Straight Rye

Review: Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Sazerac Rye 2.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

Another Buffalo Trace product on allocation - generally quite hard to find, this is the younger (~6 yrs) version of the esteemed Sazerac 18 Years Old which is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. In Ontario, they show up once or twice a year, but never last more than a week on the shelves.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Oak, dried fruit, and even a bit of menthol come off the nose. There are bananas and notes of cola as well. There are a few off-notes which smell a bit like stale grain to me. The oak is a bit mossy, and overall, though the influence is heavy, it is quite nice. Dried apricot, as I find so often with many straight whiskeys, is also distinctively present. Vanilla, as usual, is present – but it is not a prominent flavour and sits nicely in the background.

Taste: An oaky entrance, with some dried apricot and a caramel and peppery background, with a light star anise note. The spicy feel to it is very nice, though I do think the oak does dominate a bit too much and gives it quite a dry feel throughout. The rye is a bit candied, as it so often is with the caramel influence of new charred wood in straight rye. The peppery backdrop is very nice, though.

Finish: The oak comes through with some dried apricot and light vanilla, and some earthiness- it’s light after the taste but is quite enjoyable. It lasts quite well, and has a pleasant level of spiciness and sweetness for me. There’s also some nice lift with some minty notes, but the mossy and earthy oak holds its own brilliantly once all else has faded away.

This is very enjoyable, and is a solid choice for me when thinking of American rye. It is sharp, candied, and spicy, with a decent kick of oak influence.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $56.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2019

Rich in caramel, grain, and all those complex rye notes – mint, fennel, orange peel, oak, clove, licorice root, vanilla, tasted cumin, white pepper, and dried apricot. As you can tell, just loaded with spices. The palate is sweet, rich, oaky with loads of spices and stone fruit – plums, fresh apricots – and maraschino cherries and dried apricot. The finish is spicy and full of dried fruit and sweet oak.

Excellent stuff!

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High at $60.


Review: Bulleit Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Bulleit Rye 2.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
95% Rye, 5% Malted Barley
Distiller MGP (Lawrenceburg, Indiana)

This whisky, along with so many others (Templeton Rye, George Dickel Rye, Redemption Rye, Smooth Ambler, High West Rye, along with others) is not produced at the distillery of the brand name (if indeed, the brand even has a distillery) but rather at Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Indiana where the whiskies are mashed, distilled, and aged. Their classic rye mash bill uses a recipe of 95% rye, which is very high for American straight ryes – for example, Wild Turkey Rye and Rittenhouse Rye are only 51% rye. MGP was originally owned by Seagram’s, a Canadian company, at a time when they also owned Four Roses and the yeast used is the same as the “V” yeast of four roses (as used in their Single Barrel bottling, among others). High rye whiskies are more common in Canada, but they are (unfortunately) not often seen as their own bottlings because they are usually used to flavour blends, as spices flavour food. The whisky doesn’t have an age statement, but is likely relatively young (perhaps 4-6 years).


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nose: Oak, and the grain comes through beautifully with a bit of mint as well with a bit of a menthol feel to it. This is a solid, big nose with a nice balance between the oak and the herbal rye. Apricot jam, pine needles, a corn-type butteryness (though there’s no corn here!), vanilla, root beer also come through, and some earthiness that is almost moldy (though it sounds so – this is not bad).

Taste: Lots of rye here, with a good menthol and herbal kick as well. The mouthfeel is fantastic. Oak, dark, a good bit of vanilla, and a bit earthy. Very solid.

Finish: Dry, slightly spicy – long, and bold. A bit tingly too. It carries on the same theme – oak, spice – like clove and caraway – and herbal rye. A bit tannic too, and this is not balanced by quite enough oak flavour.

This is very nice – it feels very firm and solid the whole way through, with a nice mix of flavours. A classic straight rye really, but it lacks some of the complexity and elegance that I wish for. However, it’s consistent all the way through and is a beauty to sip and mix. I like it a good bit more than their bourbon.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High, at $39.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code:  

  • Bottling Date: ~2019

I lead a best “budget” American whiskeys last fall, and this shone, as expected- and it reminded me of how much I like the stuff. It smells so distinctly like MGP rye, which I love. The nose is full of such spices – green cardamom, black cardamom, cloves, oak, brown sugar, and even a bit of spinach! Beautiful stuff – I adore the complexity. There’s all sorts of stuff – cacao, menthol, boiled tomatoes, pears – and, it all works.

This is appealing to me more than a few years ago – not sure if that’s because it’s better, or my preferences have shifted slightly. It might even be a touch younger – the youthfulness here is good, but different than last time.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $41.


