The Number Ten Whiskey List has been expanded, and early in May we sampled some of the new rye arrivals, and talked about why they were selected and how these selections taste. These selections included:
BMD Race Brook Rye: BMD produces a rye that very pleasantly surprised me, and part of the success of this expression comes down to age, since rye whiskey benefits from more time in the barrel to lose the grassiness of the grain and gain the spice.
E.H. Taylor, Jr., Straight Rye 100 Proof (BiB): As a bottled-in-bond rye, E. H. Taylor Jr. needs to be at least four years in the barrel, but the word on this expensive rye expression is that it is reputed to be closer to nine years.
Knob Creek Cask Strength Straight Rye: Knob Creek has been on fire, and it’s new 12-Year Bourbon release is one example of a great new expression. This distillery’s cask strength straight rye clocks in at almost 120 proof.
Ragtime Rye Straight Whiskey: Ragtime Rye is a New York-based distillery, but more than that, all the grain in the mashbill is New York local, too.
We poured ~¾ oz. portions, and I suggested that at least the first taste—taking in a moderate mouthful—be taken neat, and then consider adding an ice chip or two and see how the whiskey opens up (or disappointingly dilutes, as the case may be). In the case of E.H. Taylor Jr. and (especially) Knob Creek Cask Strength Strait Rye, the advice was to reserve enough of the pour to try ice or maybe even skip the neat stage, since the Taylor is a bottled-in-bond expression, and so 100 proof, the Knob Creek, as cask strength. comes in at nearly 120 proof, and is 9 years old, so should be a complex whiskey that opens up nicely.
I also supplied various excerpts of reviews of the selected ryes, although BMD Race Brook Rye didn’t have any significant reviews as went excerptless. I’ve included the handout excerpts here because I think that it is worthwhile to read these excerpts, and during the tasting I quoted at least parts of the excerpts (excerpts of excerpts?) as we tasted. My favorite excerpt comes from the aptly named Honest Booze Reviews, which has a nice screed about distillers marketing copy missteps.
For the most part the reviews I found are pretty consistent in tasting notes, but the overall judgements derived show different methodologies and thus different conclusions.
BMD Race Brook Rye
Producer: Berkshire Mountain Distillery
Mashbill: N/A (very high rye, unconfirmed)
Age Statement: 4 Year
Tasting Notes: Nose carries toffee and spice; Palate continues baking spices but adds sweetness mid-Palate and spice on back Palate with some oak; Finish is medium, mostly oak and spice, and smooth for a four-year-old Rye.
Retail Price: ~$45
I was pleasantly surprised by this rye, and the reason likely is that at four years old the rye barrel-aged enough to shed the grassy—or, to my palate, spunky—taste that young ryes tend to carry. I was also surprised by how sweet the rye was, especially when I later learned that the mashbill is purportedly high rye. I think this rye is a sipper, although hardly the top sipper among the four selections. Most of the other tasters were less enthusiastic than me and an other, but I can honestly report that not only were there no grimacers, this rye yielded a positive consensus.
There are no substantive reviews of this whiskey as yet in the literature.
E.H. Taylor, Jr., Straight Rye 100 Proof (BiB)
Producer: Buffalo Trace, a Sazerac Company
Mashbill: N/A (very high rye%)
Age Statement: >4Year (~9 Year, unconfirmed)
Tasting Notes: Nose provides rye spice, vanilla, caramel, oak, black tea, cinnamon, leather and a bit of pepper; Palate is peppery bite, then vanilla, caramel, fruit, oak, black tea, cinnamon, leather, and nutmeg; Finish has long fade of spice, oak and caramel.
Retail Price: ~$80
E. H. Taylor Jr. Straight Rye B-i-B was the clear winner among the session participants, found to be smooth–despite a fairly high proof of 100–and very tasty. This rye comes across very bourbon-like, another high-rye rye (I love saying this phrase out loud) that carries clear bourbon taste profile. But Taylor is not a bourbon, and the rye spice, while subdued, adds to the flavor complexity. This is a truly wonderful rye, albeit, on the pricey and poor availability side of things.
