Review: Cask & Crew Rye, Ginger Spice, and Walnut Toffee Whiskey

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

caskandcrew.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Blended Rye

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.

90.4 proof.

B- / $46 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Review: Dad’s Hat Straight Rye Whiskey (2017)

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.

95 proof.

C+ / $38 / dadshatrye.com

Review: Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Jumping on the rye bandwagon, Luxco’s Ezra Brooks has expanded to offer a rye — 95% rye, 5% barley, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled at just two years old — er, “24 months” according to the back label. It’s bottled just a tad overproof at 45% abv.

The nose doesn’t give too many hints about the whiskey on the whole. Dialed back and stripped down a bit, it shows the expected aromas of baking spice, but also some oddball notes, including licorice candy, overly heavy barrel char, and some sweetish campfire smoke. It’s interesting enough aromatically, though quite demure.

The palate immediately shifts gears and quickly belies the youth of the underlying whiskey, offering notes of green wood, raw alcohol, and simple cereals that claw at the tongue. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla here, but it’s undercooked and overwhelmed by those raw notes, coming across as simply having been bottled much too soon.

This rye doesn’t represent what Luxco can do — and in reality, it’s not much more than a way to make a quick buck by capitalizing on the current rush to rye whiskey. Better rye is out there for not much more money.

90 proof.

C- / $20 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Rabbit Hole Distilling Bourbon and Rye

Rabbit Hole Distilling is a new producer of whiskey, based in bourbon’s heartland, Kentucky. The company recently broke ground on its own distillery in downtown Louisville; for now it is producing whiskey at another Kentucky distillery using its own mashbills and recipes.

Rabbit Hole hit the ground with three whiskies. The standbys — a bourbon and a rye — are reviewed here. We missed out on the third, a sourced bourbon that Rabbit Hole finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. (A gin arrived later.)

Thoughts on these two — none of which is bottled with a formal age statement — follow.

Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Bourbon – A four-grain bourbon, but not what you think: The mash is 70% corn, 10% malted wheat, 10% malted barley, and 10% honey malted barley (a beer-centric barley with honey overtones; it’s not flavored with honey). “Over two years old.” The nose is closed off somewhat, offering restrained menthol notes, and lots of popcorn character. The palate is heavy with grain, but also rustic and loaded up with popcorn character. I do catch a whiff of honey on the back end — an earthy sweetness that provides a bit of balance to a whiskey that would clearly benefit from some extra maturity. A touch of dark chocolate lingers on the finish. 95 proof. B- / $46

Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Rye – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, also over two years old. Clearly youthful and a bit brash on the nose, where the whiskey melds barrel char with ample, toasty grains and some brown sugar notes. The palate finds more balance, a sweeter profile than the nose would indicate, with enough baking spice character to showcase the rye grain quite handily. Apple pie and bananas foster notes give the mid-palate a fun, fruity, chewy character that leads to a finish loaded with notes of honey and gingerbread. Impressive for a rye this young. 95 proof. A- / $59

rabbitholedistilling.com

Review: Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey Sherry Cask Finished

Luxco’s Limestone Branch Distillery brings us a new sourced product, Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey Sherry Cask Finished, made in honor of Minor Case Beam, grandfather of president Steve Beam and a rye whiskey fanatic back in the day.

There’s not a lot of production info here — it’s MGP rye, but the mashbill isn’t revealed. We do know it is aged for a mere two years, but it’s unclear if that is just the age in the original new oak barrel or if that includes the sherry cask finishing time. Also unknown: what kind of sherry is used for the finishing barrel.

Turns out none of that really matters. This is pretty amazing stuff regardless of its provenance.

The nose is immediately soft and quite approachable — a surprise given the whiskey’s age — with notes of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, and a side of juicy orange. That’s the sherry talking, and as the whiskey gets some air, those sweet citrus notes really open up to the point where they start to take over. Leading into the palate, again the whiskey is very gentle and easygoing, taking a caramel core and revealing notes of chocolate, smoky bacon, some red fruits, hints of red wine, and — as the finish arises — oranges and tangerines, though here it tends more toward peel than fruit.

Very soothing and supple, it’s a young rye whiskey that drinks a lot like a much older bourbon — the sherry perhaps working to counteract some of that classic rye spice and the brashness that comes with youth — and which offers tons of versatility as well as simple enjoyment.

90 proof.

A- / $50 / limestonebranch.com

Review: Whiskeys of Reservoir Distillery – Bourbon, Rye, Wheat Whiskey, and Gray Ghost

When deciding how to formulate their mashbills, Reservoir Distillery took one of the more unique approaches among craft whiskey-makers. They decided to not use a mashbill. Well, at least not a complicated one. Defying tradition, they concentrated on 100% grain expressions in their line up, all bottled at 100 proof. Their bourbon, for example, is 100% corn. Their rye is 100% rye. You get the idea.

Usually a flavoring grain is an important component, particularly in bourbon, but surprisingly Reservoir has managed to create a flavorful spirit out of just high quality, locally sourced grains and small, heavily charred barrels (no larger than 10 gallons and all with a #5 char). For those that would argue Reservoir’s approach to whiskey-making limits the potential complexity of their whiskey, distillery co-founder Dave Cuttino counters that their technique actually allows them to cater to the entire spectrum of whiskey drinkers by giving them the ingredients to make whatever “mashbill” they prefer (high rye, low rye, wheated, or even a wheated rye).

The potential for in-home blending aside, Reservoir Distillery’s whiskeys stand up just fine on their own. Thoughts follow. (Again, note all are 100 proof.)

Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey – Corn-sweet on the nose with notes of toasted cinnamon, pepper, and gingerbread. It’s bright on the palate and hot; caramel apple and candy corn notes evolve into sweet butter, maraschino cherry, and vanilla on the finish. Underneath the heat, there’s a lot to admire. A- / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Rye Whiskey – Clearly 100% rye on the nose here with citrus fruit notes all over it. The palate is spicy but not overpowering with layers of bubblegum, cracked black pepper, and some licorice. The finish is warming but a little short. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Reservoir Wheat Whiskey – This may be the most “wheaty” of wheaters. There’s oak, fresh mint, and cinnamon red hots on the nose. The palate is soft despite the proof, with notes of honey, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. The finish is syrupy with some slightly grassy notes. B+ / $45 (375ml)

Gray Ghost Whiskey – The Gray Ghost line is a limited release showcasing Reservoir Distillery’s own experiments with different blends. My sample had an effective mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% wheat. It was aged in eight 3-gallon barrels for 3 to 3.5 years, which is exceptionally long for such a small barrel. There’s a slight, but not unpleasant, warehouse funk on the nose, followed by honey and orange marmalade notes. The palate is initially hot and full of cloves, but it develops into a generous finish with cinnamon and toffee notes reminiscent of a much older whiskey. Reviewed: Year 17, Batch 2. A- / $90 (375ml)

reservoirdistillery.com

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