killer whiskey that — if marketng is to be believed — has been being produced in small quantities ever since those dark days.

Now it’s rolling across the country in less small quantities, and if you’re lucky enough to find one, count your blessings and bust out your Visa card.

Templeton is less overtly spicy than many ryes, and I found it to have more of a Canadian whisky character to it (which is typically a blend of rye and other grain whiskeys). Reportedly aged for five years in charred oak (though no formal age statement is noted), this is a surprisingly deep brown whiskey for a rye.

The flavor profile is overwhelming, and in a good way. Starting with honeycomb and toffee, it soon reveals notes of buttermilk biscuits, shortbread, and even gingersnaps. Extremely easygoing, there’s virtually no heat on the finish at all, which is probably why I’m well into glass #3. A bit of dark chocolate plays on the finish, too.

What’s not to like? Pretty much nothing except it’s horrible lack of availability. The whiskey was available only in Iowa until 2007. Now it’s creeping across the country, city by city. Hope it comes officially to my neck of the woods — this is possibly the best rye I’ve ever sampled.

80 proof.

A / $40 / templetonrye.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]

templeton rye Review: Templeton Rye Prohibition Era Whiskey

Review: (ri)1 Rye Whiskey

Just so I can get it down, officially, the full, official name of this product is (rî)¹. Actually, that’s a cheat, because there’s no symbol for a “long lowercase I” — an i with a horizontal bar instead of a dot — that the web can render, at least not that I know of. So that’s as close as it gets… but for our purposes, (ri)1 will have to do.

Either way, it’s pronounced “rye one.”

Rye whiskeys are a relative rarity in a world of Scotch, bourbon, and Canadian whiskey. It’s said to be hard to make, and demand is relatively low, since it lacks the sweetness of bourbon and is not really ideal when sipped on its own.

But if you’re at all a fan of rye, (ri)1 is definitely one to try. The character of the rye grain really comes through. As much as I enjoy Old Overholt, it’s night and day next to (ri)1, which punches you with a stronger bite, peppery spices cutting right through the 92-proof whiskey. Cinnamon is particularly pronounced as well.

Try it straight, but put it in a classic cocktail like a Rye Manhattan or a Sazerac for even more fun. Go easy, though… it’s pricey for rye.

Oh, and lest you think the chemical/math fun was over, a (ri)2 and (ri)3 are already in the works. And as a side note, if you prefer a sweeter rye that still maintains that spicy rye character, try Russell’s Reserve.

A- / about $48 / ri1whiskey.com

ri 1 rye whiskey Review: (ri)1 Rye Whiskey

Review: Buffalo Trace 2008 Antique Collection Whiskeys

Each year the distilling masters and Buffalo Trace release limited-release whiskeys that connoisseurs will want to seek out. This year’s five whiskeys, rarities that may not see store shelves come 2009, are all worth exploring in depth.

Some notes on each of the five (all officially 2008 releases) follow. (They are pictured in the order reviewed below, from left to right.) Each has a suggested retail price of $65 (though prices will vary based on demand). They are NOT sold as a set.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – Classic, super-spicy rye, with a sugary kick. Too hot to drink straight (though a “mere” 90 proof in this lineup), it goes down a little too easily with a splash of water. Not as complex as I’d hoped, 18 years might be a little too long in the cask for a rye. Hard to say. Still, it’s a compelling spirit — definitely a good rye for the bourbon enthusiast. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – An extremely appealing bourbon, 90 proof, showing sweet honey laced with very light wood notes. Smooth finish, especially with water. About as perfect as it gets, I can’t really say anything else about it except to go get some. Now. A

