One of the most venerable names in rye whiskey has received a major refresh: Old Overholt has been rebranded, relabeled, and reproofed, now hitting 86 proof instead of 80, as it has been for years. Per the company, “Bottles will now feature a grumpier likeness of our creator Abe Overholt, a red cap like the original bottles, and various factual updates.”
The Old Overholt Bonded expression which was launched in 2018 has also been refreshed, but changes here appear mostly to be to the label — including the name, which is now officially “Bottled-in-Bond” instead of just “Bonded.”
Let’s look at the 2020 releases of both versions — and stay tuned for an upcoming 11 year old, limited edition expression of Old Overholt later this year.
Old Overholt Straight Rye (2020) – Tasted side by side with a 2015 bottling, Old Reliable has changed more than I would have expected after the bump in proof, and it does come across as somewhat more refined, and considerably more interesting. It’s spicy on the nose but not overdone, featuring notes of clove and black pepper against a walnut oil backdrop. A bit leathery on the palate but laced with spices — more pepper, more cloves, and some nutmeg — it opens up with time in glass to showcase well-browned butter and peanut brittle, with a slightly austere furniture polish note on the finish. Compared to the 80 proof Overholt, it’s surprisingly night and day, with the older bottling coming across as rustic and dull, particularly on the nose, where the old bottling comes across as rubbery and medicinal now. This is a remarkable improvement that really surprised me. 86 proof. A- / $18
Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond Rye (2020) – A hot, wood-forward note leads the way on the nose, and it arrives as quite rustic and frontier-like, burly with notes of matchsticks and leather dominating. The palate settles into a more evocative groove that evokes notes of caramel corn, coconut, and brown butter — the main connection to the 86 proof version. As the whiskey moves toward the finish, notes of cloves and pepper begin to take over, but it still feels tight, with notes of menthol, hemp rope, and more clove dominating. The overall impression is one of a perfectly decent rye, but I was surprised to find more nuance and excitement in of the lower-proof expression. I wasn’t fully in love with the original bonded version of Old Overholt, and, label notwithstanding, it doesn’t really feel like anything has really changed here. 100 proof. B / $25