Thistle Finch Small Batch, Batch 09

Maker: Thistle Finch, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Style: Wheated (!) Straight Rye Whiskey

Age: 2 y/o

Bottle date: November 13, 2019.

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Purchased for $47 (PLCB Monroeville-Northern Pike)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Sawdust, cut grass.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Allspice, hay.

Finish: Grass, dark chocolate, burn.

Parting words: I knew nothing about Thistle Finch before I saw this bottle on the shelf at the PLCB store I stopped at while coming home from a family vacation in Somerset Pennsylvania last summer. I’ve heard Pennsylvanians complain about the PLCB stores for years but I had never experienced one until then. Folks, it’s all true. They’re terrible. I went to that store to pick up some Dad’s Hat Rye and I had a list of Pennsylvanian wines I wanted to look for. They had none of those wines, and I was only able to find Dad’s Hat after wandering around the store for twenty minutes. It was in a special “made in Pennsylvania” section next to Pumpkin vodka, and several bottles of sickly sweet plonk. Bad selection, bad prices, poorly organized, it was awful. Like a LCBO store but much worse.

I picked up this bottle of Thistle Finch Rye from the bourbon section where it was lurking for some reason. I mostly picked it up because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find Dad’s Hat, but since they didn’t have any of the wine I was looking for I went ahead and bought Thistle Finch too. I’m glad I did. It has a lot of typical young rye flavors but has a roundedness that was nice, maybe due to the wheat in the recipe, highly unusual for American ryes.

It’s ok neat, but it really shines in cocktails, where it works well in drinks that might usually call for higher proof rye, on account of its aromatic nature. It did very well in a Manhattan, with ginger ale and orange bitters, and in a couple of cocktails I have named the Sterling Hayden (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz Aquavit), and a Skink (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz green Chartreuse). Both of the latter play up the rye’s herbaceousness.

I know next to nothing about the Thistle Finch folks, but this is a solid rye, that should only be getting better in later batches, if they let some rest, like they say they will. The distillery is located next to a brewery in an old tobacco warehouse in Lancaster. It’s one of these bar/distillery operations, and a pretty successful one by all appearances.

$47 isn’t cheap, but think of it as an investment in the future. Thistle Finch Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey is recommended.

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.