Give the people what they want!
Repeated Malt readers will know that some of our fans are exceedingly generous. This can quickly turn into an embarrassment of riches, given the care and attention we lavish on our reviews here. Research and writing take more time than banging out tasting notes, with the consequence that samples tend to pile up.
Mark has occasionally had to clear the decks by doing a mass review of samples. While I appreciate the expediency in this approach, part of me misses the opportunity to linger on the minutiae of each whiskey. The wholesale approach feels like the equivalent of round after round of shots at the bar (not my idea of a good time), compared with occupying an armchair and quietly considering a single dram for upwards of an hour (definitely my idea of a good time).
Yet here I find myself drowning in a tsunami of rye whiskey. Not wanting to tarry longer but still reluctant (lest I not give these each their fair due), I asked Whiskey Twitter whether they’d prefer to see these reviewed individually or en masse. The feedback overwhelmingly favored a gargantuan review and – as I am in the people-pleasing business (that’s a joke) – I am going to take these all on together.
In addition of being a subject of great interest among our readership, it turns out that rye is also perhaps the most pun-able of whiskey types. Suggested names for this tasting included “All Rye, All Rye, All Rye” (channeling Matthew McConaughey), Rye-mageddon (already taken), Mega Rye-t Up, Battle Rye-ale, Ryestlemania, Rye-al Rumble (lots of wrestling ones… perhaps I should invite Matt Rye-woldt to join me?). I have instead chosen “A Lot of Rye” in tribute to Ragnar Kjartansson’s “A Lot of Sorrow,” anticipating the durational and endurance aspects of this undertaking.
These are each rye whiskeys; that’s all I have for you in the way of preamble. I’m reviewing them one by one but will then arrange them in ascending order of how much I enjoyed them. Individual specifics and prices (where available) will be provided. Are you rye-dy? (sorry, not sorry)
Kicking off, we have the Peerless Single Barrel “Double Oak” rye picked by Carmel Market District. I queried Tara Bowling, Marketing and PR for Peerless, about the Double Oak designation. She kindly responded thus: “At Peerless we re-barrel as needed, so anytime there is a leak too hard to fix, we re-barrel leading to the double oak name. We do it out of necessity and refer to it as a happy accident.” So, now you know.
Back to brass tacks: This is Barrel #R160415109, Barreled on 4/16/2016. Coming in at 107.5 proof (53.75% ABV), this is from a sample provided courtesy of Ryan, who paid $90 for his bottle.
Peerless Carmel Market District Double Oak – Review
Color: Medium-dark orangey-brown.
On the nose: Immediately, I sense a faintly rubbery and sulfurous aroma that is reminiscent of a sherry cask. Brown sugar simple syrup and Memphis barbecue sauce make appearances as well. There’s an oddly stale-smelling stony note in here; I’ve not ever experienced this before and haven’t the first idea where it might have come from.
In the mouth: This starts with a thick, almost chemical note of varnish and acrid wood. This moves into another synthetic-tasting vanilla flavor at midpalate, which lapses over into an awkward bitterness. There’s a peppery note before this moves into the finish, where more of that weird and bitter flavor radiates around the gums and the top of the mouth.
What I like most about the other Peerless whiskeys I have tried is the way that the underlying distillate is able to express itself without overbearing influence from the barrel. The flavors are typically elegant, clean, and sharply delineated. This, in contrast, tastes more similar to a whiskey ruined by finishing in a rotten sherry butt. The second barrel certainly didn’t add anything good, but rather created a clumsy overlay of off-kilter woody and chemical notes that makes this an unpleasant experience. It pains me to have to give such a low score to a distillery for which I have the utmost respect, but I call ‘em like I taste ‘em.
Moving along, we have here a 10-year-old single barrel from WhistlePig. This is Bedrock Liquors’ barrel pick #1 (barrel #95671, Warehouse 1, Rick B, Level 2), coming in at 107.2 proof (53.6% ABV). Ryan was the generous donor of this sample; he paid $85 for a bottle. Shared Pour don’t have this one in stock but they do have a 10-year straight rye for $51.99 right now.
