Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Rye

New Holland Brewing Company’s Beer Barrel Bourbon was a pioneer, back in 2013, of finishing whiskey in beer casks. Now the Michigan-based company is back with a new whiskey: Beer Barrel Rye.

The idea is much the same as before. This is a double-distilled rye (no mashbill available) that is aged in new oak barrels before finishing in Dragon’s Milk stout barrels (which were previously used for whiskey). The circle of life, no? Unlike Beer Barrel Bourbon, however, it is bottled at 44% abv, not 40%.

So, let’s taste this stuff.

The nose is quite youthful. Lots of granary character and notes of dusty steamer trunk, mushroom, and wet leather dominate the nose. There’s a fruitiness to it, but it’s hard to peg — a bit of a melange of dried berries and oddball sherry notes. On the palate the experience is somewhat more interesting, though equally hard to parse. There’s still a significant, ample youth here, lumberyard notes leading the way to a chewy palate with more of a meaty mushroom meets beef jerky character. Dusky clove and tobacco dominate a dry, forest-like finish that barely nods in the direction of sweetness, perhaps evoking a hint of chocolate. On the other hand, it’s not particularly “spicy” in the style of classic rye whiskeys — though perhaps that’s merely a sign of too many days being spent in those stout barrels, or simply a question of pairing the wrong whiskey or the wrong beer, ultimately creating a mismatch that doesn’t gel the way it did in the bourbon release.

88 proof.

B- / $35 /

Review: Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Straight Rye Whiskey

The number of craft whiskey distilleries in America continues to rise, but only a fraction of them can bottle their own distillate as a “straight whiskey,” meaning it’s at least two years old. Even fewer can claim to be bottling at 5-plus years, which is comparable in age to the core products from industry big boys like Jim Beam and Heaven Hill.

Woodinville Whiskey Company is one of these very few craft distilleries. They opened their doors in Woodinville, Washington in 2010 and began distilling with the assistance of industry legend and former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell. While they distill just outside of Seattle, Washington, that climate doesn’t exactly lend itself to efficient barrel aging, so they ship their filled barrels to Quincy on the other side of the Cascades, where they are warehoused at the same farm from which they source most of their grain.

We recently had the opportunity to sample Woodinville’s two flagship products: one a straight bourbon and the other a straight rye. Thoughts follow.

Woodinville Whiskey Company Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Even though a Maker’s Mark Master Distiller assisted in its creation, Woodinville’s bourbon uses rye, not wheat, for the flavoring grain. That rye spice is immediately present on the nose with pepper and cherry notes, along with heavy, bordering on astringent, oak aromas. Oak tannins similarly dominate the palate initially but give way to notes of vanilla, caramel, and baking chocolate. It’s a bold whiskey that drinks a little bigger than its 90 proof but with a syrupy mouthfeel and generous, cinnamon-filled finish that isn’t nearly as drying as I would expect. Water is an all-around friend to this one, subduing the wood and enhancing the underlying flavors and aromas. I’d be curious to see what a year or two more in the barrel does for this bourbon. 90 proof. A- / $55

Woodinville Whiskey Company Straight Rye Whiskey – For a 100% rye whiskey, the nose is softer than I would expect, with raw honey, spearmint, and subtle fruit aromas. The mouthfeel is a touch thin, and as with Woodinville’s bourbon, oak immediately takes hold on the palate. Unlike the bourbon, however, it never really lets up. Cream soda, mint, and cracked black pepper notes struggle against the barrel and dry up rather quickly. A splash of water seems to tame the wood influence and add some complexity to the finish, but the mid-palate flavors get diluted. 90 proof. B / $55

Review: Kentucky Owl Straight Rye 11 Years Old

Kentucky Owl was once known only to a truly dedicated set of whiskey drinkers who paid exorbitant retail prices (and worse on the secondary market) for the brand’s extremely limited bourbon releases sourced from an undisclosed distillery or distilleries in Kentucky. You may still have never heard of Kentucky Owl, but after its sale to Stoli Group (I know you’ve heard of their vodka) and plans to invest $150 million in a distillery and visitor center for the brand, chances are good you’ll be hearing and seeing more from them soon. Early evidence to that fact is the first batch of Kentucky Owl Straight Rye, which was recently released in 25 states plus the District of Columbia.

