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.

Willett Family Estate Rye

Maker: Willett/KBD, Bardstown, Kentucky, USAWillett Rye

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye whiskey (I am now dubbing this Indiana style rye)

Barrel: 132

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: Pine sap, oak, caramel, tarragon, alcohol, woodruff.

On the palate: Full bodied. Sweet and herbaceous, then hot. With a splash of water, the resemblance to Bulleit rye is very apparent. Sweet caramel, hay and spearmint.

Finish: Burn and a little caramel, then it’s all starlight mints. Lasts for almost as long as one of those would in the mouth! With some water,  tarragon and basil come out and settle into licorice before gently fading away.

Parting words: The Willett ryes being released at increasing ages every year are from the same Indiana distillery supplying Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye and many others. The differences being that the Willetts are all at barrel proof and are single barrel selections. They are not available in Michigan, but are fairly easy to find in Kentucky and Indiana. At over $30, they’re not cheap but these are at barrel strength so one is getting more for one’s money. If 110 proof is too high for you, that’s why God made water.

Anyhow, Willett Family Estate Rye is the finest example of Indiana Rye I have tasted to date.  For something that is almost entirely rye and is only 4 years old, it has a good deal going on. I wouldn’t call it complex, but it’s more balanced than many of its siblings and it is a much better value than Templeton or High West’s Double Rye. I enjoy Kentucky “barely legal” style rye better, but if rye character is what you crave, Willett Rye is recommended.

Col. E.H. Taylor Rye

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USAtaylor_rye

Style: High Rye Rye (Bottled-in-Bond)

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Caramel, alcohol, potpourri, pine.

On the palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Caramel, tarragon, Thai basil, cumin, coriander.

Finish: Oak, alcohol, leather, dried flowers.

Parting words: This is Buffalo Trace’s stab at a high rye rye whiskey. It is made using rye and a small amount of malted barley, but no corn. The result is something spicier and with more rye character than their Sazerac line of rye whiskeys, but not as far over the line as the 100% rye whiskeys being sourced from Canada like Whistlepig, Jefferson’s, etc. It’s more elegant than those or the MGPI ryes like Bulleit and Willett. The caramel flavors (a bit surprising given the absence of corn) and oak keep the rye from overrunning things.

As with the rest of the Col. Taylor line, price is a problem. Even accounting for the relative scarcity of straight rye, $70 is too much for this. At $10-$20 less Taylor rye would be a sure-fire recommendation, but as it is, it’s only mildly recommended.

Redemption High Rye Bourbon

Maker: Strong Spirits Spirits Inc., Bardstown, Kentucky, USA

Distilled by: LDI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA (MGP)

Age: 2+ yrs.

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Appearance: Shiny new penny. Fleeting, thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, nail polish, mango, a bit of leather. Like a party at Elton John’s house.

On the palate: Soft and silky mouthfeel. More fruit, black cherry juice, Juicy Fruit gum, then a brutally hot alcohol assault. Burns everywhere, even with water.

Finish: Hot and then hot. Nothing in the way of oak, a little bit of that fruitiness but not much.

Mixed: Works well in an agressively sweetned Old Fashioned. Does ok in a bourbon and Coke, too, but doesn’t particularly distinguish itself.

Parting words: Redemption High-Rye Bourbon isn’t as bad as I remember it being the last time I opened the bottle. If that’s not faint praise I don’t know what is. This has the makings of a good bourbon, but at 2 years and a day, it’s not even close to being there yet.  If you are looking for LDI bourbon in Michigan, you can purchase Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon  for $1 more. It’s  lower proof, but it’s much more rounded and although it is age stated at four years, there seems to be some fairly old whiskey in the mix. W.H. Harrison barrel proof is also better LDI bourbon, but overpriced and hard to find outside of Indiana. If you are just looking for a well-quality bourbon, Evan Williams and Very Old Barton sell for half the price of Redemption. Either way there is no good reason to seek out Redemption, the bourbon anyway. Not recommended.

Old Grand-Dad 114

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Inc)

Age: NAS

Style: High rye bourbon

Proof: 114 (57% ABV)

Appearance: Caramel, with thick legs and necklace around the rim of the glass

Nose: Alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla, toffee, coconut.

