REVIEW: Michter’s 10 Year Rye (2017 release)

 

Michter’s 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
Barrel #17A37
92.8 Proof

The 2017 incarnation of Michter’s 10 Year Rye is the first release greenlit by new Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann. If you had concerns about quality lost in the changeover from Willie Pratt—and I’ll confess that I did, simply because the 2016 release was that good—let go of them. Right now. This is excellent whiskey and worth every cent of its top-shelf MSRP.

The nose on M10R is a storybook grandmother’s kitchen: brown sugar, sweet caramel, and banana bread. This is something of a departure from last year’s batch, which did have hints of sweetness but also featured a more pronounced spiciness (mainly a mix of cinnamon and black pepper). As with last year, the texture is all velvet. Unlike 2016, Heilmann’s initial rye run has primary notes of wood and leather, with background hints of banana bread, cinnamon, and citrus. This isn’t a “hot” whiskey by any means (and at 92.8 proof, I didn’t expect it to be), and it’s finish isn’t massive in terms of burn, but it seems to linger forever. More importantly, M10R comes with the signature warmth from start to finish that makes it—in my humble opinion—the best rye on the market for the second straight year, which is really saying something given my affinity for WhistlePig 10.

For all of tmichters 10 rye 2017his praise, there is also a catch. While not as absurdly difficult to find on store shelves at the Van Winkle line or the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Michter’s 10 Year offerings (not to mention the unattainable 25 Year special release) are moving in that direction. As more and more folks find out just how good these bottles are, the more the flippers take notice, and the higher secondary prices climb. I’m generally not an advocate of bottle hoarding. But if you find a few of these on the shelf at MSRP, grab them all, they’re worth the investment.

Value: Normally, at $150, I would have a hard time giving a bottle two thumbs up in this category, but M10R is the exception that proves the rule for me. If you can find this at MSRP, buy it.

Drinkability: Highest. (Though, ironically, I’d probably share bottles with much higher price tags on the secondary market with house guests before I parted with too many drams of this one.)

Overall: 9.4 (edges 2016 by a tenth of a point)

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REVIEW: Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey

Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey
Michter’s Distillery (Louisville)
111.8 proof / 55.9% ABV
Barrel # 16D432

If you’ve spent much time on B&B, you know we’re fans of Michter’s whiskey. And you might also have picked up on the fact that I, personally, lean toward ryes. That said, I’m not generally one to go nuts for a barrel proof offering—so I wasn’t altogether sure what to think about Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye as I pulled the cork.

michters bsrw.jpgThe nose on MBSR is mellow; sweet (caramel/vanilla), hot (duh), and surprisingly lacking in black pepper. You pick up on the “umph” almost immediately, but it’s not overwhelming—and it actually lulls you into thinking the difference between a standard 90 proofer and a 111.8 is only about 11 percent. Plus, on the octane spectrum of barrel proof whiskeys, MBSR is technically residing on the moderate end. Rare Breed and Maker’s Cask hover around 112, Old Granddad is at 114, and then things only go up from there: Bulleit at 119, Booker’s at 120+, E. H. Taylor Jr. in the high 120s, Stagg Jr. at 135, and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof in excess of 135. So how hot could it be?

In short, if you’re drinking MBSR neat, it’s hot. Too hot for most folks, likely—but then, most barrel proofs are too hot for the average drinker to take straight. The texture isn’t as velvety as the Small Batch or 10 year labels; oak, a mix of caramel and vanilla, and just a touch of dried fruit come through. Given the heat and given that we’re talking about a rye whiskey, I was admittedly surprised that this wasn’t spicier. The finish is where MBSR excels; and by that I mean, it goes on and on and on (and it might still be going, actually).

A touch of water is the golden ticket here. All of the fruit flavors—apricot and cherry, especially—lurking behind the heat are pulled to the forefront. The oak gives way and some of the natural rye spice also regains its footing, which will make people who specifically picked a barrel strength rye happy. (Rye should taste like rye, after all.) When mixed properly, MBSR essentially becomes a diesel version of Michter’s Small Batch—a great in its own right and preferable to many single barrel offerings—with significantly more pop, added pepper, and a drastically elongated finish.

