October 6, 2007

Rye whiskies

Bill Dowd photo

Numerous distillers are re-entering the movement to bring rye back to its onetime place of honor among domestic whiskies. The following notes were created to accompany my cover story in the October issue of Whisky magazine on the rye rebound.

Black Maple Hill 23 Year Old Straight Rye:

An initial burst of brown sugar, heat and spice quickly transforms into a mellow, oaky smoothness. Despite the richness there is an ethereal lightness one seldom experiences in hot ryes. Fruit notes such as apple and pear dance around the edges, but the palate responds again and again to the varied spices. Utterly splendid.

Sazerac Straight Rye:

Quite different from the average rye, with a sophsticated softness that melds the expected fruit and spice notes of rye whiskey with a soft, oaky topping. Long finish with a distinct cocoa tang.

Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond Rye: A fine balance of rye's traditional sweet-and-sour tastes, with a long, crisp finish that lingers as a peppery tingle on the tongue.

Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey:

Hits the palate with full force. No wonder. It's aged in uncharred oak and is bottled at barrel strength, so a bit of water or ice is advisable to reduce the heat and open its spicy richness.

Michter's Small Batch US 1 Unblended: This has the distinct sharpness of grain alcohol moderated by aging in bourbon-soaked white oak barrels that take the edge off the initial sharp, robust taste. Relatively short finish.

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye:

This 13-year-old offers a mature combination of flavors -- cocoa, vanilla, pepper and spices. The long finish is subtle, even refreshing without the warm, cloying quality of younger ryes.

Wild Turkey Straight Rye Whiskey:

Perfumey quality reminiscent of the distiller's bourbon, but a coffee/leather/spice layering to the nose and taste makes it a distinctive rye.

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