On the palate: Full bodied, fruity, and bold. Vanilla, caramel, cocoa, and then burn. Sweeter with water, but still aggressive. Tropical fruit, vanilla, toffee.

Finish: Hot and long with a bit of vanilla, then a hot tingle all over the mouth. Fades to toffee with a hint of char. With a bit of water, dark chocolate, caramel blondies.

Parting words: This is one of the best bargains in bourbon, arguably the best. Although I am a maverick in this respect, I prefer the current Beam-manufactured edition to when Old Grand-dad was made by the now-defunct National Distillers Corporation. The ND version had even more butterscotch flavor, but always struck me as a bit unbalanced.

My friend Joe describes OGD 114’s aroma and flavor as that of the burnt edges of a pan of brownies. I think he nails it. Not only is this stuff delicious, but around $30 a bottle for virtually barrel-proof bourbon is nearly impossible to beat for value. Old Grand-dad 114 is highly recommended.

W.H. Harrison Governor’s Reserve

Maker: Harrison Bourbon Co., Brazil, Indiana, USA

Distiller: LDI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High Rye Bourbon

Batch: 2

Age: <4 y/o

Proof: 113 (56.5% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly Dark Copper with thick sticky legs and a long slender necklace around the glass.

Nose: Grassy rye, spearmint, oak, toffee.

On the palate: Full-bodied and sweet. A bit of toffee and then a big burn. On the rocks, as recommended on the label, more sweetness, cotton candy but also oak and vanilla.

Finish: Bubble gum and mint, then a burst of heat, then slow, clingy taffy. On the rocks is not much different, just more subtle and more oak.

Parting words: I sampled some of batch 1 at a friend’s house when it first came out and I thought it was exetremely dull. I later bought some of the 80 proof version and it was similarly boring, but innofensive for summer sipping.

Batch 2 is much more interesting. It leans in the direction of Four Roses with a lot of old-fashioned candy flavors, but has the minty notes of some of the other products coming out of LDI, like Bulleit Rye.

It gets very cloudy on the rocks and has a good number of floaties in the bottle, making me wonder if it was not chill-filtered. If that is the case, no mention of it is on the label. It is the best LDI-distilled bourbon I have tasted, far superior to the high-rye Redemption Bourbon. All that said, it is much too expensive. If it were $10-$15 cheaper, closer to its competitors like Rare Breed and Old Grand-dad 114, Harrison Governor’s Reserve would be highly recommended. As it is, it still earns a recommendation.

Four Roses 2010 Limited Edition Small Batch

More catching up…

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (Kirin)

Age: 10 y/o (mix of 15 y/o, 11 y/o, and 10 y/o bourbons).

Proof: 110.2 (55.1% ABV)

Style: High-Rye Bourbon

Appearance: Light copper, with long, thick legs.

Nose: Wood, big spice and big alcohol, spicy nacho chips,
jalapeno.

On the palate: Good body, a little sweetness, then dry
woodiness and tannins, then cassia, then burn. Water balances it out quite a
bit. There are still plenty of the aggressive flavors above, but they are
balanced by brown sugar and vanilla, flavors not usually associated with Four Roses.

Finish: Hot at first, then dry and tannic, then a tingling sweetness. Water doesn’t slow down the finish much.

Parting Words: This bourbon, as noted above, is a mix (“blend” is a dirty word in the world of American Whiskey) of three of the ten bourbon recipes made by Four Roses: 15 y/o OBSV, 11 y/o OBSK and 10 y/o OESK. In 2008 and 2009 Four Roses put out something it called the Mariage Collection. The concept (and the bottle) was very similar to the Limited Edition Small Batch. It was also a special annual release, but only two of them were “married” together (it was produced in Kentucky, not Utah, after all), and the constituent bourbons were older. The 2008 Mariage was very good, and the 2009 was the best bourbon whiskey I have ever tasted, and I’ve tasted a lot of them.

So the 2010 Limited Edition Small Batch had very big shoes to fill. If measured against the 2009 Mariage, it falls short. But if it is measured up against most annual releases from most distilleries, it more than holds its own. It is not as subtle or multi-layered as its predecessor was but it is a well-crafted assertive whiskey that announces its presence boldly, but never wears out its welcome. Spice, corn, and wood all jockey for position throughout and the winner is always the drinker. Highly recommended!