Value: If you can find this appropriately priced at retail (somewhere in the vicinity of $70), it’s absolutely worth adding to your bar. I prefer it to the other barrel proofs within relative range (OGD and Rare Breed); it would make one hell of a Christmas present if you can find it.

Drinkability: As noted, this is a tough sell to sip neat. But that’s going to be the case for most people tangling with barrel proof whiskey. A splash of water transforms this rye into a very pleasant evening drink, especially when temperatures start to drop.

Overall: 8.4

** Special Thanks to Lillie O’Connell and Michter’s for generously providing areview sample **

REVIEW: Michter’s Single Barrel Rye

Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
Michter’s Distillery – 84.8 Proof

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Michter’s Single Barrel Rye, 42.4% ABV

It will come as a surprise to some of you—and I’m sure is fully expected by others—that there are bartenders out there who do not like to see me walk through the door and claim an empty stool.  This has nothing to do with endless questions about the bourbon list or repeated requests for peanut bowl refills (though both will occur).  Since I generally keep to myself, I doubt it has much to do with irksome inanities (“Some Brave’s game, right?”), and my preference for neat bourbon and traditional cocktails doesn’t send them diving into Mr. Boston’s table of contents or the downstairs buffet’s pantry (“What do you mean no freshly grated cardamon?”).  But when I do order a cocktail, I utter words that cause bartenders and bourbon snobs alike to cringe, the occasional jukebox to halt mid-song and skip.

“Well whiskey is fine.”

I do not call whiskey for mixing.  I will gladly call for something neat or on the rocks, but when adding a hefty dose of sweet liqueur, plain old cane sugar, and garnish, the first thing behind the bar will be fine.  If it’s on a shelf—even the bottom one—I consider pouring it in Coke or ginger a criminal offense.  There is a rule of diminishing returns at work here, in which I hypothesize that the more flavors a whiskey is going to be mixed with, the less you get out of using an expensive whiskey.  This hardly seems controversial, but it’s never that hard to find someone at the bar who’ll brag that they won’t touch a Manhattan without a fifteen-year-old base.

But at home, or in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, this rule doesn’t always apply.  While traveling a few years ago I happened into an establishment of the type where the bartenders prefer to be called mixologists and the bar approaches the realm of chemistry lab.  Trusting in their skills I relayed some of my preferred tastes and left the final product up to them.  It was delicious, and my first question was about the rye they used.  Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey has been a staple of mine ever since.

In case you missed our sampling of their Small Batch Bourbon, we’re pretty big fans of the Michter’s brand at B&B, and this second review from their US 1 lineup is no different.  Like the bourbon, the rye was only bottled by Michter’s, not distilled by them, and there is no age statement on the bottle.  And, as with the bourbon, I recommend you get past that.  Sure, there’s something to be said for shepherding your product from farm to bottle, but there’s also something to be said for being able to purchase premium distillate with a flavor profile you’ve sought out, to say nothing of the skill involved in proofing—and this rye is a very specific 84.8 proof.

The nose on the Single Barrel Rye is heavy with vanilla bean, a flavor that carries through the first sip, and light with cured tobacco, which does not.  Sweet and aromatic, this opens on the tongue with sugary cola, like an old fashioned vanilla Coke mixed fresh in front of you at a drug store soda fountain or diner.  There’s macerated black cherry and a campfire char—not the smokey peat of a scotch, but something sweet, more maple than oak—just before you swallow, when you get some rye spice but very little burn.  I love the complexity of this stuff.  Neat, it reminds me of some of my favorite challenging bourbons—a compliment that I wouldn’t give out lightly—and it won’t hide in a mixed drink but will noticeably elevate it.

michrye2.jpgValue: Very High—At around $40, this is like going to the track with an inside tip on an unlikely horse that will pay off big.  My advice is to bet on it.  I could see this leaving empty shelf space at $60-$65, though I hope it doesn’t happen.

