Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Review: High West Yippee Ki-Yay

High West Yippee Ki-YayHigh West’s latest little blend came out of nowhere, but here it is, for your frontier-style enjoyment.

Yippee Ki-Yay, inspired by Buffalo Bill and his ilk, is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys: One is a two year old MGP whiskey that is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The second is a whiskey (reportedly 16 years old) made at Barton: 53% rye and 37% corn (presumably the remaining 10% is barley). (This is the current composition of High West Double Rye.)

Now for the fun stuff: this whiskey is aged normally, then barrel finished in two different wine casks: an oak barrel that previously held Vya Vermouth and an oak barrel that previously held Qupé Syrah.

As usual, High West offers no information on the proportions of the two whiskeys in the mix, or the length of time the spirit spent in the finishing barrels.

The result is exotic and quite unique. First, check out the color, which is very dark in shade, a chestnut brown with ruby notes driven from the syrah barrel. The nose is where things really start to move. Coffee and cloves give this a wintry, fireside character, almost smoky at times. On the palate, that coffee character really pops right from the start, but then it delves into a cuckoo combination of oxidized wine characteristics and more traditional rye whiskey notes. Look especially for flavors of burnt caramel candies, banana flambe, balsamic vinegar, and particularly some notes of bitter orange peel. The finish hints at bitter amaro, with lingering notes of over-ripe black fruit and an herbal kick of that long-since-oxidized vermouth, which is unexpected but also unmistakeable. (If one flavor stuck with me an hour after I put down my glass, it was vermouth.)

That said, the whiskey is lots of fun, and as I said, unusual and unique stuff — not what I was expecting but interesting enough to sip on for quite a while. Yippee Ki-Yay, indeed!

92 proof.

A- / $65 / highwest.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey (2016)

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. Compare to 2011 version here. 80 proof. C+ / $15  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

rebelyellbourbon.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

It was another unforgettable year at 2015’s WhiskyFest, with some of whiskydom’s most cherished icons on tap for tasting, and plenty of old friends to mingle and catch up with.

Of course, many of those old friends come in liquid form, and I had ample opportunity to revisit plenty of classic whiskies while spending time with a number of newer drams. Here’s a brief look at everything I tasted at the San Francisco installment of this essential spirits show.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

Scotch

Tullibardine 20 Years Old / A- / showing beautifully, a nice balance of vanilla and cereal notes (bourbon barrel aged)
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / A / a much different experience, with gorgeous nougat and honey notes (sherry barrel aged)
Balvenie 50 Years Old Cask 4567 / A+ / snuck out from behind a curtain, this is Balvenie shining at its brightest; not old and hoary but light on its feet and ready to dance; explosive, with dried berries, dense toffee, baking spices, and florals on the finish; 2 casks produced, the other cask is said to be very different
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask / A- / very caramel heavy, racy but dense, with lots of brown sugar notes
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old / A- / blended whiskey from three silent stills; restrained with toffee, nuts, and some kippered notes; comes out next year
Glengoyne 18 Years Old / A- / big body, notes of grain and fruitcake
Glengoyne 21 Years Old / B+ / traditional malt, with cocoa hints
Aberlour Scapa Skiren / B / lots of sweetness, with a malty backbone – plus melon, sweet mandarins
Highland Park Odin / B+ / dense and handsome, sherry with some smoky charcoal notes; not in love with this today
Dewar’s Scratched Cask / B+ / Dewar’s White with a little “scratched cask” aging; not readily distinguishable from the entry level blend, though quite powerful
Aultmore 12 Years Old / B+ / heavy vanilla and chocolate, dense with shortbread notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1964 / A- / heavy wood notes play with raisins and spice; this has seen wood for too long, though
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1984 / A / right where it’s at; vibrant and exotic, with tropical notes, plum pudding, and hints of grain; absolutely gorgeous
Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend / B+ / well-balanced, malty with some smoky notes
Compass Box Hedonism 15 Years Old Anniversary Bottling / A- / a blend of single grains, all 20 years old or more; fun toffee and fruit trifle notes
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A- / rich, smoky, with a gentler fruit core
Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky / B / a blend of single malts and grain whisky, 19 to 40 years of age; Compass Box got into trouble over this one (more on that later); I got a little mustiness and mushroom notes here, with creosote bubbling up; not feeling it tonight

American

McKenzie Pure Potstill Whiskey / B- / American pure pot still? wacky! this one is very young, but that hint of classic Irish sweetness hits hard on the finish
Sonoma County Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey / B+ / 100% rye, with shaved truffles added to the barrel; not what you’re expecting, but with forest floor notes a-plenty
Stranahan’s Snowflake (Dec. 2014) / A- / easily my favorite Snowflake bottling to date, beautiful balance of sweet and spice, very pretty
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak / A- / lush and big with dried fruits, spices, and gentle granary notes; another winner from Colorado
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old / A- / a classically structured bourbon, dense and stylish, with a spicy finish
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A+ / there’s a reason this whiskey is the most expensive bourbon made in America — it’s the best thing anyone is making in the country; dense raisin, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee… it just goes on and on with layer after layer of goodness
High West A Midwinter’s Night Dram Act 3 / A / my favorite AMND yet; cherry and herbs in balance (not blown out), with a licorice kick
High West Bourye Batch 15B03 / A / still gorgous; syrupy and fruity, unctuous at times
High West Single Malt 1 Month Old / NR / a work in progress, surprisingly gentle for single malt but a fun look at something coming down the pipeline… give it another 5 years at least

