Virgil Kaine, based in North Charleston, SC, is known for its ginger-infused bourbon — and now it’s stretching its brand to reach into straight spirits. First up is Virgil Kaine Robber Baron, a rye. It’s actually a blend of two whiskeys: 4% is bourbon and 96% is rye. Digging deeper, the bourbon is from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. The rye is from a mash of 94% rye and 6% malted barley. There’s no age statement and no information on the sourcing of the whiskeys, but some finishing with port and sherry barrel staves is involved before bottling.
On the nose, lots of spice — heavy menthol and cloves — plus notes of green banana and flowery perfume. A wood influence lingers underneath, but it’s so heavily perfumed and spiced, it’s surprisingly hard to access aromatically.
On the palate, the barrel has a significantly more powerful influence, punchy lumberyard notes that mingle with hints of ginger, more banana, orange peel, and plenty more of that clove-heavy baking spice. The finish is a bit rough, dense with pencil shavings and tons of clove, gripping at the back of the throat.
This is a young whiskey but one that’s incredibly expressive — perhaps overly so, its spicy character in need of a bit of tempering. Still, as it stands today it isn’t something I’d turn my nose up at, even in what feels a bit like an unfinished condition.
B / $36 / virgilkaine.com
Several distilleries have opened in the nation’s capital in recent years, but only One Eight Distilling can claim to have in their Rock Creek Rye the first grain to glass whiskey distilled, aged, and bottled in the District since prohibition. Also in their sizable portfolio are several quality non-barrel-aged spirits, including Ivy City Gin, and a host of sourced whiskeys released through their Untitled series that showcase various experiments with different finishes and proofs.
As the first distillery to bring whiskey back to DC, you wouldn’t expect One Eight to be satisfied with just a rye. Later this fall, they’ll release their own bourbon with plans to introduce single malt into their line-up in the near future. Drinkhacker got its hands on a sample of Rock Creek Rye along with a sample of one of the more unique whiskeys in the Untitled series. Thoughts follow.
One Eight Distilling Rock Creek Rye Whiskey – The nose on this whiskey has a fair amount of toasted cereal owing probably to the high amount of malted rye in the mashbill. There’s a little spearmint in there, as well, and notes of lemony floor polish and honeydew melon. There’s minimal spice or heat on the nose and none of the grassiness typical of younger rye whiskey. It drinks almost like a bourbon, and a nicely balanced one at that. There’s a little raw honey on the front palate followed by some spice, more lemon, and savory baked grain notes — almost like banana bread with a bit of walnut in it. The spice shows up more on the tail end, and cinnamon and vanilla bean round out a gentle, warming finish. In the increasingly crowded world of craft rye whiskey, this one has a lot going for it. 94 proof. A- / $50
One Eight Distilling Untitled Whiskey No. 3 – This whiskey is one of the more interesting in the growing Untitled line-up, and it displays some real creativity. It’s a product of collaboration with DC-based coffee roasters Vigilante Coffee who provided the roasted coffee beans to fill the finishing barrel for an undisclosed amount of time before a sourced six year-old, wheated bourbon was aged in it. The resulting whiskey has a powerful nose of dark chocolate-covered caramel and freshly ground coffee with a little molasses and cardamom lingering in it, too. The palate has great heat on it with bold notes of dark roast coffee and baking cocoa, along with traces of caramel and butterscotch. The finish is surprisingly long — perhaps this is a bourbon best paired with dessert. Still, if One Eight can make a coffee-finished whiskey this good, I’d love to see what they can do with more traditional wine casks. Batch 3, 92 proof. A- / $78
We reviewed the last entry into Woodford Reserve’s Distillery Series only in June — and as promised, the second of three special edition ryes to be released this year is already here.
Toasted Oak Rye is made from a mash of 53% rye, 33% corn, and 14% malted barley mash, matured in used Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels (time unstated), then re-barreled into new Woodford Double Oaked barrels for two years.
As a reminder, this is a distillery-only release.
This is a considerably different whiskey than the prior Blended Rye release, very sweet on the nose, with a clear butterscotch note. As the whiskey gets some air in it, the hefty wood notes come to the fore, alongside some notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger.
The sweetness similarly dominates the palate, offering more of that butterscotch, brown butter, cloves again, and gingerbread cookies. Let this one rest a bit — while it’s very sweet, it’s tempered by some wood (less than the nose would indicate), and air lets the two sides mingle quite seductively. The silky body — at a just-right 43.2% abv — supports the palate just right, leading to a long and juicy finish, with hints of applesauce and plenty of vanilla.
I first felt this rye was too sweet, and my hunch is you’ll probably feel the same way… but let it settle down so it can reveal its charms, and I think you’ll come out the other side impressed.
A- / $46 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com
Hey, Templeton isn’t the only outfit making whiskey in Iowa. Check out Iowa Legendary Rye, a much smaller, family-run operation which distills and ages its own 100% rye whiskey, all from locally sourced grains. The company bottles both the unaged rye and an aged expression, though the latter does not carry any aging or barreling information.
We tried them both.
Both are 80 proof.