Drinkability: Medium-High—This is a bold and chewy rye with some of the most distinct flavors I’ve come across.  The thin, airy, constant notes of a highly drinkable whiskey can be easily missed, which is why I give Michter’s Rye a lower rating here.  This stuff reminds you that you’re drinking it, but if you like fuller whiskies, you’ll be glad it did.

Overall Rating: 9.0

* Special thanks to Lillie O’Connell and the folks at Michter’s for a review sample.

REVIEW: WhistlePig Old World Rye

Old World Rye (12 year)
WhistlePig Distillery – 86 Proof

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Aslan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Wright Brothers all look on in envy at B&B’s sample of Old World 12, 43% ABV

If you’ve followed Bowtied & Bourboned for long, it’s no secret that we’re fans of WhistlePig. NDP controversies duly noted (I still don’t care, in case you’re wondering), the WP10 scored a stellar 9.1 and the Boss Hog (2014) scored a very respectable 8.8. This offering, dubbed Old World, is a 12 year rye that more than holds up against its two highly-rated siblings. But unlike WP10 and Boss Hog, which came in at 100 and 120 proof, respectively, OW12 is bottled at a tamer 86 proof—but bear in mind that proofs can be deceiving.

The nose is an inviting carousel of rye spice, dry fruit (raisins and apricots), rich cherry, and buttery caramel—undoubtedly the result of OW12’s unique cask finishing process, which equals out to 30% French Sauternes, 63% Madeira, and 7% Port. I mentioned that proofs can be deceiving. Well, so can scent profiles! I can almost guarantee that your first sip of OW12 won’t be what you expect. Be ready for a significant but pleasant burst of spice and a lingering heat on the tip of the tongue. This fleeting shot of rye will give way to traces of slightly mellower caramel and dry chocolate. Despite the obvious fruit notes emanating from the wine finish, almost none of those smells will translate into the first taste. If you’re disappointed, fear not, their absence doesn’t last long. OW12 hits the back of your tongue with a flicker of black pepper and then that whole range of light, floral wine flavors opens up with background hints of caramel, wood, and dark cherry cough drops.

The finish on OW12 is relatively short, which surprised me given the initial wallop of hot spice, but by the time its hitting the back of your throat, all of the dry fruit flavors and that hidden woodiness have had a chance to commingle and mellow things out. And what the finish lacks in duration is more than made up for by a very nice, floral aftertaste and a lip-smacking, syrupy sensation left over from OW12’s thick, velvety texture. To make a long story short, if you’re a rye fan, you really, really want this stuff; if you’re a fan of dry, aromatic bourbons and ryes (think Michter’s US*1 or 1792 Port Finish), you still really want this stuff; and, if you’re just a fan of unique flavor profiles in general, you should still probably want this stuff—or at least a taste of it.

Value: Med—Retailing at $120 to $130 (that is, when you can actually find it in stores), this is definitely priced to be a top-shelf whiskey. In my estimation, it drinks like a top-shelf offering, with a flavor profile you just aren’t going to get anywhere else—but it’s just inevitable that anything in the $100+ range is going to restrict access.

Drinkability: Very High—Incredibly soft texture and a very rewarding second half; maybe the biggest change in flavor from front to back I’ve ever tasted. This is going to be great for anyone willing to take the first 1-2 seconds of heat—but in my house, it’s only coming out for championship games, holidays, and special guests!

Overall Rating: 8.9—The only thing holding this back 2-3 tenths of a point is the price. If you can swing the cost, this is a fantastic addition to your bar.

**Thanks to the folks at WhistlePig for graciously providing a review sample**

REVIEW: Buffalo Trace Classic Cocktail Party (2016)

REVIEW: Buffalo Trace Classic Cocktail Party
Buffalo Trace Distillery – (January 29, 2016)

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The Sazerac. (Each guest was allowed to keep one of these custom-imprinted glasses.)

