Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Maker: Lux Row, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Luxco)

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Indiana high-rye straight rye.

Age: 2 y/o (“24 months”)

Proof: 90 (45%)

Michigan State Minimum: $15

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Butterscotch, tarragon, woodruff.

Palate: Full-bodied and fruity. Apricot, leather, serrano chili.

Finish: Hot, sweet and herbaceous.

Mixed: Yes.

Parting words: It’s cheap but not terrible. Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey is recommended.

Jack Daniels Rye

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennesee, USA (Brown-Forman)

Style: High rye (70%) straight rye whiskey

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Potpurri, leather, tarragon.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Spearmint, cinnamon disks.

Finish: Shamrock Shake.

Mixed: Performed adequately in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and in a highball.

Parting words: Long time readers will know that, generally speaking, I don’t like anything with Jack Daniels on the label. Despite that fact, perhaps in an effort to punish myself or as a service to you, dear readers.

Despite my poor expectations, this rye isn’t bad. It’s much better than the George Dickel rye, which was slapped together by running aged MGP rye through a large vat of charcoal. The result was a confused, maple-flavored mess. Brown-Forman took their time putting this rye whiskey together and it shows. Not that it’s great, but it’s a perfectly servicable rye, on par with Jim Beam or Rittenhouse rye at about the same price. For once I gotta hand it to JD. Jack Daniels Rye is recommended.

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye, 2018

Maker: Jim Beam, Boston/Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20191108_192435.jpg

Style: Kentucky-style Rye (low rye rye)

Age: 9 y/o (? barreled 2009, released 2018)

Proof: 119.6 (59.8% ABV)

Purchased for $70 ( Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Oak, black pepper, cayenne, tumeric. With water, a little more sweetness. Caramel and anise.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy, then hot. Still creamy, but with toffee, a little citrus and clove.

Finish: Heat and not much else except a little sweetness at the end. With water: Red pepper, oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: I love Knob Creek rye, so I was very excited when I saw this limited edition release. I was less excited when I started drinking it. KCR is already very bourbon-like but this edition is even more so. I like bourbony ryes, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself why you’re not just drinking bourbon (which is usually cheaper).

The strength of this editon of Knob Rye is its lucious mouthfeel. It’s a show-stealer, and it even holds up with a generous does of water. Aside from that, there’s not much here that isn’t in the standard Knob Creek Rye. I think I might like the standard edition better, even without factoring in the much higher price. It’s pleasant, but I really can’t recommended it at $70, even mildly. Hopefully the next edition of cask strength Knob Creek Rye will be better.

 

Old Forester Rye

Maker: Brown-Forester, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20190329_214938.jpg

Style: Kentucky style “barely legal” straight rye whiskey.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, tarragon, cut grass, catmint, lime jello.

Palate: Medium-bodied, dry and herbaceous. Peppermint, lavender, ghost pepper, alcohol.

Finish: Semi-sweet, woodruff, and a little sweetness. No oakiness at all.

Mixed: Did well everywhere: with ginger ale, in a Sazerac, in a Manhattan, a Monte Carlo, a Normandy Cooler and with a dash of akvavit.

Parting words: This is the first rye made at the Brown-Forman distillery in a very long time. Sort of. When Heaven Hill’s Bardstown distillery was destroyed by a fire in 1996, they contracted the production of their whiskey to other Kentucky distillers, including B-F. They produced the 1998 and 1999 vintages of Evan Williams Single Barrel and, most importantly for this review, they also took over production of Rittenhouse Rye. The Bottled-in-Bond became a cult favorite (look for DSP 354), and I would argue that its success helped kick off the current rye boom. There was a bit of mystery around it, though. Heaven Hill claimed that it was made from their recipe, but sources at Brown-Forman claimed that it was an old recipe that they had dug out of their files. Given the big difference between the current Rittenhouse and the old B-F distilled version, I tend to believe the second story.

When production of Rittenhouse moved to Heaven Hill’s new distillery in Louisville, there was no B-F made rye on the market until this year. Old Forester Rye is made with a recipe that is unusually high in malted barley. The result is a fruity, slightly spicy rye that is in the same vein as Old Forester bourbon. It mixes very well, is 100 proof and the price is right for a macro-distilled rye. Old Forester Rye is highly recommended.

For another perspective, check out Friend of the blog Gary’s review over at Whisk(e)y Apostle!

Traverse City Whiskey Co. North Coast Rye

Maker: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Traverse City Whiskey Co., Michigan, USA20181114_115315.jpg

Style: High-rye blended rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Oak, peppermint, woodruff, alcohol, basil.

Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, burn.

Finish: Starlight mints, oak.

Mixed: Adds a pleasant minty note to classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Undistinguished with ginger ale.

Parting words: When sourced Traverse City Whiskey Co. whiskey first hit shelves, I was very skeptical of whether they would ever actually distill anything, let alone anything good. I’m glad to see my skepticism was unfounded! I reviewed their first release, Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon back in 2012, with friend-of-the-blog Amy, on the shores of Walloon Lake. Watch it here.

If you like Bulleit Rye, you’ll like this. It’s in the same minty style. The label says that it was distilled by TCWC themselves and is a blend of 100% (non-straight) rye and straight rye. My first suspicion was that this was a blend of Indiana rye and TCWC’s own distillate, but I’ll take the label at its word.

