A local restaurant that I’ve eaten at since I was in elementary school has recently closed. Its closing felt like I lost a part of my childhood. So, I’m feeling a bit sentimental. I know I haven’t been nice to whisk(e)y lately. But like all of us still have an inner child, I still have love left for whisk(e)y.

After Rittenhouse, Sazerac rye is probably the next rye that makes me the most sentimental. This is largely due to a couple of factors that just came together at the right time and eventually led to a memorable experience. Firstly, being really new to American whiskey, this was the second rye whiskey I got to try. This was probably 2013 or 2014. I was really surprised upon finding out that Sazerac has a softer rye taste compared to Rittenhouse’s sharper rye taste.

This surprised me since Bourbonr’s Heaven Hill mash bill post indicated Rittenhouse only has 51% rye. There’s only a strong guess as to Buffalo Trace’s rye mash bill, which is suspected to be also 51% rye. Before I tasted Sazerac rye, I thought Rittenhouse rye flavor was going to be weak compared to other rye whiskies with a higher rye percentage in the mash bill. In my mind, any rye whiskey with a higher rye component in the mash bill would have a stronger rye flavor. But, how delicate and soft Sazerac rye was baffled me. Eventually, I also got to try Bulleit rye, which has a much heavier rye in the mash bill (95%).  As you folks know, it’s not a rye bomb. I find Rittenhouse to still have a heavier rye flavor. Having been able to try Sazerac rye left me less surprised.

Second, being a softer rye, Sazerac rye just allowed me to have rye cocktails with a softer rye taste and allows most rye-based cocktails to be more delicate. Being of a lower ABV than Rittenhouse also allows me to feel as if I was drinking a less boozy and a different cocktail. There was also no official importer of this before. So, I couldn’t always have it in cocktails. I guess it became a sort of a treat for me due to the rarity at that time. When a bottle would get emptied, I’d have to rely on bar owners to buy one from abroad.

Lastly, there was 2018. It was probably my best year of travel. That year was my first time visiting New Orleans and attending Tales of the Cocktail. Talking about Tales deserves a whole article in itself. It’s close to a full week of seminars with tastings, tasting rooms and brand events. Most of the happenings occur from 10 AM until about 5 PM in Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. 2018 was also the first Tales when it was handled by the new owners.

After Tales 2018 concluded, I stayed in New Orleans for a few more days. The French Quarter is fabulous and all, but I felt the need to explore the city a bit more. One of the bars I went to was the Sazerac Bar at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Despite the name, the Sazerac cocktail wasn’t invented at the Sazerac Bar. The cocktail was invented sometime in the 1800s but would only see its first press in 1908. Initially, the recipe called for a French brandy. But phylloxera ravaging Europe caused rye whisky to be the substitute. The bar first opened its doors in 1949. In 2008, the Sazerac became New Orelans’ official cocktail.

In case you’re wondering why I had the cocktail at the bar, the answer is simple. For one, Sazerac’s HQ and The Sazerac House are in New Orleans. Also, how often can a person say they had the Sazerac cocktail made with the Sazerac company’s Sazerac rye at the Sazerac bar? The bar is also famous for another New Orleans cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz. They made it extremely well. That was a great evening. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Sazerac Rye – Review

45% ABV. USD $22.99 from K&L Wines. £43.95 from The Whisky Exchange. USD $52 locally.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: I get medium and mellow aromas of rye bread, honey, adzuki beans, blood orange, orange zest, dates and sour plums.

In the mouth: I get more fruits here compared to the nose. There are light to medium tastes of peaches, dried apricot, rye, adzuki beans, honey, orange and apple-flavored gummy bears. In-between and after are subtle and short tastes of leather, orange peel, cloves and dill. There are lingering tastes of sour plums, adzuki beans, dill and orange peel.

Conclusions:

This is much softer, mellow, and more lasting compared to Rittenhouse. Nothing against Rittenhouse; while it’s a great and affordable rye, the softer profile makes me think this is a rye whiskey a newbie will like better. I’m also glad I still think the same of this after all these years and with my shift in focus on other spirits.

The US price point makes this a steal. It wouldn’t make me feel guilty about using it to concoct an everyday drink such as a Black Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. I’d feel more apprehensive with using this as an everyday rye if the local and TWE prices are applied.

Score: 6/10

(5/10 at TWE and local prices)

Image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesAmerican
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Jigs says:

    That trip to New Orleans must have been amazing. The idea of traveling abroad for this hobby is something that remains a dream for me; it’s a down side of getting into all of this right before the pandemic, haha. When all the international/travel regulations start loosening up even more, where do you see yourself going to next?

    1. John says:

      Hi Jigs, NOLA is a must for food and booze. But you’ll also need a lot of extra work outs coz the food there is RICH.

      If I had my way, I’d go to Japan at this moment. Too many good things there.

  2. zenatello says:

    Although the list price in the US is great, Sazerac Rye suffers from the same Buffalo Trace frenzy that has made all the products from that distillery hard to find. It often sells for $40-50, well above the MSRP, and still remains hard to find. My local store puts it in the locked case so customers can only buy one at a time when there is stock. Luckily, the price there is the MSRP. Availability does vary from region to region, though.

    1. John says:

      Hi Zenatello, thanks for the info. I guess bourbon being more popular has drowned out issues and news about rye whisky going on allocation? I remember 8 to 9 years ago this was also just 1 bottle per person in places like Hi Time Wine and K&L.

  3. Frank says:

    Fantastic write up, John, and I’m glad that your experience matched up with your memories of enjoying this one in New Orleans. Personally, I’m not a fan of Rittenhouse as those sharper rye notes you mentioned tend to scratch me, but as a self-described “bourbon guy” this is one rye I return to time and time again. Cheers buddy!

    1. John says:

      Thanks, Frank. I’m lucky to have experienced NOLA and Tales. The bartender at Sazerac, Noah, also made sure I had an excellent time.

      I can see how Rittenhouse’s sharpness can be off putting. Iirc, the earlier iteration was more mellow. This is probably due to the low demand and having older stock in it. This current iteration does the job in cocktails though.

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