WhistlePig 10 Year Bedrock Liquors Single Barrel – Review
Color: Dusky orange.
On the nose: Floral and fruity in an exuberant way, this smells like the guest bathroom of someone who went to town on the potpourri, exotic air freshener, and fancy soap. I’m getting dried rose petals, mangoes, and mint leaves swirling around in here. Some more sniffing reveals an aroma of store-bought rye bread as well as the airy sweetness of cotton candy. Eventually, I notice a telltale dill note creeping in, pointing to MGP as the source of this rye.
In the mouth: This starts with a watery note of dill, which really blooms at midpalate. This note is joined by some rye grain flavors but never really steps back from center stage. Some vaguely chocolatey and nutty flavors accompany the finish but, from front to back this is dominated by the briny dill note, which becomes bitter and unpleasant at points.
The aromatic profile is high-pitched and may not suit everyone’s tastes, but I found it fun. The palate is full-on MGP pickle juice; it’s a struggle to discern anything beyond that one overwhelming note. I can enjoy this flavor in balance and moderation, but this whiskey doesn’t have that. As a consequence, I can’t recommend it to any but the hardest core of MGP dill fanatics.
We’re moving along to the High West Rendezvous Rye. This is named for “the annual summer gathering of mountain men to exchange pelts for supplies,” per High West. Similar to other High West whiskeys, this is “A blend of older Straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 4 to 7 years.” Part is MGP rye from the 95% rye, 5% barley malt mash bill, with the remainder being an 80% rye, 20% malted rye mash bill whiskey from High West. The whiskey is bottled at 92 Proof (46% ABV) and is not chill-filtered. This is a sample from batch #17D20, courtesy of our friend David Jennings. A bottle of this retails for $66 in my neck of the woods, or $69.99 at Shared Pour and £71.95 at The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt also demand £71.95.
High West Rendezvous Rye – Review
Color: Medium-pale golden orange.
On the nose: Immediately presents an uncanny scent of bubblegum, which never really dissipates. Some sweet and spicy notes of nutmeg and cinnamon sugar lurk beneath the surface, as well as a suggestion of dill. With attentive sniffing, I start to pick up a creamier note of vanilla and some freshly planed woody nuances.
In the mouth: Very sedate to start, this slips unnoticed past the lips and expresses itself only weakly once it meets the tongue. There’s a floral taste as the only really discernible flavor; the rest of the sensations in the mouth feel all muddled together and watered down.
I wasn’t really sure what to make of the nose, but I kept an open mind that some of the more off-the-wall aromas would translate into surprisingly delightful flavors. Disappointingly, the palate was as understated as the nose was exuberant. Perhaps “understated” is too kind; this lacked character, to the point that an over-the-top dill note would at least impart a bit of personality. No flaws, but I won’t be having another meet-up with Rendezvous.
Here’s a newcomer to the Malt corpus: Old Carter. This non-distiller producer (NDP) was founded by Mark & Sherri Carter, a husband and wife team with a heritage in the wine business. They’ve been releasing batches of blended whiskeys and the occasional single barrel since 2018. Like the releases from fellow NDP Kentucky Owl, these Old Carter bottlings have a premium price tag that sets them against the best that the American whiskey world has to offer.
Take the whiskey we’ll be considering: Rye Batch #5, released in May 2020 in a run of 1,404 bottles. This is MGP whiskey of undetermined age, coming to us at 115.5 Proof (57.75% ABV). How much would you pay for this? SRP was $170, but a perusal of the interwebs shows asking prices at a multiple of that amount. Fortunately, I was spared any financial hardship by David Jennings, who once again deserves our thanks for his generosity.
Old Carter Rye Batch #5 – Review
Color: Medium light golden orange.
On the nose: Smells like a better example of MGP rye; it’s got a rich meaty body with the herbal aspects (yes, dill) relegated to supporting roles in the periphery. There’s brown sugar and the moist smokiness of pulled pork shoulder, all accented by a delightful topnote that has the airy sweetness of pink cotton candy. Time in the glass reveals a yummy scent of orange curaçao.