Canadian

Forty Creek Confederation Oak / A / beautiful vanilla and maple notes, but dense and balanced
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve / A- / very enjoyable, candy corn and chocolate raisins at play
Forty Creek Evolution / A- / again, quite candylike and very sweet; 9000 bottles made
WhistlePig Straight Rye Old World Sauternes Finish 12 Years Old / A- / a very strong and sweet whisky (just one of the components of the new Old World bottling), with lemon curd notes

Other

Diplomatico Blanco Rum 6 Years Old / B / solid, uninspired as a sipper though
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Vintage 2000 / A / vintage Diplomatico; gorgeous, sherry-finished rum, balanced perfectly

Review: Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye Whiskey and Cherrywood Rye Whiskey

SCD_CherrywoodRye_RTRemember 1512 Spirits? This tiny Rohnert Park, California operation has grown by leaps and bounds — and recently changed its name to Sonoma County Distilling Company. SCDC is pumping out products, mostly young whiskeys, including bourbon, wheat whiskey, and at least two ryes, both of which we’re reviewing today.

Let’s take a look at what this humble operation north of San Francisco is pumping out.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Sonoma Rye Whiskey – 100% California rye, primarily unmalted rye with malted rye as a secondary grain. Double distilled and aged in new charred American oak, finished in used barrels. It’s young stuff (likely only a year or two old, though there’s no age statement), and on the nose it’s full of youthful roasted cereal notes, raw lumber, and some hospital notes. The body is more well-rounded, adding ample baking spice notes driven by the rye, some cherry fruit, and gentle vanilla. The finish is quite lumber-driven, with an echo of cereal. 108.8 proof. Reviewed: Batch #8. B- / $50

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey – This is a more complicated product, made from (primarily) unmalted Canadian rye, cherrywood smoked malted barley, and unmalted Canadian wheat. It’s double distilled, then aged in new oak and finished in used barrels. And this one carries an age statement: A minimum of one year in oak. The results: Not at all what I was expecting, in a good way. The nose is youthful and lightly grainy, but more breakfast cereal than toasted bread, with hints of butterscotch. The body is where this whiskey really shines, offering gentle sweetness, with plenty of vanilla, cake frosting, and dried fruits. There is a slight smokiness on the back end, compounded with toasted nuts and — finally — some heavier grain elements. The finish isn’t a standout, but the palate offers plenty to enjoy. I’d use this freely as a cocktail base. 96 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. B+ / $50

sonomacountydistilling.com

Tasting Lost Spirits Whiskey Experiments

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Lost Spirits — the company that’s knee deep in ultra-accelerated spirits aging technology — has largely devoted its early experiments to one liquor category: Rum.

Why rum? It’s easier to age, with simpler ingredients and a more straightforward line from white spirit to old brown stuff.

Whiskey is a bit of a holy grail for Lost Spirits, as it’s a more lucrative market with larger appeal at the high end. (As you’ll recall, Lost Spirits’ reactor can age a product to the equivalent of 20 years of age — no more, and no less.) But it’s also been difficult to make, says CEO Bryan Davis, due to some incredibly geeky complications with the way certain bacteria interplay with the wood that makes up the barrel.

Well, Davis says that he’s on the path to figuring this out, and he sent me some whiskey samples from the reactor to see how things are progressing. On tap: Two bourbons (one 100 proof, one 118 proof) and a 100 proof rye. (To reiterate: These are not commercial products but just works-in-progress submitted for some early thoughts. All of them started off with new make spirit from a major Kentucky distillery, though Davis can’t say which.)

In short, Lost Spirits is well on the path, but there’s still work to be done. The overwhelming flavor of both of the bourbon experiments is smoke. Not barrel char, but campfire smoke, something that lands the experience closer to a peated Scotch than to any bourbon I’ve ever had. The body offers some floral elements and fruit underneath, with cherry notes enduring for a time — before the dense smoke elements take hold again. It still doesn’t quite compare to even very old bourbon — the near complete lack of sweetness is a key concern — indicating there’s still work to be done on the aging process.

Conversely, the rye is a much bigger success, showcasing classic rye baking spice notes, plenty of fruit, and a more restrained and gentle smoke character. Marshmallows, baked bread, and baked apples are blended together with just a bit of petrol and some of that forest fire smokiness to create a complex but balanced whole. Now 20 year old rye is hard to come by — I don’t know if I’ve ever had any at all — so comparisons with currently available products aren’t easy to make. But either way, this is a whiskey that I could drink right now, its various elements really firing together beautifully.

Review: Oppidan American Botanical Gin and Malted Rye Whiskey

Oppidan_Chosen

Oppidan is a Chicago area-based microdistillery that is starting off with two products — a gin and an aged, malted rye. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

Oppidan American Botanical Gin – A spin on London Dry, with grapefruit peel, hibiscus, cinnamon, elderflower, ginger, cardamom, and chamomile among the named botanicals. The nose is gentle and studded with mixed florals, moderate earth tones, and clear elderflower notes. On the palate, a wealth of flavors come forward — more floral notes, some chocolate, shaved licorice, some fennel, all with a seductive and lightly sweet finish. This is a feminine gin with a restrained and quiet body, a beautiful and delicate number that could pair well with just about anything. In a world where gin is an increasingly interesting category, it’s one of the best new bottlings you’ll find and I recommend it wholesale. 86 proof. A / $30

Oppidan Malted Rye Whiskey – A whiskey made from 100% malted rye, no age indicated. Clearly a young spirit, the whiskey is loaded with notes of grainy malt, smoke, and raw wood. The body offers some sweetness — vanilla, some baking spice, chewy wood, and beef jerky notes — but that youthful granary character is tough to shake. It’s hardly offensive, but you can find this same earthy and woody character in any number of young craft whiskeys on the market today. 92 proof. B / $45

oppidanspirits.com