Review: Bulleit Rye

Maker: Owned by Diageo, made at LDI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (Angostura)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: New copper with faint thin legs.

Nose: Very light and mild. Alcohol, mango,and peppermint.

On the palate: Medium bodied, more tropical fruit sweetness, spearmint and Genoese Basil now instead of peppermint.

Finish: Hot and minty. Lots of tingle all over the mouth and lips. We’re back to peppermint again, but now with a bit of eucalyptus.

Parting Words: This rye has gotten some bad press online, but I found it perfectly adequate, and worthy of sipping and mixing. If you don’t like menthol flavors in your whiskey, you’re not going to like Bulleit Rye. I do, and I like it. I wouldn’t reach for it over Rittenhouse, but I would say it’s as good as Wild Turkey Rye and better than Beam’s. Diageo deserves some of the criticism it receives, but they deserve credit for putting a pretty good rye on the shelves and giving drinkers of American whiskey another option. Maybe they are starting to “get” American Whiskey again.

Review: Sky High Rye

Maker: Arcadia Ales, Battle Creek, MI

Style: Rye Beer

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Persisant creamy head. Slightly Cloudy Blonde color.

Nose: Malty, spicey, citrus, hops.

On the Palate: medium-bodied, nice bitterness balanced with a bit of citrus sweetness, lime, lemongrass, cardamom, black pepper.

Finish: Light and sweet with a little bit of bitterness.

Parting Words: Sky High Rye is a much more balanced beer than Red’s Rye PA. The bitter, sour and sweet are superbly balanced. Add a little fish sauce and this could pass for Pad Thai. It’s not nearly as aggressive and punchy as Red’s but this is a subtle and refreshing, “thinking person’s” beer. Highly recommended.

Review: Red’s Rye PA

Maker: Founder’s, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Style: Rye Beer (in an IPA style)

ABV: 6.6%

Appearance: Big foamy head that sticks to the top of the glass. Body is pretty, slightly cloudy auburn.

Nose: Sweet, and fruity with a bit of spice

On the palate: The promise of the nose is brought to fruition: like eating a slice of slightly overripe mango with black pepper. The sweetness gets sweeter and the spice gets spicier. This beer has a big impact, but is never obnoxious or overbearing, to me anyway. As it sits in the glass, the spice component gets bigger and bigger and it starts to become more of a conventional IPA, albeit a very tasty one.

Finish: Long, and pleasantly bitter, with spice notes lingering as long as the hoppy bitterness does.

Parting words: This is a very well-executed beer, and for once that is not intended to be a back-handed complement. The big hops fit with the big spice and fruit rye brings to the party. I’m not a hop-head, but even I enjoyed it. Red’s Rye PA is recommended if you need some spice in your life.

Review: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Heaven Hill (distilled at Early Times Distillery, Shively, Kentucky)

Age: NAS (by law BiBs must be at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Color: dark copper

Nose: Creamy caramel with a hint of dry wood and potpourri

On the palate: dry by tempered with some sweetness. A nice hit of cedar on the back end.

Finish: Dry, but lacking much in the way of woody notes. Just a pure, dry rye spice with some friendly heat lingering for a long, long time.

Parting Words: Rittenhouse BiB is my benchmark rye. It is everything a standard Kentucky-distilled rye should be. It’s firmly in the “barely legal” category, with a lot of corn character balanced with the spicey, fruity rye influence. It’s good for sipping, and cocktails and even works mixed with coke or ginger ale. But that’s what Beam Rye is for.

Interview and a visit to the Nik Metop Distillery

Madison Heights, Michigan- The sun trickled in through the dusty blinds in the window as the sweet auburn liquor trickled through the funnel into a fresh, clean bottle at the suburban Detroit headquarters of Nik Metop Distillers.

“We think of ourselves as pioneers,” Nik Metop said as he wiped off the edge of his funnel, “nobody else is doing what we’re doing. We are the only craft distiller in Southeast Michigan that bottles a full range of spirits. We are selling Traditional Bourbon, High Rye Boubon, Wheated Bourbon, Rye, Vatted Scotches, Gin, Vodka, you name it! As a nod to our Greek heritage we even have a vatted Ouzo. We’ve only been in business for six months but we’re already miles ahead of the competition.”

How have they done it? “We’d rather show you than tell you!” Nik said as he slapped me on the back and escorted me out to a large conversion van in the parking lot. His sister Nika hopped in the driver’s seat and we were on our way.

“The craft distiller’s best friend is the telephone,” Nik told me as Nika drove us to the source. “You’d be surprised how much whiskey there is out there. I just pick up the phone and call around to any place I can think of and then buy up as much as I can.”

The van pulled into the parking lot of a somewhat rundown strip mall just a mile or two away. As Nik and Nika exited the car, I started to as well, until Nik stopped me. “Sorry, you’ll have to stay in the van. We’d love to have you help us, but we’re contractually required to keep our sources secret.” I peeked out the window of the van, but all I could see of the building they went into was a sign in the window advertising lottery tickets. After a few minutes, the rear doors opened and Nik and another man started loading large cardboard boxes into the back of the van, to the sounds of glass clinking from inside the boxes.

When we got back to the distillery, Nik gave me the tour. “This is our still, isn’t it beautiful?” he said as he proudly pointed to a picture in a catalog. “We’re just doing what we’re doing now until our Ouzo ages. We’re using the money from the sales of our whiskeys to pay the rent and give ourselves a salary. That jar marked ‘Swear Jar’ in the corner over there is to pay for the still.”

“This is our aging and vatting area,” he said as he took me to a back room with four old bourbon barrels and Nika standing over a stainless steel stock pot with a large wooden spoon. “Nika is our Master Blender. When we source our whiskey we pour small batches into stainless steel containment and blend it to our specifications. How’s that blend coming, Nika?” “Good Nik,” she replied, “but it needs more Wild Turkey.” Nik noded and grabed a 1.75 liter bottle of 80 proof Wild Turkey from the floor. He poured it into the pot, and Nika stirred it a few times. She then dips a spoon into the pot, takes a sip, smiles and gives her brother a thumbs up. “Are you interested in any samples?” Nik asked me. “I’ll also pay you five dollars every time you say something positive about my distillery online.”

“After we blend it, we pour it into one of those barrels over there and let it mature for at least two hours. I’ve learned a lot from my mentors Jim Rutledge, Jimmy Russell, Jay Glaser, David Perkins, Kolin Brighton, Scott Bush, Julian Van Winkle IV, Elmer T. Lee, Drew Kulsveen, Sam Cecil, Earl Beam, Ezra Ripy, Jack Beam, James Crow, Evan Williams, Jakob Boehm, John Jameson, Julian Assange, Erik Larsen, Eric Holder and Billy Fightingcock. You can’t force the whiskey into some sort of arbitrary timetable. You pick an apple when it’s ripe, not after it’s been on the tree for a certain length of time. Why should whiskey be any different? But speaking of apples, Nika what are you doing?”

Nik ran over to the mixing area where Nika was pouring a bottle of Laird’s Applejack into the stockpot. Nika looked at the label and got a sheepish look on her face. “I’m sorry, Nik. I didn’t read the label.”

After the Applejack incident, Nik took me over to their bottling area. “Nika designed these labels herself. See?” He pointed to a pile of labels that read “Lewis Cass Straight Bourbon Whiskey”. “We better wrap it up,” Nik said. “I have an interview with Tom Fisher in an hour. Before you go, let me show you my favorite part of the labels.” He pointed to the bottom of the label where in big block letters was printed “PROUDLY MADE AND BOTTLED IN MICHIGAN”.