In the mouth: Enters with a serious note of chalky stone. Most compelling at the midpalate, there’s a sweet and herbal note of sarsaparilla here that lingers in the center of the tongue. As this moves toward the back of the mouth, I start to get darker flavors of licorice, furniture polish, and a drying woodiness. The phrase “very old coffin” pops into my head for some reason, though I have certainly never smelled or tasted one. This takes on a salutary nip of black pepper and – of course- dill as it eases into the long finish.
This tastes good: interesting flavors, good balance, no off notes. However, to justify the SRP (much less some of the inflated asking prices) this would have to be a revelation, which it is not. I dare say, some of the High West MGP blends actually provide more bang for the buck, especially as they come from novel cask finishes that add a discrete extra to the same rye being sourced by everyone else. To reflect the fact that I wouldn’t buy this myself at the nominal asking price, I am docking a point off of average.
Let’s follow up with another single barrel from WhistlePig and see if we can’t do any better? This is the Saver Co-Op barrel pick (barrel #72232, Warehouse 1, Rick B, Level 2), coming in at 121.7 proof (60.85% ABV). This is also 10 years old and, again, was provided by Ryan, who again paid around $85 for his bottle.
WhistlePig 10 Year Saver Co-Op Single Barrel – Review
Color: Medium-dark golden-orange.
On the nose: Juicy to start, this has an immediate aroma of freshly cut oranges as well as a charming floral perfume note. There are some more serious notes of varnish and copper that begin to emerge, as well as more classic rye notes of aloe vera and black pepper. There’s an intriguing aroma in here that sits just out of reach; it’s got aspects of anise, nuts, honey, whipped cream, and wood. I’m hopeful that this will unfold more on the palate.
In the mouth: Again, there’s an initial citrus juice note here that mutates seamlessly into a round and richly woody flavor in the middle of the mouth. There’s a slightly bitter note of rye grain for a moment here as this moves toward the back of the mouth. This finishes with an essential rye flavor combining grain, green vegetal notes, and a nip of peppery spice. A lingering flavor of scented soap and spice persists for thirty second or more.
This tastes more like a Canadian barrel than one from Indiana. The nose has a good mixture of aromas siting at various ends of the spectrum (fruity, woody, spicy, etc.) The palate is a bit more straightforward, more like a hard-edged rye with a noticeable bitterness in places. Overall, though, it’s a solid rye for the price, warranting a solid score.
Up next is the Market District Pick of the High West Double Rye! This is a blend of rye whiskeys (one a 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP and the other a 80% rye, 20% malted rye from High West Distillery), finished in a Barrel Aged Manhattan Barrel. This particular bottle (#188) is from barrel #11731 and comes to us at a strength of 57.2% ABV. Once again, I have Ryan to thank for sharing this one; he reports that he paid $54 for his bottle.
High West Double Rye Market District Barrel Select – Review
Color: Medium yellow gold.
On the nose: The nose is comprised principally of a gentle vanilla note with some red fruit accents. After some time in the glass, I start to pick up a grapefruit nuance as well as some more chemical scents of varnish, a faint whiff of nutmeg, and a more distinctly rye-like not of aloe vera. Overall this is a fairly straightforward nose, but the aromas are mostly pleasant ones and the cask finish adds a nice fruity accent.
In the mouth: Tart fruity notes of red berries greet the tongue on the entrance. This lapses into a soft, wine-y fruitiness at midpalate. An excellent note consisting of well-balanced vanilla creaminess, rye graininess, and a faintly spicy nuance emerges as a high point at the top of the tongue. As this moves into the finish, it evolves additional fruity nuances of a citrus character, with orange and lemon. The MGP component of the blend sings out for a split second with a tart note of dill before this finishes gently, with the flavors fading into the mouth.
Like the A Midwinter Night’s Dram from High West, this uses an unconventional cask finish to impart some additional nuance to what is otherwise a blend of moderately aged rye whiskeys. I’m not quite as smitten with this one compared to that dram, so I’m shaving a point but still awarding a solid score.
