Insert your favorite Rocky movie quote, as all our thoughts went that way upon reading this variety of rye.

I feel that sometimes it’s difficult for me (a bourbon enthusiast/collector) to not get caught up in the chasing of rare releases or allocated bottles. The thrill of the chase and feeling of finding something no one else can get is exhilarating. Most of the time though, this has diminishing returns, as the retailer sells out of limited releases, or you just aren’t in the right place at the right time.

The “fear of missing out” – or FOMO – is real is many instances, and I feel pushes many collectors to lengths I just don’t see fit to go. For example: driving countless miles to hit numerous retailers asking, “Do you have ____ behind the counter?” Spending time and building a relationship with stores sometimes only goes so far if you are only asking for one bottle a month. The retailer wants to make money with sales and, if you are only buying a limited amount, you get pushed down on the list when it comes to who gets the allocated bottles.

So, for me I have embraced a much more Zen approach to looking for anything new or rare; the phrase “It is what it is” has become my mantra. If I am at a retailer, I look around find what I need, and always just ask the well-rounded question: Do you have anything interesting hiding anywhere? Sometimes I get a “yes,” followed by a lineup, but most times it’s a “no.” I find this helps with the adverse thought process of needing to find something, and makes it more like a surprise when something interesting shows up.

Enter New Riff Balboa Rye. In looking for rare releases, I found this is a bottle that treads the fine line of being rare, depending on geographic location. For reference: I heard through friends that this was a great pour and something I needed to find. In my area, its not a whiskey that is on shelves regularly. So, when I had a few minutes before a lunch meeting and saw a liquor store on my way, I stopped and looked around.

I was shocked to see this rye behind the counter – in plain view – and asked the cashier, “Wow you have Balboa rye?!?” He answered nonchalantly, “We have this pretty much all the time. Can you not find this where you live?” I answered I have been looking for a while with no luck, so must be a good day!

My fellow Malt contributors have written many reviews of New Riff, and how single barrels and normal varieties fare. I personally have had a few regular offerings, and liked all that I have tried. I will save you the distillery background and get into bottle specifics. This Balboa rye is different by using an Heirloom Balboa rye grain. As stated on the New Riff website: Charles Fogg, their corn farmer, has been growing heirloom rye on his family farm for many years. The Balboa rye chosen is a grain that dates to the 1940s as a rye variety popular in Indiana. The Balboa rye grain is smaller than traditional rye, but no less flavorful, and this bottling is likely one of the few representations that made it to market.

Like the standard rye, its mash bill is 95% rye and 5% malted ry,e but uses Heirloom Balboa rye as the main grain. It is bottled in bond, so by law aged at least four years and bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). This is also non-chill filtered, as are all New Riff offerings. So, with all that said, let’s get to the glass.

New Riff Balboa Rye – Review

Color: Copper tinted orange.

On the nose: Honey glazed citrus and lemongrass come up from the glass on initial nosing. A piquant licorice and sweet mint mixed with clove and fennel, present as not just a sweet rye, but one that has some spice to round out the nose. If you like sweet rye, this is one that you will like. Coming back for a second nosing, some subtle vanilla and charred oak give a little more much needed richness to a sweet, fruit-filled nose.

In the mouth: On first sip, this carries the nose with sugar dusted winter mint gum and candied lemon rind. It quickly transitions into licorice candy and cracked black peppercorn heat. While this presents as a sweet rye, a tongue numbing spiciness come out midpalate that invites another sip. A slightly bitter rye grass and oak lead the finish that fades as quickly as it arrives. My guess, while being at least a four-year rye, I’d like to see what another year would do to the finish of this whiskey.


This being what New Riff calls a “specialty whiskey,” I think this can check off the box for the amateur collectors looking for a different and interesting rye. While it isn’t a high age stated, or super limited or allocated release, it did take some looking to find it. For the price paid with what’s in the bottle, I’m happy that this is not only a special release but also a whiskey that is different in turn.

I find others will search for that rare, or limited release, but are left with only ill will at store owners or the dreaded “fear of missing out”. I find this presentation is a sweeter and fruiter rye than the standard offering, making it unique. I paid $56 for this – and factoring price in with the whiskey in the glass – I felt this deserved a positive score.

It’s a special offering that tastes good and is at a good retail price, so if you can find it out when you’re looking, give it a try. Maybe when you find it, run up some stairs and say: “YO, I DID IT!!” Dammit, maybe one Rocky movie reference.

Score: 6/10

Ryan A

Ryan is a bourbon enthusiast and a certified bourbon steward through Stave & Thief Society. He is a lifelong Indiana resident who is a Chicago sports fan. His interest started with bourbon, then expanded to rye as his tasting knowledge expanded. The feeling of fellowship, community, shared opinions and knowledge in the bourbon industry is what appeals to him the most. Find him on Twitter @RyanAndrews8675.

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