Like the bourbon, Kentucky Owl Rye is a sourced whiskey of unknown provenance, but it clocks in at 11 years old (a ripe age for any rye out there), and it’s bottled at almost 111 proof. The nose is a little restrained for the proof, but it’s complex nevertheless with mint, toasted oak, and honeyed floral notes. The proof is more evident on the palate with a bold, peppery entry, but the initial heat subsides rather quickly for a rye. It’s perhaps a little thin but still wonderfully oily and rich. The palate is full of clove, cinnamon, and a little ginger all balanced perfectly with the oak. Most enjoyable is how the rye spice lingers across the whole experience, never overpowering any of the other flavors as so many ryes often do. The finish is long with a slight heat and fading notes of honey, vanilla, and baking spice.

All told, this first batch of Kentucky Owl Rye is an exceptional sipping whiskey, and as an introduction for what will likely be a big brand expansion, it sets the bar high.

110.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

A / $130 /

Review: Redemption The Ancients Collection Rye 18 Years Old

Diageo doesn’t have a monopoly on “orphan barrels,” it turns out. Redemption, which continues to turn out well-aged American whiskey, has launched a new collection of spirits called The Ancients, including an 18 year old rye (reviewed here) and a bourbon that, at 36 years old, stands as the oldest American whiskey I’ve ever even heard of.

Here’s some details from the company:

Whiskey collectors can now own a piece of American distilling history, with the launch of The Ancients collection from Redemption Whiskey. Known for producing award-winning whiskies across ages and mash bills of high rye content, Redemption is expanding its portfolio with the release of an 18-Year-Old Rye and 36-Year-Old Bourbon. An extremely limited supply of both cask-strength expressions will be available in select U.S. markets.

The Ancients collection features whiskies laid down in barrels in 1978 and 1998 at the old Seagram’s distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the same place where every drop of Redemption Whiskey has ever been produced,” says Tom Steffanci, President of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. “The 18 Year-Old is a reflection of our obsession with Rye and showcases the ageability of rye, and the 36 Year-Old is a result of our access to precious little cache of bourbon acquired many years ago.”

How ageable is this rye? Let’s give it a whirl.

Whew — the nose is loaded with wood, to the point where it’s hard to parse out much else aside from dense lumberyard and a few dusky cloves. Maybe some mint, if you give it ample time and air.

The palate though tells another story. There’s an immediate onslaught of barrel char, sure, but the attack is surprisingly short-lived. The heavy oak notes quickly fade, and they are soon replaced with a very warm, but very deep, baking spice character, heavy on the cloves but also showcasing secondary notes of almonds, brown butter, red wine, and spearmint. The finish finds burly, almost smoky, toffee notes as the core of its warming, satisfying conclusion.

$400 is a lot to pay for a whiskey, but — the BTAC aside — finding rye of this age is almost impossible at any price. Worth a shot.

109.9 proof.

A- / $400 /

Review: Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old (2017), High-Rye 10 Years Old, and Bourbon 9 Years Old (2017)

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of Redemption Rye’s Barrel Proof lineup, which comprises a series of three different whiskeys, released roughly once a year. Complicating matters are the fact that those whiskeys haven’t always been the same types of spirit. In 2015 it was three straight ryes. Today the lineup includes the same base spirits as what we reviewed in 2016, only all of them are now a bit older.

As it was last year, this year’s Aged Barrel Proof selection includes one straight rye and two bourbons, one from a high-rye mashbill and one from a lower-rye mash. (All are still sourced from MGP in Indiana.)

Note that packaging has been dramatically updated for this year — though, bless Redemption, despite the extra age, MSRP has not changed on any of the below whiskeys.

Let’s dig into the 2017 trio!

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 10 Years Old (2017) – Same mash as 2016: 95% rye, 5% barley. There’s a surprising amount of youth on the nose here, boldly grainy, some dusky spice, and a leathery character as it fades. The palate is fairly straightforward and not terribly remarkable, chewy with a ton of toffee and caramel, and only moderate notes of fresh ginger, cloves, and black pepper. The finish muddies the waters, though, with a gummy, overtly earthy note that is a heavy letdown. 116.2 proof. B-

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof High-Rye Bourbon 10 Years Old – 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley. Massively spicy, with a racy, nostril-searing nose. While very nutty, it features some oddball aromas of mossy vegetation, fruitcake, and even a little petrol. The palate follows suit, again coming across not entirely like a bourbon. Dried fruits, dark chocolate, and pine resin all seem appropriate, but there’s a heavy herbal character on the back end that ultimately settles into a groove of … well, is that mustard? It’s an oddity, to be sure, but at least it’s approachable enough with water. 114.8 proof. B

Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old (2017) – The lower-rye version of this bourbon at 10 years of age: 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% barley. More approachable than the High-Rye, with a seductive nose of toffee, nuts, and dried fruit — classic bourbon character through and through. The palate is warming, stuffed to the gills with flavors, including dates, juicy raisins, coffee bean, bold toffee and caramel notes, with a gentle red pepper note on the back end. At 108 proof it’s approachable, but water soothes the burn while bringing out the nutty, almond-centric flavors. At last a winner! 108.2 proof. A-

each $100 /

Drinkhacker Asks: Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell

Like most discerning drinkers, we here at Drinkhacker have many questions we’d like to ask the people behind our favorite wine, beer, or spirit. Every now and then, we get the opportunity to actually do so. For the first in our series of short interviews, we talked to the “the Buddha of Bourbon” himself and the longest-tenured active Master Distiller in the spirits world, Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell.

