Review: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

>4 yrs
51% rye, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Rittenhouse is a brand produced by Heaven Hill, the largest family-owned beverage alcohol producer in the USA and the second largest bourbon producer after Jim Beam. This rye whiskey has been around for some time, as one of the best deals (perhaps the best) in terms of price and quality for a straight rye. This whiskey is bottled in bond, a labeling measure which was put in place in 1897 in order to protect the quality of good whiskey. To put “bottled in bond” on the label, the whiskey has to be the product of one distillation season, produced by a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under US Government supervision for at least 4 years, and bottled at 50% ABV (or 100 American proof). These restrictions are stricter than those for Bourbon (produced in US, use new oak barrels, distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and put in the cask at 62.5%, bottled at at least 40%, with the age written on the label if it is less than 4 years old) and Straight Bourbon (minimum age 2 years without colouring or flavouring added). Thus, to an extent, it is a bit stricter of a labelling regulation.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Fresh oak and floral, candied rye in great measure, orange peel, along with some honey, and anise. Quite an expressive nose – not difficult at all to smell with your nose quite a bit away from the glass. However, if you search deeper, you find tannins and some bitterness which is too much. Thankfully, with time this is a less significant factor as the aroma develops. Caramel and vanilla come out in time, and some funky farmy earthiness with the honey and oak continuing to grow. The beginning of the nose isn’t that great, but as you get used to it and it develops it really starts to come out wonderfully.

Taste: A good dosage of rye coming through, with the oak counterbalancing and eventually winning out. There’s a lot of honey, and still has the heaven hill style in the mix of it. As I’ve said before, one great thing about visiting distilleries is getting into the barrel houses with the smells – and this reminds me of that Heaven Hill characteristic. The guy who was giving us the tour told us at the time that if Buffalo Trace barreled their bourbon there, it would taste like Heaven Hill, and likewise, if Heaven Hill barreled their bourbon at Buffalo Trace, it would taste like Buffalo Trace. The grain comes through nicely, too – rich and buttery, and the corn seems to come through on the end. Delicious stuff. Spicy on the end, too. Really – a quite fabulous integration of complex grains, oak, and spice.

Finish: after the intensity of the palate, the oak takes the reins and slows the whole thing down leaving you into slow, sweet oak and honey with some spiciness in the mix too and some apples. anise, once again.

This is so popular, and with such great demand, a worker at Heaven Hill told me that they actually sell this stuff at a loss in order to keep the brand profile high until some of the other prices rise. This is great stuff, and terrific value especially in the states – as with most Heaven Hill products, in fact. I am quite a fan of them (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12, Larceny, Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope)

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.

Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B35L6

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oak, slightly nutty, vanilla, dried fruit, dry candy icing, solidified bacon fat – lots of spices (unsurprisingly). A really rich, spicy product – still with a nice light sweetness and a touch of mint. A corn sweetness grows in the glass. The palate is really nice  - rich with a great balance of oak, sweet, and spice. The corn really comes out on the palate, more than the nose – rich grainy body, yet the spicy rye is there with clove, tea, brown cardamom, and rye bread. The finish is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, full of light oak and more spice. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and light menthol.

I was writing more but I realized it was so much a duplication of the above review and there is no need! I don’t know if I would say that it is a better whisky than it’s older sibling Pikesville, but I like it better. It’s a nice distillate, and I like it with this amount of oak – Pikesville is a bit more oaky. The tanginess here is just perfect.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.