Assuming it’s all accurate, more micro-distillers should be making good blends like this instead of rushing underaged bourbons and ryes to the market for inflated prices. Speaking of the price, it’s not terrible when one factors in the usual micro-distiller inflation, although Bulleit is $13 less. North Coast Rye is recommended.

Old Overhold Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20180824_172229.jpg

Style: Kenctucky-style bonded straight rye

Age: At least 4 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Cut grass, leather, tarragon, alcohol, black pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Startlight mints, oak, tarragon.

Finish: Anise candy, woodruff, oak, alcohol. Long.

Mixed: Did well on the rocks, with soda and with Ginger Ale. Subtle but good in a Manhattans, and Sazeracs. Quite good with a splash of Akvavit.

Parting words: Old Overholt was founded in Pennsylvania in 1810, making it one of the oldest whiskey brands in the US (maybe the oldest), even older than most single malt Scotch distilleries. It was one of National Distillers’ brands back in 1987 when Beam and ND “merged”. Once the ND distillate ran out, Beam filled OO with its youngest, worst rye, similar to how it turned Olds Crow and Taylor into bottom shelf bourbons. Until last year, Beam little interest in Old Overholt, aside from 2013’s weird, ill-fated “The Olds” ad campaign in collaboration with Onion Labs (yes, affiliated with The Onion).

Jim Beam improved its Jim Beam rye a few years ago, raising it to 90 proof and four years of age. I reviewed it here. ND had produced a BiB years ago, but it had not been produced in decades and was pretty rare even as a “dusty”. Last year, Beam finally brought OO BiB back. The popularity of Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye was probably a factor in the reintroduction of OO BiB. OO’s old-timey label is also appealing to bearded hipster mixologists and now it finally has liquid inside that will appeal to them too.

Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond is a good companion to the other fine ryes in Beam’s stable and outclasses competitors like Rittenhouse and Sazerac ($3 more and 5% lower ABV). OO BiB is recommended.

Minor Case Rye

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA

Distiller: MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA20170811_180024

Style: Low rye rye whiskey finished in sherry casks.

Age: 2 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $50

Thanks to Eric for the sample!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, black tea, cayenne, cut grass.

Palate: Ghost pepper, caramel, sugared dates.

Finish: Peppermint, serrano chili.

Parting words: There are a lot of micro-distilled products around with weird names. Minor Case Rye get its weird name honestly, though. Minor Case Beam was a Kentucky distiller active in the early twentieth century and first cousin to Jim Beam of Jim Beam fame. M.C. Beam as he was better known was partner and later sole owner of the T. J. Pottinger distillery in Gethsemane Station, Kentucky, near the famous Trappist monastery that was once home to writer and theologian Thomas Merton. M.C.’s son Guy was grandfather to Stephen and Paul Beam, the owners of Limestone Branch.

I try not to read a lot of reviews of products I’m planning on reviewing in the near future so I did my best to stay away from the gobs of reviews of Minor Case Rye that have come out recently. I tasted it semi-blind, not knowing the age, proof, or that it was finished although I suspect I knew that at one point. When I (re)learned that it was sherry-finished, I was surprised. I thought it had an interesting array of aromas, some of which are outside the usual stable of rye whiskey descriptors. The sherry influence didn’t come through at first. Nothing in the way of raisins or rancio flavors , only a rounded fruitiness providing structure for chilies and herbs. Once I knew to look for it, I found it, but I would not have guessed it.

I was also surprised by its age, two years old. This explains the capsacin flavors, but again, I would not have guessed that it was that young. The sherry finish is used deftly to mask the harsh flavors of young whiskey while still more or less incognito. That’s an impressive feat. I can say without reservation that Minor Case Rye is the best two year old rye whiskey I’ve had, finished or not.

The $50 price tag is what really gives me pause. My inner cheapskate strongly resists paying that much for a whiskey so young, but I gotta say it tastes like a $50 whiskey. That said, I do hope it gets older. Minor Case Rye is recommended.

 

Centennial Limited Edition

Maker: Highwood Distillers, High River, Alberta, Canada.20170728_183830

Style: Blended Canadian rye (with wheat base whisky)

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

LCBO: $27.45 ($22 US)

Appearance: Medium copper, medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Caramel, tarragon, plum, roasted sweet corn.

Palate:  Medium bodied and spicy. Peanut brittle, black pepper, clove, serrano chilies, butterscotch hard candy, caramels.

Finish: Creamy and a little fruity. Vanilla cream, dried dates, brown sugar.

Mixed: Did well mixed but hampered a bit by the proof. Tried it in a Manhattan, 8e Arrondissement, Frontenac and Mammamattawa.

Parting words: Highwood Distillers is a relatively new distillery, founded in 1974 in High River, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. They’re Canada’s largest privately owned distillery. Centennial also comes in a variety of flavored iterations including spiced, maple, coffee bean and dark chocolate. In addition to the Centennial line, Highwood also makes the White Owl white rye whisky, Ninety, Century, Highwood, and Potters whiskies among others. They also produce vodka, gin, liquers and import rum.

I picked this one up during my last trip to the Windsor, Ontario LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stores. The old ten-year-old expression of Centennial was a popular favorite with Canadian whisky lovers. The new NAS version is still popular from what I understand. I had heard good things, but never tried it. I was reluctant because of the low proof, but Centennial packs a lot of flavor into 40% ABV. It’s full of classic Canadian rye aromas with the wheat contributing just enough sweetness to pull it all together. It’s a well balanced but full flavored Canadian rye. Pick one up at your next opportunity. Centennial Limited edition is recommended.