Rye Whiskey has become a distinctly North American product. America’s neighbors to the north appreciate the unique characteristics of the rye grain. And, despite what some hockey fans might tell you, Canadian and American can play nicely together. At least when it comes to whiskey.
All of the whiskey we will be sampling is rye whiskey. Some of it from Canada, some of it from the United States, some of it a combination of the two, and some finished in European casks.
To enhance our experience, we will also combine cigar pairings to our whiskey. We will have Perdomo Robusto’s, which is aged 12 years and hails from Nicaragua. The wrappers are Maduro, for which the last 2 years of aging the cigars are placed in matured bourbon barrels. These cigars are smooth smokes, with a sweet initial taste, hints of dark cocoa and coffee, and a rich robust finish. Needless to say, these should complement the spicy rye we are about to try.
Host: Brian Carman
Name: Whiskey Smash
Ingredients: 2 oz. rye, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, fresh mint, 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters.
Recipe: In a cocktail shaker, combine rye, lemon juice, and bitters. Add a small amount of ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with mint.
Bottle 1: Hudson Manhattan Rye
Distillery: Tuthilltown Spirits
Mash Bill: 100% rye
Tasting Notes: This is head and shoulders above the Hudson Baby Bourbon. But it is not the traditional rye profile. Instead, it has a very sweet backbone that actually plays nicely with a younger (but not harshly young) oak character. The cigar helps augment the young age by imparting a smoky and chocolate flavor.
Why this bottle is featured: Tuthilltown was the first distillery in NY. This is also a prime example of a spin-off of American rye whiskey – “Empire Rye” or “Manhattan Rye.” In October 2017, seven New York State distilleries unveiled a new whiskey style/category called “Empire Rye.” To qualify as Empire Rye the whiskies must be made from at least 75% New York State-grown rye, be distilled at a single New York State distillery, be at least two years old, and be aged at the relatively low barrel entry proof of 115 or lower. The original distilleries to produce Empire Rye were Black Button Distilling, Coppersea Distilling, Finger Lakes Distilling, Kings County Distillery, New York Distilling Co., Tuthilltown Spirits/Hudson Whiskey and Van Brunt Stillhouse.
Bottle 2: Lock Stock and Barrel (13 years)
Distillery: J. Copper and Son’s
Mash Bill: 100% rye
Tasting notes: This was fascinating to pair with the cigar. While we were not overly impressed with this when we reviewed it previously, when paired with the cigar, the palate and finished had the added richness from the aged cigar, which this rye seemed to desperately need when we tried it on its own. The nose was still the best part of the experience, but the cigar helped bring some added depth that the palate and finish previously lacked (and was expected given its age/proof).
Why this bottle is featured: A Canadian whiskey that is aged much longer than most ryes.
Bottle 3: WhistlePig Old World Cask Finish (12 years)
Mash Bill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Tasting notes: This is good whiskey. Whistlepig is packed with great rye flavor, with the sweet, spice, and herbal notes all harmoniously packed into each sip. And for a whiskey that is just 86 proof, this is not short on flavor. When adding the cask finish, there is also the left-turn taken in the finish down a Port path. The cigar did not compete with this, but also did not seem to complement it as well as the others. Lesson learned – when trying a cask finished rye, trying to add another dimension may be just one too many.
Why this bottle is featured: While bourbon and Scotch have been known to explore being finished in European casks, such has not been the case as much with rye whiskey. This bottle shows how versatile the rye grain is and the character it takes on when finished in these European casks.
Bottle 4: WhistlePig Farmstock Rye
Distillery: Whistlepig and MGP/Alberta
Proof: 86 proof
Mash Bill: Blend of rye and straight rye
Tasting notes: This has been met with mixed reviews. It is comprised of 20% WhistlePig’s own rye aged in Vermont oak for at least 1 year, 49% 5-year rye from Alberta Distillers (Canada) that is also aged in Vermont oak, and 31% 12-year rye from MGP in Indiana. There seems to be a principle in whiskey that is similar to one in cuisine. If you add bland ingredients to seasoned ingredients hoping to get seasoned ingredients, you will actually just be left with all bland ingredients. Similarly, if you add young whiskey to aged whiskey hoping to impart age, the youth usually wins out. Here is where the cigar helps. This was unanimously enjoyed, and nobody noticed any harsh youthful notes, though we may have the cigar to thank for that. We hope that Farmstock continues to refine with subsequent releases. Based on how well Whistlepig has done with its sourcing and blending, we’re confident that it will.
Why this bottle is featured: Grains selected from Vermont, Canada, Indiana. Only 1 of the 3 barrel blends is charred. Barrels aged from 1-12 years.
Bottle 5: Willett Straight Rye (4 years)
Mash Bill: A blend of Willett’s high-rye mash bill (74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley) and low rye-mash bill (51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley).
Tasting notes: The nose and palate are very herbal, with more rye spice than any of the others. The cigar helps elevate the spice, but obviously brings an element of sweet smoke. For a four year rye, this is mature and deep. Enjoyed very much by all.
Why this bottled is featured: Jay Cary advised while on the bourbon trail last year I had to visit the distillery. It was my favorite stop. I loved the family owned history of the company. In the rick house they had partnered with local chefs who were aging several different hams along with the bourbon barrels. This bottle has recently become available in Wichita.
Gentlemen devoted to the finest.