Back to High West, we have here another barrel pick of Double Rye, this time by Ace Spirits (barrel #2395). Though the current Double Rye is a blend of a 95% rye, 5% barley whiskey from MGP (said to be two years old) and a 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley mash bill from Barton (reportedly 16 years old), I am informed this particular sample is the old-style combo of a seven-year-old MGP rye and the 16-year-old Barton. This again features a cask finish, this time two and a half years in Quady Port barrels. This clocks in at 110.8 Proof (55.4% ABV). I don’t have a price on this one but I will be scoring it as though it had the same mid-$50s cost as the other bottle. This was another generous donation from David Jennings.
High West Double Rye Ace Spirits – Review
Color: Medium-dark range with rosy glints.
On the nose: Intriguingly, this starts with autumnal notes of damp leaves. There’s an entire spectrum of red fruit flavors in here, from tart underripe raspberries at the top, all the way down through overripe red delicious apples putrefying on the orchard floor. There’s a touch of dill in here, as well as some exotic notes of sandalwood. Another one that charms immediately and virtually begs for the first sip…
In the mouth: A sweet kiss of cherry candy transitions immediately into some more serious flavors of black tea. This imparts a tannic astringency that carries on across the palate, somewhat restricting the development of other flavors. I get a sharply herbal note of anise and wormwood in the middle of the mouth. This fades with a dry, woodsy flavor and lingers with heat anchored firmly toward the back of the palate.
This could have done with some more of the nose’s ample fruitiness on the palate, which tastes somewhat hard-edged and desiccated by comparison. I’m scoring this in-line with its predecessor Double Rye, reflecting the fact that this has its charms but falls short of the finished rye bar set by A Midwinter Night’s Dram.
We’ve now got another single barrel from Peerless, also chosen by the folks at Carmel Market District, dubbed “Vol. 1.” This is 2 years old and bottled at a strength of 110.3 proof (55.15% ABV). Ryan once again provided this; retail price was also $90.
Peerless Carmel Market District Vol. 1 – Review
Color: Medium auburn.
On the nose: Immediately, this presents an aromatic texture that is synesthesia-inducing; I am thinking of velvet, even though it has no distinct smell. Following this is a seriously smoky and meaty note of brisket, accented by a whiff of latex bandage. Some underripe limes and assorted green vegetal notes also make appearances, with the faintest hint of vanilla extract.
In the mouth: Like the Peerless bourbon, this is very fleet-footed and lean. There’s a firm note at the front of the mouth that has aspects of rye grain and wood, though they’re too closely knit to be able to pick apart any more specific nuances. I am most convinced by this in the middle of the mouth, where it evolves a pleasantly rounded feeling and the aforementioned flavors broaden out to encompass some richer nutty notes and a delicious but fleeting taste of brown sugar. This disappears a bit on the finish, leaving some creeping heat in the mouth and a subtle smokiness, but without any of the flavors really persisting much beyond the final swallow.
This shares some elements in common with the Peerless Bourbons, which you all will know I enjoy very much. There’s good balance throughout this, but the intensity is lacking and the flavors don’t really “pop” on the palate. This is more an exercise in texture than taste which, though not unpleasant, leaves me wanting a bit more. I’m settling on an average score for this one.
I’m very excited to be bringing you the Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch,” which is prized by the rye and bourbon cognoscenti. According to Beam, this was “[m]ade from some of the last barrels Booker Noe ever laid down,” similar to the pitch for the Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition. The barrels came to us from “one of Booker Noe’s favorite rack houses;” this carries an age statement of 13 years, 1 month, and 12 days. As with the rest of the Booker’s range, this is bottled at barrel proof, in this case 136.2 (68.1% ABV).
In terms of cost: this was released at $300, by far the highest priced of the Booker’s range, significantly exceeding even the 30th Anniversary bourbon ($200 SRP). Bottled disappeared at even that premium price, and are now being re-sold for multiples of up to 10x. Fortunately I was spared any financial hardship by Brian, who remains a true friend and generous donor of rare samples.