The theme of the 2016 Buffalo Trace Classic Cocktail Party, the third event of its “Craftsman Series,” was the Sazerac. We entered the second floor of the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse at 7pm to a live jazz duo (tenor sax and piano) and passed hors d’oeuvres—seared tuna on flatbread and pimento topped with mango salsa. Cocktail attire had been requested and, with very few exceptions, party-goers came dressed to impress. This promised to be a cocktail party of the sort that doesn’t happen often in the age of the selfie-stick.

In the middle of the room, a large circular table held an impressive assortment of fruits, cheeses, crackers, peppers, jams, and salsas. At the bar, self-described mixologists—bartenders to the unhip—from Old Bourbon County Kitchen were cranking out Sazeracs from scratch, mixed with none other than Buffalo Trace’s semi-elusive Sazerac Rye Whiskey.

After roughly thirty minutes of mingling time—in which most folks thought more about mingling than actually doing it (we befriended and sat with a very nice couple from Indianapolis)—hosts from Buffalo Trace offered an official welcome followed by a very (very) brief history of the Sazerac and Thomas H. Handy. (The billing for the event had promised a “historical presentation”; the talk we got didn’t quite live up to those expectations, but RCP has us covered on the history of the original Sazerac and the man who invented it anyhow.)

Before each of the three area kitchens—Dudley’s on Short, Local Feed, and Bourbon on Main—started offering up their main dishes, we were also given a brief explanation from OBC’s chief mixologist as to how and why each dish had been paired with its cocktail for the evening. After this, we were essentially given the green light to sample each dish/cocktail pairing in whatever order we pleased. Most people, including us, booked it over to Dudley’s on Short and weren’t disappointed.

On the whole, the food was excellent and, in my opinion, actually overshadowed the cocktails. I’m a fan of whiskey sours, so the Buster Brown was right up my alley, but at an event like this—with one all-time classic, the Sazerac, already on tap—I was hoping for something still historical, but a little more “off the beaten path.” Dudley’s on Short had by far the tastiest dish of the evening, and the best bourbon in the house (E. H. Taylor SB), but also the blandest cocktail. Bourbon on Main’s Blackberry Smash was the standout cocktail of the evening.

***

The Menu

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From Dudley’s on Short

Dudley’s on Short
Slow Cooked Prime Rib Eye
Smoked Potato Puree
Onion
Radish Arugula
*Paired with Manhattan

Local Feed
Chicken Liver Mousse
Pear Chip and Pickled Onion
*Paired with Buster Brown

Bourbon on Main
Grilled Halibut with Orzo and Fonduta
*Paired with Blackberry Smash

***

The Drinks

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The evening’s cocktail ingredients.

Buster Brown
1 part honey syrup (infused with ginger & thyme)
2 parts lemon juice
8 parts W. L. Weller Special Reserve
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters #6

Shake or stir ingredients with cracked ice. If clarity is desired, double strain. Garnish with twist of lemon.

Blackberry Smash
1 part sweetened blackberry syrup
2 parts lemon juice
6 parts Buffalo Trace Straight Kentucky Bourbon

“Smash” two blackberries and a sprig of mint in shaker with muddler. Add blackberry syrup, lemon juice, and bourbon to tin. Shake vigorously with cracked ice. Double-strain into cocktail glass with crushed ice. Garnish with speared blackberry and mint.

Manhattan, Medium
1 part allspice dram
3 parts ruby port
8 parts E. H. Taylor Small Batch B. I. B.
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters #6

Combine all ingredients into mixing glass. Stir with cracked ice. Strain into cocktail glass neat. Garnish with twist of orange.

***

Overall, the 2016 Classic Cocktail Party was well worth the price of admission—and I understand now why tickets sold out so quickly. That said, given the cost, at least one drink featuring either Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac 18 or Thomas H. Handy Antique would have been an elegant touch, especially as online promo materials for the event featured images of these sought-after (read: impossible to find) labels. Liquor snobbery aside, our only other suggestion would be the addition of a few more high tops for guests to hover around while eating and drinking. Because we skipped the pre-party distillery tour, we arrived on time at 7pm, but after approximately 75% of the other guests—meaning virtually every sitting table or high top had been taken. Given their scarcity, once a table was occupied, it was likely gone for the rest of the evening. (As I said before, we did end up with a small table, but only because we were willing to befriend strangers. Most larger groups kept to themselves.)