Iowa Legendary Rye White Whiskey – Lots of fruit on the nose here — cherries and peaches — which leads to a palate that is loaded with overtones of apricot and peppermint. A relatively restrained body leads to a quiet finish, but one which pops with notes of the inevitable popcorn and a heavily fruity echo of cherries. An unusual expression of white whiskey, to be sure. B / $35
Iowa Legendary Rye Whiskey -This aged rye continues the fruit-heavy theme, but this time the focus is apple, with vanilla and caramel giving it a bit of an apple pie character. There’s ample youth at play, some funky mushroom notes, lots of lumber, and a hefty spearmint character (echoes of the white dog) that builds on the finish. That earthy funk is hard to shake, though, and it lingers on the finish with notes of prune and root vegetables. Better as a mixer, where the fruit can shine more clearly. B / $45
Order a “caffè corretto” in Italy, and you’ll get an espresso with a kick of something extra. The legendary drink was the inspiration for Cask & Crew whiskey, an imaginatively crafted and inventively flavored premium brand that LiDestri Spirits calls a “whiskey corrected.” Not that it needs correcting; the word communicates the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the whiskey’s blend of rye and corn.
Such is the tale behind this new whiskey brand from Rochester-based LiDestri — and one which begs the question, “Does whiskey need correcting?” Flavored whiskey is always a controversial topic, but Cask & Crew at least is releasing the unflavored expression alongside the two flavored versions (which are based on the same initial product, and dropped down to 35% abv). We tried all three. Thoughts follow.
Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey – This youngster is a blend of 51% three year old rye from Canada and 49% barrel aged American corn whiskey (age unstated). As young stuff goes, it’s got a surprising amount of life to it. The nose is a bit heavy with maple syrup notes, plus layers of brown sugar and popcorn. The palate is heavy with popcorn, but quite sweet as well, with some savory herbs and cola notes mingling with the sugar. The overall impact is perfectly acceptable as a mixer, and at least approachable on its own as an exemplar of a relatively immature — but flavorful — spirit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 1. B- / $28
Cask & Crew Ginger Spiced Whiskey – Sweet ginger beer notes on the nose, with nothing much else behind it. The palate is closer to a ginger liqueur than a whiskey, with some racy spices and a quieter showcase of berry-driven fruit. The finish echoes peaches, pineapple, and — as it lingers — vanilla and chocolate notes. A pleasant surprise, though only vaguely whiskeylike in any way. 70 proof. B / $25
Cask & Crew Walnut Toffee Whiskey – This is immediately off-putting with the overwhelming sweetness one typically finds with highly-sweetened flavored whiskeys — not particularly evident as toffee but rather a vanilla-heavy brown sugar and caramel character that dominates the aroma completely. The palate is even more overblown, a sugar bomb that coats the mouth, offering just a hint of nuttiness amidst all the saccharine funk. Definitely not whiskey “corrected.” 70 proof. D+ / $25
Woodford Reserve’s latest entry into its Distillery Series — so-called because it is only sold at the distillery — is called Blended Rye. As the name suggests, it’s a blend of rye whiskeys:
Woodford Reserve announces the latest Distillery Series expression as a unique blend of aged rye whiskey. The Woodford Reserve Distillery first made a whiskey from rye mash for the Masters Collection in 2004. The recipe was 100% rye. The following year in 2005, the production of rye whiskey for the Distiller’s Select line began. This was a 53% rye, 33% corn and 14% malted barley recipe. The Distillery Series highlights Woodford Reserve’s creative line of complex offerings showcasing the brand’s commitment to innovation and premium craftsmanship.
The original rye mash distillate used in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Aged Cask Rye expression [from 2004] had matured in used Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels. Select quantities of this quality rye were held back to continue maturing until 2017 when it was blended with the last of the original Distiller’s Select Straight Rye barrels to create this unique Rye Whiskey flavor profile.
Of special note, this is the first of three ryes that will be released in the Distillery Series this year.
The nose is on point — racy with black pepper, cloves, and ample barrel char. It’s light on the sweeter baking spices but offers a pungency that is enticing and a bit exotic. Things go a little sideways once you actually start drinking it. Here that ultra-savory char character overpowers everything, attacking the palate with notes of charcoal, well-done meat, and gnawed-on tree roots. What sweetness, fruit, and vanilla notes are here are so well buried that it’s hard to make much sense of them. A bit of stone fruit teases the palate at first, but it’s washed away almost immediately, leaving behind a mouth-coating blend of pepper and sawdust on the finish.
Altogether it’s an intriguing experiment, but this one just never really gets fully off the ground, done in by some whiskey that’s simply seen too much barrel time.
B- / $46 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com
This latest release from Pennsylvania’s Dad’s Hat may look familiar, since there’s already a Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey on the market, which we reviewed way back in 2013. Pay careful attention, though: This is not Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey, this is Dad’s Hat Straight Rye Whiskey. Not only is it able to use the “straight” moniker since it is older (3 years instead of about 6 months), it is also a bit higher in proof.
It’s also a considerably different whiskey.
Even more than prior Dad’s Hat releases, the nose of this whiskey is intense with both fresh and charred wood — though it takes on some notes of evergreen and mint, with overtones of fresh cut hay. The palate, and you can feel it coming, is a wood bomb that goes off in your mouth and from which you are unlikely to recover. What does manage to make it out of that overload of tannic wood are some notes of motor oil, smoldering matches, cloves, and bitter tree bark. Well, yes, a lot of that is a play on wood, so come prepared for plenty of it. Looking for sweetness? Ah, bless your heart. You’ve come to the wrong place altogether.
C+ / $38 / dadshatrye.com