Review: Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Old Potrero.jpg
ABV
48.5%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Rye
Distiller Anchor Distilling (San Francisco, California)

Old Potrero is a bit of an iconic brand - it was a micro distillery opened out of the Anchor brewery in 1993! So, they were a bit ahead of the times. It is a single malt rye, not something you see too often - although a number of big distilleries in Canada still make it, but it’s rarely fully as that. The barrels that are used to mature this, notably, are seasoned for 24 months which allows the tannins in the wood to break down into other flavour compounds.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A.

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Rich, spicy, fruity – loads of complexity on the nose. I especially like a dry spiciness that comes through into the whisky. All the sweet dried fruit almost has you thinking “brandy”. Lots of caramel, dried fruit, oak, maple syrup, fennel, and intense sweet spices toward the finish which ride on waves of oak. The whisky has a good sense of “umami” to it – not in the salty savoury sense, but in the rich character that binds together all of its parts. The whisky develops great richness in the glass.

Not as interesting as their “18th century style” rye which features barrels which have been toasted and not charred – but, I expect that many would prefer this style to that. I do really like the sharpness and intensity of pot stilled rye whisky – this fits the bill too. A bit on the candied side, perhaps – but I enjoy it.

Very different than my usual pot-distilled rye tipple, Lot no. 40 – the potrero isn’t as complex, spicy, or floral but is more on the dried fruits and candy. But…both very good.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $90. Good whisky, but also a bit expensive.


Review: Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Woodford Rye 2.jpg
ABV
45.2%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
53% Rye, plus corn and malt
Distiller Woodford Reserve (Versailles, Kentucky)

Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of woodford bourbons. I don’t dislike them, but I find the body isn’t big enough for the level of oak in them - but others would disagree, and many of my friends love the stuff. However, I quite like their new straight malt and straight wheat whiskies particularly for their uniqueness. So, I thought it was about time to try their rye - which I hear good things about and has made its way up to Canada relatively recently.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 0331

  • Bottling Code: L038911530

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is very dynamic, and complex. Candied fruit, oak, grain, honey, potpourri, rich toasted oak, multigrain flour, baking spice, lilac, cinnamon, hibiscus tea, black tea. Gorgeous complexity, and well balanced between grain and oak (NB – I find the woodford bourbon not as balanced). Even a touch of that really nice vegetal characteristic of rye (pot stills do some good work on rye!).

The palate is oaky, but full of baking spice, pepper, oak, dried apricot, vanilla, spice, dark chocolate, and pepper. It still has a really nice rich corn body. Awesome!  The finish has oak, cinnamon, lilac, dried apricot, chocolate, orange peel and clove.

It’s hard not to have a few of these…I think I’ve found a new favourite American rye to add to Rendezvous and Bulleit.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very High. Great price, really good whisky.


Review: Belmont Kopper Kettle Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Belmont Kopper Kettle 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
3 yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
at least 51% corn, with wheat and barley
Distiller Belmont Farm Distillery (Culpeper, Virginia)

This whisky is a pot distilled bourbon, from a pretty big pot still for a micro distillery (3000 L). Bourbon is usually column distilled so this will show a very different side of the grains. This certainly isn’t the most well-known virginia bourbon (A Smith Bowman) but I haven’t had too much bourbon from the state. So, always interested - especially for a farm distillery that grows much of the grain that they distill.

The whisky, notably, is very rich in colour.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A.

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2019

Very clean – I haven’t actually had too much copper pot distilled corn whiskey – Woodford has a lot of column still whiskey in it, in addition to the pot stills, so it isn’t really representative. The grain character comes through cleanly, with rich corn, a dry spiciness, light caramel, a slight mineral character, and charred oak. With time, a maltiness emerges a bit like a malt porridge. It’s fairly light bodied. The palate starts off sweet, with light caramel, corn husks, and finishes with sweet oak and toffee. It doesn’t have the heavy corn and oak punch of many of the big Kentucky bourbons, it is mush softer and quite pleasant at 46%.

This is enjoyable as a spring whisky. I prefer my bourbons richer, deeper, and oakier – but this isn’t far from what I was expecting given the still type. It’s young, but it doesn’t taste “too young” at all as with many other 3 year old whiskies. There aren’t too many “light-medium” bodied bourbons that you taste these days.

But – getting away from critiquing and tasting notes, it’s spring, and this has done the trick on my patio the last couple weeks.

If you are looking for a lighter bourbon that is easy to drink, brings moderate complexity, and shows off a different take – then give this a go. The oak still lends a reasonable amount of sweetness, too. If you are looking for a „thicker” bourbon, this might come in a bit light. For a reference – this is lighter in body than Basil Hayden’s, but I think it comes together better.

Value: The low end of average at $60.