Booker’s Rye – Review
Color: Rusty brownish-orange.
On the nose: There’s an immediate aromatic punch (in a good way) of orange peel, vanilla cream frosting, and black pepper. More sniffing reveals scents of whole cloves, key lime, damp pennies, jasmine incense, and freshly sanded cedar wood. With time, smells of ham hock, burnt candle wax, floral potpourri, a stony nuance, and the subtle scent of fallen and dried pine needles emerge. It’s very hard to stop nosing this one and begin tasting it, so compelling are the variety of smells on offer here.
In the mouth: This is mouth-puckeringly dry as it meets the tongue, being dominated by an intense stoniness that spreads out to cover the entirety of the front of the palate. Surprisingly, this becomes much softer in texture almost immediately at the middle of the tongue, with subdued notes of baking spice and cinnamon-sugar meeting a creaminess that mirrors the initial aromatic impression. More spicy notes reveal themselves as this moves into the finish, as well as an intense woodiness that veers dangerously close to bitter territory. Through the finish, the dried floral potpourri notes of the nose re-emerge and linger, becoming mixed with a gentle wisp of cigarette ash.
Like the best whiskeys of all types, this has intense and surprising aromas that are both broad (in terms of their diversity) and deep (in terms of their persistence). The palate is more challenging; it has all the intensity of the nose but loses a bit of balance and poise. The flavors in themselves are mostly very good, but they don’t knit together cohesively so much as poke their heads out one by one.
I’ve probably bored everyone by saying this repeatedly already, but here it is again for old times’ sake: for an American bourbon or rye whiskey in the $100-and-up range to garner positive marks, it must a deliver superlative and unique experience, given the preponderance of lower-priced competitors. This gets all the way there on the nose and almost all the way there in the mouth for me. In consideration of the +50% higher price relative to the Booker’s 30th Anniversary bourbon, I am docking this two points (compared to my marks for that one) but still awarding it a solid score.
Finally, we have the Special Release from Jack Daniel’s. There have been hits and misses in this category, as you may recall. I thought the Single Barrel Rye in its 47% incarnation was pretty good; I am excited to try this barrel proof iteration, presuming it will be a step-up in quality on the order of the Barrel Proof Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey.
While the Jack rye mash bill is not officially disclosed, I have seen it pegged at 70% rye, 18% corn, 12% barley. The proof on this particular barrel/bottle was 130.5 (65.25% ABV). SRP on this is around $65; this was a sample generously donated by Ryan, who has my sincere thanks.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Special Release Barrel Proof Rye – Review
Color: Dirty golden-brown.
On the nose: This starts with a delightfully rich and sweet note of bananas, of course, but of a caramelized variety. There’s abundant spicy notes swirling around as well: nutmeg, coriander, and jasmine all make appearances. With some prolonged sniffing I get another sweet scent, not thick like the initial banana note but airy, rather, in the manner of cotton candy or whipped cream. There’s a tiny whiff of black pepper here as a reminder that this is, in fact, a rye, but altogether it smells more sumptuous than most examples of this type. With time, a spiced and smoked meaty note of kielbasa emerges.
In the mouth: This presents a metallic note of copper initially, before the whiskey zips into the mouth and blooms in a lip-tingling cloud evincing the high proof. This is rock solid in the middle of the mouth, with a note that is equal parts steel and stone sitting austerely in the center of the mouth. Allowing this to rest on the tongue for a minute sends peppery tendrils sneaking across the gums, cheeks, and roof of the mouth. That airy sugar note makes a fleeting appearance in the back of the throat as this finishes long, with a tingly texture and some mildly astringent, slightly bitter notes as the lone drawback. This is offset by a reprise of the caramelized banana note from the nose.
Every bit as good as the Barrel Proof Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey (at least, the one I tried), this rye presents a fascinating dichotomy between the plump nose and the very firm mouthfeel. The finish could have used a bit more polish, as some of the flavors got pushed to the point of being mildly unpleasant. All in, though, and in consideration of the price: I like this very much and would be a willing buyer at SRP.