“…spice forward and lacks noticeable fruit sweetness.”
“An estimated nine years old is often thrown around and based on how oak forward and complex it is, that might be fairly accurate. This then puts it on the short list of ryes with a similar constitution, such as Michter’s Rye 10 Year and Redemption Rye 10 Year to name a few.”
“Buffalo Trace has laid claim to the Taylor name for a set of nine expressions: Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving, Cured Oak, Seasoned Wood, Four Grain, Amaranth, and the subject of today’s review: Straight Rye.
The label on this says this is “distilled, aged and bottled by Old Fashioned Copper Distillery.” It also specifies DSP-KY-113 and DSP-KY-12, which correspond to Buffalo Trace (Frankfort) and Barton (Bardstown), respectively. Interestingly, my recently reviewed bottle of Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond had this exact same set of DSPs, in this order.
I queried the folks at Buffalo Trace about this; they indicate that this rye was distilled at the Barton 1792 distillery and bottled at Buffalo Trace. In this case, Buffalo Trace explains “all E. H. Taylor products use ‘Old Fashioned Copper’ as a tribute to him.” To me, that would imply a wink-wink-nudge-nudge acknowledgement that this was distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, rather than a sister distillery in the Sazerac portfolio, as is the case with this rye (but not all Taylor products)…”
“…Good complexity, mostly well-balanced, nice bottling strength. There’s a lot to like about this. However, I’m not sure it’s thrice as good as Wild Turkey 101 Rye, though it is three times as expensive. I’m scoring this slightly above average.”
“The E.H. Taylor Jr. Straight rye will entice you with its sweet and spicy nose. Notes of Toasted oak, vanilla, and baking spices will coat your palate as you work through a glass of this spirit. The finish is medium to long and has a nice mint note that appears as the finish begins to fade. If you are a fan of Rye Whiskey, this is a bottle you will want on your bar!”
“EH Taylor Rye is a good sipping rye. It has plenty of spice and balancing sweetness to give it the kind of kick you look for in a rye but smoothes out into a something you want to drink over and over with the sweetness.”
Knob Creek Cask Strength Straight Rye
Producer: Jim Beam, Suntory
Mashbill: 55% Rye, 35% Corn, and 10% Malt (unconfirmed)
Age Statement: ~ 9 Year (unconfirmed)
Tasting Notes: Nose has sweet vanilla and honey, with warming spices of cinnamon white pepper, with hints of oak, dark fruit, and biscuit; Palate provides black pepper and baking spices upfront, and then sweeter flavors of brown sugar, honey, and vanilla, with spice intensity, hot, roasted grain, citrus, dark fruit, toffee, oak and touch of menthol; Finish is medium-long, mild burn, with almond, cereal, and a hint of mint.
Retail Price: ~$70
NOTE: This is a Single Barrel release, so taste will vary from one expression to another.
As I’ve mentioned in another recent post, Knob Creek is on a roll these days and this cask strength rye continues the run. This is not a rye for sipping neat, and the deep complexity of the flavor opens up quite nicely with a bit of ice, even while the cell lining of your esophagus will thank you. Still, even at nearly 120 proof, the burn was gentler than I would have anticipated, and several of the other participants agreed. Sweet, spicy, and pretty much everything nicey about this one, although for ten bucks more, I’d still want the Taylor first. I sure wouldn’t complain having this Knob Creek rye expression though, but I would like this best with one big ice cube, and I would like this very much indeed.
“KNOB CREEK CASK STRENGTH RYE TASTING NOTES
NOSE: Spice, citrus, butterscotch, oak, dark fruit and some biscuity notes with a light bit of copper.
PALATE: Spice, roasted grain, citrus (grapefruit-like), dark fruit (raisin-like), butterscotch-meets-toffee, oak and some menthol.
FINISH: Long -> Spice, citrus, dried fruit and menthol.
