Iowa Legendary Rye (White)
80 Proof, Small Batch – Iowa Legendary Rye of Carroll County, Iowa
Don’t let the cover—or in this case, the bottle—scare you away from Iowa Legendary Rye. Distilled in Carroll County, Iowa, this is a white whiskey (meaning it’s unaged) and produced in small batches from a recipe consisting of 100% rye. According to Rich and Lisa Eggers, the proprietors of ILR, their recipe has Prohibition era roots: “In 1920, Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages. Unhappy with this new mandate, the self-reliant and fiercely independent men and women of Carroll County, Iowa, decided to defy that law and began producing their own rye whiskey … The recipe we follow is from one of those original moonshiners.” (Also of note: per the ILR website, the rye used is locally sourced from Iowa farmers—a nice change of pace after the mess that bubbled up concerning sourcing claims made, and apparently disproved, by Iowa’s best-known rye distiller, Templeton.)
Now before pulling the cork on Iowa Legendary Rye, banish any thoughts of the harsh corn liquor your dad and uncles passed around the campfire or of bottom-shelf white whiskeys that might double as lighter fluid; instead, remember that just because it’s clear doesn’t mean it can’t taste good. Unlike other White Dogs, which have gained a small but steadily growing following thanks to popular releases by Buffalo Trace (White Dog Mash #1 and White Dog Rye Mash, both at 125 proof) and Heaven Hill (Trybox Series New Make and Trybox Series Rye New Make, both at 125 proof), ILR is bottled at a much more manageable 80 proof.
The nose on ILR is a mixture of spice, grain (not surprising given the rye content), and slight hints of floral sweetness—the latter almost like a fleeting, sugary citrus note. The first mouthful is thick and sweet with a muted alcohol flavor. Very soon after the sweetness dissipates and a spicier, rye flavor settles on the tip of the tongue. Just as the transition happens, the realization will dawn on you that Iowa Legendary Rye is actually a pleasant, and even sip-able White Dog. The finish is what you’d expect from an unaged, 100% rye recipe: long, long, long. But the heat is relatively mild and makes this a nice cold weather, out-on-the-porch drink for folks who aren’t looking to melt their windpipes. (Again, keep in mind that the ABV here is 5% to 22.5% lower than most of the other whites on the market.)
My second sitting with ILR involved some cocktail experimentation. Playing on the whiskey’s natural scents, I decided to mix a hearty pour with a small wedge of fresh navel orange and a single ice cube. After letting the fruit and ice commingle for about five minutes, the sugars of the orange paired well with the natural sweetness of the whiskey while the citrus flavor essentially masked any lingering notes of “raw alcohol.” In the end, the result was like eating a spicy, liquor-infused orange—and would be a great way to introduce more tentative drinkers to ILR. (A tangerine or grapefruit would also make for a solid substitution.)
Priced around $35, Iowa Legendary Rye is well worth your time if you can track down a bottle. Currently available online from Binny’s Beverage Depot and Ezra’s (if your state permits delivery), from various liquor stores in Iowa, or directly from the Iowa Legendary Rye store in Carroll County, this is a versatile rye despite its “youth.” And, if you fancy yourself an aficionado of White Dogs, this will be an especially valued addition to the collection. -MCH
Drinkability: High (anyone)
Overall Rating: 7.8
*Special thanks to Lisa Eggers and the folks at Iowa Legendary Rye for kindly providing a review sample.