Head to Head: Ray’s vs Red Wagon 1792 Single Barrel

20170120_101320.jpgMaker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 93.7

Michigan state minimum: $42

Ray= Selected by Ray (Rural Inn, Indianapolis, Indiana)

RW= Red Wagon (Troy, Michigan)

Appearance

Ray: Light copper

RW: Darker, medium copper.

Nose

Ray: Alcohol, grape bubblegum, leather.

RW: Over-toasted walnuts, cut grass, caramel.

Palate

Ray: Sweet and fruity, then burn. With water it becomes sweeter with more vanilla and less fruit.

RW: Caramel apple, oak, burn. Oakier with vanilla and classic old bourbon flavors when water is added.

Finish

Ray: Brown sugar, then burn. Water brings the fruit back out.

RW: A little chewy, then lingering warmth.

Parting words: The Sazerac corporation purchased the Barton-1792 distillery from Constellation brands in 2009. Their primary motivator may have been Barton’s tall airy warehouses but they were surely after 1792 Ridgemont Reserve as well. The brand started out as something of a Woodford Reserve ripoff (see here) but soon settled into its own niche as a decent selling upper-middle shelfer. Sazerac capitalized on that success and added a series of line extensions and opened up the single barrel expression for selections by retailers and enthusiast groups.

These two barrels are good examples of how much variation there can be, even in those breezy rickhouses. Ray’s was fresh and fruity while the Red Wagon barrel was chewy and mature. The Red Wagon barrel might be older, but it’s more likely that the oakiness came from being on a hot upper floor. I was able to taste Ray’s before I bought it, at an informal tasting at the Rural Inn around Thanksgiving. I bought the Red Wagon bottle blind, but I’ve enjoyed their selections before. If I had to pick one that I enjoyed more, it would be Ray’s but both are tasty, worth the money and worth seeking out. Both these 1792 Single Barrel selections are recommended.

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Rendezvous Rye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USArendezvous-bottle

Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (6 y/o, 95% rye component) & Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky (16 y/o, 80% Rye component)

Style: Indiana style rye whiskey (high rye)

Batch: 12A31

Age: 6 y/o (but blended with a 16 y/o)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with a pinkish hue. Slightly cloudy.

Nose: Cedar, barbecue sauce, fresh cut grass.

On the palate: Medium bodied and soft. Dry with some spearmint. Water brings out a gentle sweetness to balance out the grassiness. Thyme, caramel, allspice, ginger.

Finish: Light, with a little sweetness but mostly tarragon and burn. Some char comes through and then softly fades. Much the same with water, but the burn has been transformed into a pleasant tingle.

Mixed: Very tasty in a Sazerac. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting Words: Rendezvous Rye was the first (or at least one of the first) products to be released by High West. The source material has shifted since that first bottling, but Rendezvous has been HW’s most consistant, and to me, most successful product. The tangy ketchup notes that plague Son of Bourye are here too, but they are kept firmly in the background by caramel and herbal flavors and aromas. Through prudent barrel selection and judicious mingling of ryes of two different styles, High West as created a rye that is very much worth seeking out. With rye supplies tightening, I hope they can continue to keep Rendezvous at an affordable price and at its current level of quality. Rendezvous Rye is recommended.

Very Old Barton, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)VOB BiB

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: bright copper with long, thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, jalapeno, charred corn on the cob, caramel, a hint of tropical fruit. Water brings out more tannic oak.

On the palate: Medium bodied. Spicy but sweet, like pepper jelly. Jerk sauce, grilled polenta, old oak, alcohol.

Finish: Hot, but sweet. Caramel corn and oak. Lingers for a very long time, tingling all over the mouth.

Parting words: I love this bourbon so much, baby, that it tears me up inside. It’s perfectly balanced between fruit, spice and oak. In Kentucky its popularity is on par with Jim Beam white label and Evan Williams. That should tell you something.

It is perhaps the best bargain in American whiskey. For around $12, VOB BiB (for short) is better than most bourbons that sell for twice the price. It mixes very well, but I love drinking it neat or with a splash of water so much that I don’t mix it much. Try the 90 (crimson) or 86 proof (green) versions if you’re looking for a mixer. Older bottlings before Sazerac took over have a prominent banana flavor and aroma that I enjoyed but some others didn’t so if you come across an older bottle, be aware. But either bottling is fantastic and highly recommended.

Head to Head: Bourye vs. Son of Bourye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA

Distilleries: Four Roses, Barton-1792, LDI

Style: Blended whiskeys (bourbon +rye, no GNS)

1. Bouryre

2. Son of Bouryre

Batch

1. 1 (thanks Amy!)