George T. Stagg Bourbon – At 141.8 proof, this bourbon, aged 15 years, is a hunka hunka burning love. Emphasis on the burning. The nose is heavy with molasses and lots of wood. The wood follows over to the glass, so if oak is what you’re after, Staff should be in your glass. The darkest spirit in the bunch, this bittersweet bourbon has more complexity than most, with a complicated, lingering finish that always harkens back to the wood. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – Another appealing, super-hot wheat-based whiskey, this one aged 11 years (and two months) and topping out at 125.3 proof. (The last 0.3 is the killer!) Loaded with vanilla and Christmas spices, it’s maybe the sweetest bourbon in the lineup, though I preferred the Eagle Rare’s balance just a touch more. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac – One last rye, this one far younger than the Sazerac 18 Year at just six years, five months in cask. Proof is another blazing hot one: 127.5, too alcoholic to sip straight but immensely approachable with water. Warming and smooth, it’s got less whiskey-ness, for lack of a better word, but this would be an amazing spirit for cocktails, particularly its namesake Sazerac. B+

greatbourbon.com

buffalo trace antique collection Review: Buffalo Trace 2008 Antique Collection Whiskeys

Review: Russell’s Reserve Rye Whiskey

There’s a dearth of good, affordable rye whiskey on the market. While I swear by Old Overholt, I welcome competition in the form of Russell’s Reserve (from the same folks that make Wild Turkey), a rye that, at $25, isn’t as cheap as Overholt but isn’t in the stratosphere like some high-end bottlings.

Russell’s is a classic rye, aged six years. It’s very spicy and perfect for straight drinking or mixing into a Sazerac or Rye Manhattan. Aside from a strong sense of that peppery cinnamon heat and a kick of almond and vanilla-laced oak, you won’t find much more to get in the way of the flavor. I’d even go so far as to characterize this is a perfect “beginner’s rye,” though I’m finding it quite pleasant as an old school rye man, myself.

At 90 proof, it’s slightly more alcoholic than Overholt (and you’ll notice it unless you cut it with water). Otherwise, a perfectly capable, classic bottle of rye. (It doesn’t appear to be on the market anywhere yet; below you’ll find a photo of the tiny sampler bottle. I’m not entirely sure how the final product will look!) Updated with final product photo; Russell’s says it is now on store shelves, so watch for it.

A- / $25 / wildturkeybourbon.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

russellsrye2 Review: Russells Reserve Rye Whiskey

Classic: The Sazerac

When people see my home bar their eyes tend to glaze over. I have everything you could want, which leaves people too overwhelmed to figure out what they really want to drink. When they ask me to surprise them, I make a Sazerac.

Since it doesn’t require any fresh ingredients like lemon juice, the Sazerac is easy to make in a pinch if I haven’t been to the grocery store recently. It is also fairly simple and has a story behind it. The one I tell is that it’s one of the oldest cocktails ever made (dating back to 1859, though the recipe has evolved). It originated in New Orleans, where they say the tourists drink Hurricanes, but the locals drink Sazeracs. I like that.

Here’s how I make it:

The Sazerac
1 tsp. Absinthe liqueur (preferably Herbsaint)
1 1/2 to 2 oz. Rye Whiskey (preferably Old Overholt)
1 sugar cube
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Coat the inside of a cocktail glass with the Herbsaint and pour out the excess. Shake the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Caveat: You have to like absinthe (that is, licorice) to enjoy the Sazerac, but it’s not overpowering in the drink. A good Sazerac has that classic rye kick, balanced by the sweetness of the sugar. If you like an Old-Fashioned, you ought to love a Sazerac.

I’ve seen this made with numerous variations. Chenery Park restaurant, a local haunt, makes it with, of all things, Crown Royal. Canadian whiskey in a Sazerac is about as heretical as it comes, but the drink isn’t bad. It’s perfectly palatable, but lacks the rye spiciness that makes the cocktail so memorable. You may not use Old Overholt (though it’s so good and so cheap I don’t know why you wouldn’t), but for Pete’s sake don’t use foreign whiskey in this all-American drink. Some also serve the drink in an old-fashioned glass, but I like the way the residual sugar pools at the bottom of a cocktail glass. If you don’t like that rush of sweetness at the end, sub in simple syrup instead of granulated sugar.