We interviewed Jimmy at the Wild Turkey Visitor Center in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky where you’ll often find him (when he’s not traveling the world) sitting on his stool, happy to talk to any of the thousands of visitors that come through Wild Turkey’s doors every year.

Drinkhacker: Thanks for taking the time, Jimmy. We know you’re a pretty busy man for 82 years young. Let’s get right to it. Any fun whiskeys you’ve been working on lately?

Jimmy Russell: In October, I went out to Virginia to help make a special rye whiskey for the 10th anniversary of the reconstruction of George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon. A whole bunch of us form Kentucky and other places got together on it.

I know you prefer bourbon over rye. How’s it taste?

JR: It was pretty good. It’s got a good amount of corn in it like our Russell’s Reserve Rye, so I like it.

So you were in Virginia not that long ago, and you leave for WhiskyFest in New York City tomorrow. You travel a lot. I hope you’re flying First Class or at least getting some Wild Turkey on the plane!

JR: You know the only airline that carries Wild Turkey is Southwest, and they don’t fly out of Lexington. I’m good friends with the founder, Herb Kelleher, and I keep trying to get him to come out here. He’s a great guy. You know, for Herb’s 65th birthday we printed his face on 65 bottles of Wild Turkey bourbon. He got a kick out of it.

If he’s a Wild Turkey fan, you must be a great friend to have. I’m surprised he didn’t build you a personal runway next to the Visitor’s Center! With all that travel, what’s the furthest you’ve flown for an event?

JR: We go all the way to Japan. The Japanese love bourbon. And their whiskey festivals last two days and start at 10 AM!

Sounds like we’re doing it all wrong in the states! You used to do a lot of festivals with Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller, Parker Beam, who passed away earlier this year. I know you two were very close. Any stories or memories you’d like to share about Parker?

JR: Yeah. Parker and I were close. You know he didn’t know he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) until he was about 70. And even when he got diagnosed he didn’t want to slow down. He especially loved driving, and he’d get somebody to ride with him and shift gears for him when he couldn’t do it anymore!

Sounds like he was quite a character. And definitely a legend in the bourbon world.

JR: Yeah. It used to be me, and Parker, and Booker Noe, and Elmer T. Lee, and now I’m the only one left.

And it doesn’t look like you’re slowing down any time soon! But the business has really become a family affair for many distilleries. You’ve got your son Eddie sharing Master Distiller responsibilities with you. How about your grandchildren? Are they planning to get into the business?

JR: Oh yeah. My grandson has been getting experience with all the different parts of the distillery. He’ll be with me and Eddie at WhiskyFest in New York, and my granddaughter who works here in the Visitor’s Center will be with us, too.

Well, it sounds like the future of Wild Turkey is in good hands. Now we just need to get 101 on more airline drink menus!

JR: Ha. Yeah, that’d be nice.

Review: Ragtime Rye

We’ve previously encountered New York Distilling Company with its Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye product, and today we take a step back and look at the company’s straight rye, Ragtime. It’s unclear if Ragtime is used as a component in Mister Katz’s, but we do know it is distilled from New York rye grain and aged in full-sized barrels (not minis) for three years. That makes for a young whiskey, but one with a surprising degree of complexity.

This is a surprisingly fully-formed rye, with a very racy nose full of baking spices, brown sugar, and flecks of bitter roots giving it a curious and pungent aroma. The palate brings all of the above to a mostly cohesive whole, eventually. At first blush, some toasty grain notes and barrel char give it a too-youthful presentation, but with a little air things settle down and the whiskey reveals a strong line of butterscotch at the core, ample vanilla, and plenty of that cinnamon/nutmeg-driven baking spice. The finish sees a reprise of that lightly bitter edge, which gives it some unexpected character. The whiskey doesn’t come together 100% completely, as the balance richochets a bit between sweet and bitter without ever finding an equilibrium, but on the whole I find it quite engaging and definitely worth a look, particularly as a cocktail mixer.

90.4 proof.

B+ / $40 /