2. 3

Age (youngest whiskey in the mix)

1. 10 y/o

2. 3 y/o

Proof

1. 92

2. 92

Appearance

1. Dark copper, long, thick legs.

2. Burt orange, long, fairly thin legs.

Nose

1. Alcohol, oak, caramel, cumin, crushed red pepper.

2. Peppermint, lemongrass, tomatoes, ginger.

On the palate

1. Thick, soft mouthfeel. Creamy soft caramels, nougat, a bit of fennel, alcohol

2. A little thin. Mild, some mint and orange.

Finish

1. Hot, but fading to sweet caramel with a hint of oak.

2. Warm, but not too hot. Some light vegetal notes as it fades slowly.

Parting words

The Bourye is from a bottle I split with a friend, but  I failed to record the batch information. At any rate, the differences between these two whiskeys are pretty stark. The Bourye is well-balanced and an enjoyable sipper. It has plenty of spice, but balanced out by caramel (presumably from the bourbon) and oak (presumably from the 16 y/o rye in the mix). I have seen it on shelves recently, but in most places it has long since sold out. It was pricey, and the remaining bottles will be even pricier now, but it is very well done and there’s nothing not to like. Bourye is recommended.

Son of Bourye was really awful when I first opened it. It was like drinking tomato ketchup. It has settled down in the bottle since then, but it is still mediocre. Some apparently enjoy sour, citric notes in their bourbon. I don’t. The whiskeys in the mix are very young and it shows. The young high rye rye, overwhelms everything else. If this whiskey were $20 cheaper, it might earn a mild recommendation as a change of pace and a decent mixer. Its price, around $40, puts it into the sipper category. As a casual sipping whiskey, it fails. I find it hard to recommend Son of Bourye compared to its competition in that range such as Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Not recommended.

Fleischmann’s Rye Whiskey

Maker: Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: New copper penny with thick, clingy legs.

Nose: Lemongrass, spearmint, caramel, alcohol, white pepper, a bit of sharp oak.

On the palate: Rock candy, peppermint, oak, vanilla nougat.

Finish: light, very sweet, maple sugar candy, a touch of oak.

Parting words: Fleischmann’s Rye is part of a line of Fleischmann’s spirits, including a blended whiskey, brandy, vodka and gin. All are made by Sazerac at Barton-1792 and all are really cheap. They are made and marketed under license (or something like that, I’m not a lawyer) from the Fleischmann’s yeast people. Ironically they are not made using Fleischmann’s yeast.

For reasons that are mysterious to me, Fleischmann’s Rye whiskey is only available in Wisconsin. In many ways it is a typical Kentucky-distilled rye. It’s barely legal at 51% rye and is much closer to bourbon in flavor than high-rye rye whiskeys like Jefferson’s and Bulleit. Where it differs from its kin like is in its lack of sharpness, usually in the form of pine and potpourri scents in Rittenhouse, Sazerac, Wild Turkey and Beam ryes. Its closest rye relative may be the Van Winkle Reserve Rye. Not that Fleischmann’s has anywhere near the complexity or sophistication of the Van Winkle rye, but both exhibit darker, sweeter flavors than other ryes. If you ever find yourself in Wisconsin, pick yourself up a handle (they’re only sold in handles now) of Fleischmann’s Rye. It’s cheap fun. Works exceptionally well (for its age) in Manhattans and Sazeracs too. If you can find it, Fleischmann’s Rye is highly recommended.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve

Maker: Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky (Sazerac)

Age: 8 y/o

Proof: 93.7 (46.85% ABV)

Appearance: middle-aged copper with big, thick legs that cling tenaciously to the glass.

Nose: Cotton candy, strawberry ice cream, a bit of wood and vanilla.

On the palate: Sweet, then some burn, fairly full bodied. More cotton candy, vanilla, strawberry and tart cherry pie, bubble gum.

Finish: Burn with a hint of candy. Very little wood, though.

Parting words: I dunno…this is a toughy. My opinion of 1792 changes quite a bit depending on the time of day and what else I’ve been drinking. Before supper or as the first whiskey of the evening, it is very tasty. After something more boldly flavored like Four Roses Single Barrel or Evan Williams Single Barrel (both close to the same age) 1792 falls flat. It makes a smooth Manhattan but I like mine with a little more spice and wood. To sum up, it ain’t bad, but it ain’t great either. I have to come down somewhere though, so I’m giving 1792 a mild recommendation.