Food Rating: 9.1 – No complaints here. I’d also like to point out that the kitchen crews and wait staff were exceptionally friendly.

Cocktail Rating: 8.3 – Would have replaced the Manhattan and/or dipped into the Antique Collection labels on this front. (Sure, some folks will scoff at the idea of mixing such an expensive whiskey. But we’re not talking about whiskey and coke, here, and I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to make a cocktail, make a cocktail.)

Worth the Price: Yes – Though most guests didn’t mingle, so your best bet might be coming with a larger group in the first place.

Overall Rating: 8.7 – Sign us up for next year!

REVIEW: WhistlePig Boss Hog Rye (2014)

Boss Hog Rye 2014 – “The Spirit of Mortimer”
Approx. 120 Proof – WhistlePig

The 1300 fertile acres of WhistlePig Farm could, in the spring, stand in for the rolling hills and pastures of Hazzard County, but the similarities probably stop with the landscape. You’re unlikely to see the General Lee kicking gravel this far North, just a few miles from Lake Champlain, and if the Duke boys tried to unload a trunk of clear corn liquor at this stop they’d be laughed back to Uncle Jesse’s farm. You won’t find any mason jars here: the liquor at WhistlePig is Straight Rye every time, aged to a beautiful copper for no less than ten years. At nearly fourteen years, their oldest iteration was barreled when Flash was a pup, and shares the name of the Duke’s love-to-hate-him rival, County Commissioner Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg.

J. D. was a moonshiner before he took up—as they say in Hazzard—politickin’, but it would be as disingenuous as the white-suited man himself to suggest that Boss Hog Rye Whiskey was named after him. Its subtitle, “Spirit of Mortimer,” is a more honest moniker. While WhistlePig Farm does grow acres of hardy rye for their own use, they do not grow rye exclusively, and the farm is home to honey bees, maple trees, goats, occasional ducks and, until recently, a proud Kune Pig named Mortimer, to whom the 2014 Boss Hog is dedicated. (Future barrels of their product will come from their own home-grown grain, but their distillery, though built in a refurbished 19th century barn, is brand new; thus, what you see on shelves presently was sourced. This has been a controversy for some, though, as mentioned in a previous post, not for the bowtie-clad proprietors at B&B. If you have any questions about the grain to glass process at WP, I recommend heading to their website, where even a cursory perusal reveals that they take quality at all stages very, very seriously.)

WP takes pride in how unique their whiskey is, and each bottle of Boss Hog is the product of a single barrel out of only 50 barrels released. Considering the age and single barrel bottling, even this limited batch leaves room for extreme individual expression, an independence that Vermonters have historically approved of.

bosshog1.jpgI could tell the “Spirit of Mortimer” I was fortunate enough to try was a rye from across the room. There is no waft of corn in the nose, none of the mixed bouquet you get in a bourbon. I got a hint of peppermint, but also felt it was equally notable for what it lacked: no eye watering, high octane diesel fumes. If it announces rye immediately, it whispers 120 proof in hushed tones, if it reveals it at all. The palate is equally impressive in this regard. It’s surprisingly mellow, easy and spicy at the same time. I don’t get a baking spice like cinnamon, but warm pepper and butter with fall flavors like cloves and a pinch of orange peel.

The rye spice continues through the finish, lingering like a mild hot sauce after you swallow, with the after taste of a good cigar.

My glass was empty before I even considered adding ice or water.

Value: Medium—Though representative of the craftsmanship and limited quantity, the suggested retail of $189/bottle is staggering and severely limits the audience. This is a wedding night whiskey, not a Wednesday night whiskey.

Drinkability: High—I’d even invent a new category—“Surprisingly High”—for the Boss Hog. You won’t believe the mash or the proof when you sip this, though you’ll believe every bit of the age. A rye you can drink neat is a rye to be savored.