BALANCE, BODY & FEEL: Ok balance, full body and a light oily feel.”
“Don’t leave out the ice, unless you’re into igniting your breath. If this got made into a very high-end whiskey slushie of some kind, I’d be down with that. But otherwise, it’s overwhelming. Actually, it’s the perfect summertime whiskey to be drinking during a heat wave, because it is also hot AF. You know how you’re supposed to have hot food during a heat wave? Like spicy food? This is totally the whiskey equivalent of that.”
“It’s refreshing to drink a whiskey that’s positioned as a limited edition that tastes good but otherwise doesn’t have any inherently special qualities or will break the bank, though everyone’s threshold is different. Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 1 achieved this. Barrell Bourbon batches achieve this as well. I’m talking about whiskeys that are priced at a premium, but also worth more opening and enjoying than they are collecting dust. I can’t say that about some of the more expensive releases hitting the market nowadays, which ultimately aren’t worth their MSRP in my mind. There are a growing number of whiskeys that might be good, just okay or even not so great but in any event don’t warrant their price tag. I can’t help but instinctively do the mental math every time I have a pour of one of them and think of how much it “cost” me in lost potential, or even actual out of pocket cost, instead of thinking about the whiskey itself. I’ve always enjoyed Knob Creek, found their everyday whiskeys to be of pretty good value, and like seeing this lineup expansion. In this case, at only $70 for a one-off batch it’s worth exploring, and you won’t feel guilty about cracking that wax even if it turns out it’s not your jam.”
“In the glass, this whiskey has a clear, bright copper coloring, while the swish and coat yields a curtain of tears. The nose is musty and leathery, with a hint of an old, thick, slightly salty caramel candy, this combination overlaying the fundamentals of a sweet Kentucky rye.
On the palette, it’s syrupy and thick with vanilla, but accented by nuts, this over the expected sugar-sweet forward, and only then spicy Kentucky rye style. The finish turns woody and a bit astringent, but that is a light touch and it lingers for long enough to make you pause before taking another sip.”
Ragtime Rye Straight Whiskey
Producer: New York Distilling Company
Mashbill: Rye (locally grown): 72%; Corn: 16%; Malted Barley: 12%
Age Statement: 3 Year
Tasting Notes: Nose: Initial wave of sweet vanilla, with notes of oak, sandalwood, salt, citrus, and ethanol developing caramel with hint of apple and baking spice; Palate is honey dominates up front and then spices including cloves, pepper and cinnamon build; Finish carries baking spices and grass, gradually replaced by sweet honey.
Retail Price: ~$45
A bit young, a bit rough, an bit not so great. Pretty much everyone came to this conclusion, although for a few tasters, Ragtime was preferred over Race Brook. The local grain angle is interesting, but more time in the barrel is called for. I’m sure that this rye would perform well enough in a cocktail, but then a lot of other ryes would perform better.
“On paper, Ragtime Rye has everything I would want in a whiskey: it starts out sweet with an evolving tide of spice that flows in with vigor before ebbing back to a sweet flavor. However, this whiskey lacks the complexity that would actually make that pattern interesting for the palate and instead moves from bland sweetness, to somehow both underwhelming and overwhelming spice, and back to bland sweetness. While Ragtime Rye isn’t unpalatable, it’s also not memorable. I recommend it as an unostentatious cocktail ingredient.”
[Scored 5/10] “If there’s one impression I’m left with after this pour it’s that this is a beautifully balanced whiskey, though not in a typical way. I’m most familiar with harmony in a whiskey being represented by flavors that appear almost simultaneously, but in this one there is an unmistakable earthy, almost savory start that gives way to sweetness and spice that allows each of them to shine in turns.”
“We have a few sins one can commit on this site. First is the lack of frank discussion about spirits and their companies. The second is the usage of language meant to confuse people not familiar with spirits to make it seem like secret knowledge. With that in mind here’s a company from 2009 peddling as a prohibition whiskey that because New York has ‘terroir’ is a good whiskey. What a load of horseshit.”