Based in Bettendorf, Iowa, Cat’s Eye Distillery has built their brand name largely on the back of sourced spirits — notably bourbon, rye, and light whiskey — from the United States, Canada, and several European countries. Bottled under the Obtainium or Nassif Family Reserve labels, their sourced whiskeys have also grown in popularity as cask strength single-barrel selections, often at eye-popping proofs. (26 year-old Canadian whisky often comes out of the barrel at over 75% alcohol.)
Their newest release is less catchy for its proof than its unique blend and finishing. The Magi Blended Rye Whiskey is equal parts 6 year-old MGP rye and 21 year-old Palliser Canadian rye, which is then finished in Port and sherry casks.
Of course, finished rye whiskey isn’t a new concept to American whiskey drinkers. The Magi’s blend is reminiscent of High West’s A Midwinter Nights Dram, produced by aging their Rendezvous Rye — itself a blend of older and younger whiskeys — in port barrels. And a finished Canadian component may also be familiar for fans of WhistlePig’s various older expressions.
But perhaps there’s innovation left to be had in the synthesis of these components. The blend of American and Canadian ryes, combined with the additional finishing component of sherry casks, certainly piqued my interest.
The Magi Blended Rye Whiskey is bottled at 107 proof. Let’s dive in.
The nose starts immediately with strong classic rye notes: baking spices and a big note of cloves hit quickly, then star anise. There’s an herbal component here (some might say dill), and the classic MGP rye notes shine through at the beginning. After a couple minutes in the glass, the scent opens and expands with dark, rich fruit and black cherry as notes from the port and sherry linger around the glass. You can sense the individual components: The two ryes, the Port, and the sherry. There are layers of complexity here, and they work well together instead of clashing.
At first sip, there’s a lot going on. There’s an immediate hit of sweetness, richer and thicker than I expected from the nose and those classic rye notes, with a much more subdued spice. The Magi has a noticeably thick mouthfeel that starts with that sweet, fruity note and then brings a level of tartness, a bit like cranberry compote. There’s lots of dried fruit here, both dried cherry and other stone fruit. Those fruity and sweet notes are finally followed by some rye spice bordering on cinnamon, but not heavily into that arena. Then there’s a pronounced almond note toward the back of the palate, which I get pretty frequently from well-aged Canadian ryes; it’s almost almond extract in nature, but it’s pretty light here. Going back, you can also sense a bit of that on the nose as well.
That thick mouthfeel lends itself to a long finish with a constant interplay between sweet, spice, and even sour elements. This is where the sherry punches through, but not in an overpowering way — it’s reminiscent of a sherried Scotch, maybe, but it’s certainly not just copying that profile. That sherry touch is really what helps differentiate this from other Port-finished ryes, adding depth that helps cut through and back on the sweetness. At the end, the finish fills the mouth and has a ripple effect, with more waves of flavor here that very gradually dissipate instead of simply falling off.
What I first saw as a curiosity — maybe an innovation on an innovation? — ended up being a truly lovely dram. Among finished products I’ve sampled recently, The Magi has a complexity that helps it stand apart from blends with only American components.
I’m not sure if this approach to blending and finishing could truly be called a risk, but it did result in quite the reward.
A / $100 / catseyedistillery.com