Overall Rating: 8.8

*Special thanks to Lana Gersten and the folks at WhistlePig for kindly providing a review sample.

Christmas Spirits: The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

Christmas Spirits:
The 2015 Bowtied & Bourboned Holiday Shopping Guide

5d31dc860ea7fd604a4e279e14f65cc4.jpgHave someone on your Christmas list that you know would love some whiskey, but not sure what to buy? You aren’t alone. Not everyone can win—or afford to win—local raffles for Pappy 15, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, or a Four Roses Limited Edition. Or maybe you’d like a bottle for yourself, but need to give St. Nick some options? It’s easy to get overwhelmed: new labels seem to appear on liquor store shelves daily; bottle art gets fancier and fancier (while providing less and less information about age and distillation); and prices seem to be rising steadily. So let Bowtied & Bourboned help make sure you get the most bang for your buck! Below are our recommendations for thoughtful holiday shopping on a range of budgets. We guarantee these spirits will keep everyone jolly enough to ward off a visit from the Krampus!

MCH – Picks

Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($25-30) – Henry McKenna isn’t as sought after as its cousins, the older and rarer incarnations of Elijah Craig, but that’s not necessarily to say it shouldn’t be. It’s aged 10 years and smooth enough to constitute a perfectly respectable offering for both friends and family. (Or to keep for yourself!) Moreover, McKenna has the added cache of being a single barrel selection, which is admittedly rare in this price range. At the end of the day, it’s a great workhorse bourbon. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or, at around  $28 in most markets, mix it without an ounce of guilt. This is a widely available label and a very thoughtful choice for smaller budgets.

Basil Hayden’s ($40) – Though priced in the mid-range, this small batch bourbon punches above its weight class. Don’t let 80 proof fool you, this is a smooth sipper but its rye content gives it a spicy, peppery flavor and makes it anything but bland. This one is on similar footing with the E. H. Taylor Small Batch (see RCP’s comments below) and it also happens to be one of the more attractively packaged bourbons in this price range.

WhistlePig Straight Rye ($75) – If you’re looking for whiskey in the upper echelon but can’t track down something from the Antique Collection or a Special Edition, this is your ticket. (And it might be a better choice than some of the aforementioned even if you can get your hands on them.) An incredibly smooth blend of caramel, vanilla, and rye spice, this is a can’t miss gift—and as WhistlePig isn’t as well-known as its counterparts in Kentucky, you might get the added bonus of introducing the label to its lucky recipient.

RCP – Picks

Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey ($20-$30) – Bulleit checks several boxes on the list of “gift bourbon” criteria. Aside from being an easy but respectable pour, it has that unique ubiquitous-from-the-fringe reputation that will engender an “Oh I’ve heard of this but haven’t tried it yet” upon opening. At $25, you won’t swear at the host who spills a dram of your hospitality into their eggnog. Finally, since ‘tis the season for honesty, the bottle actually is cool, and it matches the moniker “Frontier Whiskey” so well that you can be sure they’ll proudly display it and hope guests ask about the time they arm wrestled John Wayne—and won.

history-print-ads-from-wild-turkey-bourbon.w654.jpgRussell’s Reserve 10 Year Small Batch ($30-$40) – Wild Turkey is a household name in the bourbon industry, and this small batch stands on the shoulders of giants and takes a big leap. Russell’s Reserve isn’t like some of the “craft” offerings from other big family name distilleries that taste like leftover well-pours. It’s original and delicious at a responsible value, the kind of bourbon you give your boss or father in law to prove you don’t have to concede quality to stay on a budget.

Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr – If you’re keeping up with MCH’s serialized biography, “Becoming the Colonel,” you have all the reason you need to be enthusiastic about this nattily attired offering from Buffalo Trace Distillery. A unique bottle and container make the introductory Small Batch ($40) a great gift, but I wouldn’t put it in the stocking of a bourbon novice: It’s chewy and spicy, with more nutmeg than cinnamon, but its complexity and 100 proof bottling can be challenging. If you don’t have someone to wrap this for, hope a bottle finds its way under your tree. If your name’s squarely on the “Nice” list, you might just earn the Single Barrel ($70) or Rye ($70), with Happy New Year included.