Finally, let’s take a look at a single barrel rye from our friends at Wilderness Trail. This was distilled with FermPro-1 yeast, with a barrel entry proof of 100 (50% ABV). This barrel (#15L21-26), which is an Independent Stave #4 toasted and charred barrel, was aged for 4 years, 2 months in Rickhouse A-N05A7 before being bottled (in a run of 226 bottles) at 115 proof (57.5% ABV). This sample of bottle #158 came from Corey (thanks Corey!) who didn’t disclose a price. However, Wilderness Trail single barrels retail for close to $60 near me, and I’ll be using that price as a point of calibration for scoring. Shared Pour have a different single barrel for $61.99, Master of Malt request £79.95 and The Whisky Exchange £77.95.
Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Rye – Review
Color: An appealingly medium-dark golden chestnut.
On the nose: Exotic fruits jump out of the glass at first: yuzu, lychee, and cantaloupe dance with a subtly creamy note of oak. Lime salt water taffy and a very faint aroma of firewood round this out. It’s worth noting that overall the presentation is extremely clean and crisp, which in my experience is a hallmark of whiskeys produced using the sweet mash process. Another extremely tempting nose that propels me toward the first sip…
In the mouth: There’s a tight and high-pitched note of sweet and sour lemon (like Lemonhead candies) as this enters the mouth. At the middle of the palate, this whiskey presents itself with a crystalline purity; I am struggling to describe the flavor or texture in conventional terms, but the image that comes to mind is of light reflecting through a multifaceted cut gemstone the color of whiskey. There’s a reprise of the subtle creamy note from the nose, accompanied by citrus accents. A momentarily sharp woodiness gives way to a lingering note that once again has an energetic tension as it oscillates between sweet and sour.
An entirely different rye from any I have tried before, this manages to be intricately detailed yet presents itself as a seamless whole. There’s a great diversity of aromas, contrasting slightly with the palate, itself wonderful in entirely different ways. This is the reason that I have been repeatedly encouraged to pick up Wilderness Trail ryes without hesitation; the whiskey is unique, the quality is extraordinary, and the price is uncommonly fair.
Whew, I am relieved to be done with that… not so much because it was boring (though some of the MGP-sourced ryes began to taste a little same-y, reflected in my increasingly redundant tasting notes) but because I am glad to be free of the self-recrimination from having so much unanswered kindness bestowed on me. With all that rye in the rearview mirror, what have we learned?
Well… there’s a lot of rye out there, with a diversity of flavor profiles and at a range of price points. I’m happy to say that shelling out $50 to $60 is adequate to get you access to very tasty rye from a number of producers, large and small. You can go the pure craft route with Wilderness Trail or Peerless, or you can opt for a novel cask finish with the High West whiskeys. In all, savvy shoppers should be able to readily find a rye to suit their tastes and not break the bank.
BUT (I like big “buts,” and I cannot lie) there are a lot of folks out there willing to source MGP or Alberta rye and re-sell it to you with a markup ostensibly warranted by their discerning palate, or skill at blending, or for no reason at all other than to pad their profit margin. That’s OK; you’ll notice that I awarded decent scores to some of these. Depending on your tolerance for dill (and I have friends who absolutely hate the stuff), you may want to steer clear of anything with “Distilled in Indiana” on the back label. All things equal, though, I typically prefer to support the people actually running the stills and managing the rickhouses.
So, if I were to start a home rye bar from scratch, what might my shopping list look like? For my tastes, I’d probably grab a bottle of each of the following types (in alphabetical order): Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye bottled in Bond, High West “A Midwinter Night’s Dram,” Huber’s Starlight Distillery Straight Rye, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Special Release Barrel Proof, Peerless Single Barrel Rye (but avoid the Double Oak), Pikesville Supreme Rye 110 Proof, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye (ha!), Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (another joke), Wilderness Trail, and Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye (if you must).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a drink of anything but rye!
Booker’s Rye photograph courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer.