High West Rendezvous Rye, 92 proof (46%)
The Utah distillery previously mentioned here uses the time needed for their own distillates to mature to produce blends of other whiskies. This one combines a 16 year old straight rye with a mash bill containing 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% barley with a 6 year old distillate of 95% rye and 5% barley. Non chill filtered and sold in numbered batches and bottles.
Glowing amber colour. Rich nose with big rye spice, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a lot of spice, changing into caramel after the initial heat and finishing with discrete oak notes before a long spicy ending. In a tumbler with ice the pepper dominates with a short caramel finish.
The whiskey comes in the usual High West bottles, tall and stylish with embossed glass and wood/cork stopper. A very nice whiskey expertly combining it´s two quite different ingredients. I would very keen to lay my hands on another bottle.
High West Double Rye!, 92 proof (46%)
Like the above also a blend of an older and a younger rye. The first one a 16 year old distillate with a mash bill of 53% rye and 37% corn, and the second 2 years old with 95% rye and 5% barley.
Golden amber colour. A very curious nose for a rye, with unexpected almost gin-like aromas and mint, followed by passing caramel and a hint of oak in the finish. Neat in a tasting glass the gin aromatics persist in company with spiciness, followed by some sweetness before a quite long finish where sugar and white pepper competes to the end. In a tumbler with ice nothing much happens, with the gin botanicals coexisting with rye spice.
Quite an interesting drink with a really unique character. However, if it´s a rye you´re looking for I would go for the Rendezvous Rye instead.
Rittenhouse Straight Rye, 100 proof (50%)
Here we have a bottle illustrating some of the charmingly interesting and confusingly irritating facets of American whiskey. A brand owned by Heaven Hill distilleries and despite being made in Kentucky carrying on the Pennsylvania style of American rye. This particular type of whiskey is sometimes called Monongahela rye, as a homage to it´s old origins along the Monongahela river.
The bottle that I´ve been sampling is of what is called the DSP-KY-354 variety, which holds a story in it´s own. DSP stands for Distilled Spirits Plant number, and is a system for identifying distilleries. In this case it´s a plant owned by the Brown-Forman company (known for amongst other things Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve). The reason for this being a 1996 fire in the Bardstown distillery that used to make Rittenhouse, necessitating Heaven Hill to make a deal with someone else to distill this product. After acquiring and revamping the Bernheim distillery, production of Rittenhouse rye was again in the hands of Heaven Hill, now labeled DSP-KY-1. Getting confused? Well, this type of stories are common in the American whiskey business.
To make it even more complicated, Rittenhouse rye exists in two distinct expressions, an 80 proof one and this bottled in bond 100 proof whiskey. The so called Bottled-in Bond Act of 1897 was a way of creating a quality standard for American whiskey. To achieve this classification the spirits needed to be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season, aged for at least four years under U.S government supervision in a federally bonded warehouse and bottled at 100 proof, identifying both the distillery and the bottling site on the label. So, after all this background let´s get on with the tasting.
Deep amber colour. A nose with strong tones of chocolate fudge being overtaken by a deep and satisfying rye spiciness with a continuing backdrop of sweetness. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a distinctive dryness overlying a discrete sweetness, with an alcohol kick in the middle giving way to fairly long rye notes. In a tumbler with ice the chocolate nose leaps at you, also very present in the taste which increases in sweetness as the fire decreases.
Sold in a no-frills standard bottle with a label that from today´s perspective is quite hideous. However, this design has another agenda and shouldn´t really be compared to contemporary craft whiskies that´s using all possible tricks to make an impression in an ever expanding field.
To sum it up a very honest rye in the original Pennsylvania style, which is nice as a baseline for comparing what´s being done with rye whiskey today. It would also be very nice to try it along with another classic like Old Overholt.
Copper Fox Rye, 90 proof (45%)
In Copper Fox we have a truly artisanal distillery, started in 2000 by Rick Wasmund after a six-month internship at Islay´s Bowmore. Presently making a single malt whiskey, this rye and a gin, as well as offering a barrel kit making it possible to age one of their whiskies to your own personal preferences. The grains used are produced specially for Copper Fox and as the only distillery in the US they do all of their malting.
One of the unique steps in the making of this whiskey is the drying of the malt in the presence of apple and cherrywood smoke. Using a mash bill of 2/3 rye and 1/3 hand malted barley it´s double distilled in small batch copper pots, after which the distillate is matured in used bourbon barrels together with oak and applewood chips. Final maturing is done after transferring the whiskey to another used bourbon barrel, with a total aging of 12 months. The distillate doesn´t undergo chill filtering before being bottled by hand.
Showing a rich amber colour without any visible impurities. A fairly complex and interesting nose, containing the usual rye spices overlayed with light smoke notes similar to what I´m used to when barbecuing with cherry wood. There´s also citrus, nutmeg, oak and more cherry. Neat in a tasting glass you get a drink without any of the astringent properties of the earlier tasted whiskies. There´s rye spiciness together with fruit and delicate smoke, mixed together into a pretty complex blend with sweetness giving way to a medium long spicy finish. Putting it in a tumbler with ice all but ruins the experience, merely diluting what´s in essence a unique and interesting whiskey.
The bottle is old school but somehow stylish in its simplicity, with its plastic screw top and hand-dipped wax coating. It´s surprising to get that degree of complexity from something that´s only been in barrels for a year, and it´s interesting to see that the wood chip techniques used for a long time in winemaking has now reached the whiskey industry. I´m going to leave the question of whether this development is good or bad unanswered, and can´t help wondering what this would have tasted like if it would have undergone a traditional many years long maturing process instead.