 

REVIEW: Wild Buck Rye

Wild Buck Rye (Small Batch, 100% Rye)
100 Proof – NJoy Spirits

All along the Bourbon Trail, tour guides at Kentucky’s best-known distilleries tout the state’s limestone filtered water, the combination of its hot summers and cold winters, and its ancient ricks as the perfect environment for producing the highest quality whiskey in the United States. But far from the stomping grounds of Beams and Pogues and Van Winkles, something is lurking in the cypress stands of Weeki Wachi, Florida. On an 80 acre farm and distillery, Kevin and Natalie Goff are making Wild Buck Rye. And they’re doing it the right way, often by hand. If you’re not a Floridian, odds are you haven’t encountered this small batch, 100% rye whiskey yet. (It’s available at ABC Liquor Stores throughout the state.) But once you taste it, I can promise you one thing: you’ll wish you’d found it sooner. Much sooner.

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Wild Buck Rye’s Copper setup.

Kevin and Natalie grow some of their own rye and are happy to disclose that what they can’t produce themselves is locally sourced from a grower about 20 minutes down the road. The operation is about as ecologically friendly as it gets: they grind their own grains daily, utilize collected rainwater in the mash cooking process, and use the spent grain to feed their livestock. Wild Buck Rye is twice distilled and bottled at 100 proof after aging for a minimum of ten months and maximum of seventeen months. (The blend balances out to about a year.) Unlike larger scale distilling operations, which work with standard-sized barrels, Wild Buck is blended from different sized barrels (ranging from 5 to 25 gallons) after they’ve been intentionally exposed to the Florida sun and even frequently rotated to “enhance” the aging process. The constant heat creates a relatively larger loss to evaporation (also known as the “Angel’s Share”) but also works some genuine, Deep South magic on the whiskey that does survive.

The nose on Wild Buck is a mix of caramel, sweet grain, dark chocolate, and wood; not much vanilla and just a hint of rye spice. Despite its scent profile, Wild Buck is not overly sweet. Be ready for an immediate, pleasant heat on the tongue that will give way to a spicy mix of wood and chocolatey-leather. The finish is relatively short for a spirit bottled at 100 proof, but it’s by no means harsh or bitter for such a young whiskey and it comes in two phases: the dissipating heat trail you expect, followed by the quick and unexpected resurgence of spice and wood on the back of the tongue, which more than makes up for the aforementioned dissipation.

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Wild Buck Rye, 50% ABV

Full disclosure: Wild Buck Rye is probably not for newcomers to whiskey, especially if said newcomer has been introduced to the genre on a diet of wheated products or 80 proofs. This isn’t a muted or sweet spirit, and I mean that as a true compliment. This is the kind of whiskey that should come out for company when the folks who won’t know the difference—or who don’t care about the difference—have gone home. It’s hearty and earthy and rye drinkers will love it neat or on the rocks with a single cube. All of this in mind, perhaps the best news I can deliver is that Kevin and Natalie are in the process of upgrading to a significantly larger mash tub, which should increase their production capabilities dramatically.

Value: Med-High—In the $50 to $55 range, this certainly isn’t on the cheap end of the rye spectrum, but it’s appropriately priced. Check here for a full range of shopping options.

Drinkability: Medium—As I said before, this probably shouldn’t be the first sip of whiskey someone ever takes, but it should definitely be in the mix once they know enough to appreciate it.

Overall Rating: 8.3

* Special thanks to Natalie and Kevin Goff for graciously providing a review sample.

