Category Archives: Rye

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!

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.


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 /

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

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 /

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.


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 /

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

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2008 Edition

Each year the distilling masters at 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+

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