HISTORY: Not Your Grandpa’s Sazerac

Not Your Grandpa’s Sazerac (but maybe his grandpa’s):
An Argument for the Historically Accurate Sazerac

RCP

The sazerac is, according to some, not only an historic cocktail, but the historic cocktail: a frenglish word for coquetier, the cup that Antoine Peychaud first used to serve his now famous bitters in the Big Easy almost 200 years ago. We know it today as a rye-based drink—indeed, my response to the bartender who asks me upon my ordering one what kind of bourbon I’d like is “I’ll have a Manhattan, please”—but this was not always the case. If the etymology of “cocktail” is most likely delightfully apocryphal, the genesis of the title Sazerac is anything but, and therein lies the basis for the Historically Accurate Sazerac, a drink that takes us to a time of transition in post-Civil War New Orleans.

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The Sazerac.

Like the tales told by revelers the afternoon following a night on Bourbon Street, parts of the Sazerac’s history are a bit cloudy. Sources from The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink to The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture’s volume on Foodways disagree on whether it was Sewell Taylor or John B. Schiller who made Peychaud’s concoction of bitters and sugar famous, and the genesis of the absinthe rinse is recalled with about as much precision as you would expect from anyone consuming absinthe. One thing is certain: the reason you don’t walk into a bar and order a “Taylor” or a “Schiller” isn’t because imbibers forgot their bartender, or the fact that neither of these gentlemen actually made the drink that famous, but also because the original cocktail wasn’t known by its maker, but by the main ingredient, Sazerac de Forge French brandy.

It’s easy to skip over Taylor and Schiller, as Imbibe! author David Wondrich does, to focus on the far better known Thomas Handy, who purchased Peychaud’s formula from him in 1870 and paid him a salary to manufacture the bitters. In an attempt to keep up with changing American tastes—not to mention changing availabilities of French brandy—Handy was the first to swap the foreign spirit for the American one, replacing the brandy with rye. After Handy’s death his widow’s company commercially sold the sazerac in bottles bearing his name, which is now most recognizable for appropriately gracing Buffalo Trace’s antique “Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey.”

But, again, the dates here remain as suspect as a Huey Long election. While Handy’s famous substitution probably took place sometime in the 1870’s, it’s unlikely that it happened uniformly or overnight. Like any change in a tried and true recipe (New Coke and Guinness’s recent vegan capitulation come to mind), not all consumers were pleased with the new and improved version, and some no doubt continued to order the drink with brandy. Secondly, while rye was an old spirit—far older than bourbon, which was just reaching its stride in the 1870s—given that the legal battles for copyright protections and enforced standards that would ensure truth in labeling and quality were only just getting passed, the rye used in the drink wasn’t necessarily the smoothest, purest, best-aged whiskey available. More likely it was young and rough, and possibly distilled in New Orleans from ingredients purchased upriver, meaning it lacked even the aging that transport on a steamboat or railroad allowed.

The answer would’ve been to blend the traditional with the non-. Using both cognac and rye would’ve satisfied both old tastes and new, stretched the small supply of brandy limited by an agricultural tragedy in France, and mellowed some of the bite from un-aged American whiskey.

So while suggesting to a bartender or guest today that a sazerac be made with both French brandy and American whiskey will garner you denunciations as a heretic, remind your detractors that 140 years ago, their singularly rye-based tipple was the upstart, and you’re simply enjoying the best of both the old world and the new.

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Ingredients for the historically accurate Sazerac.

RECIPE: The Historically Accurate Sazerac

Like other variations on the sazerac, from Cure’s antebellum version in New Orleans to the Big Jones post-Prohibition version in Chicago, The Historically Accurate Sazerac embodies a specific time in the drink’s history. It also captures the culture of the city of its birth, a city with which it can never be disassociated. Sweet, spicy, and biting, part French and part southern, rinsed with absinthe and an air of expatriate mystery, the complex ingredients and artful preparation put New Orleans in a glass.

1.5oz Rye

1.5oz Cognac

Peychaud’s Bitters

Angostura Bitters

Simple Syrup

Absinthe

Lemon Peel

2 glasses

Pour enough absinthe in the first glass to shallowly cover the bottom; place in the freezer to chill. Pour the rye and cognac into the second glass, adding 4-6 dashes of Peychaud’s and 2-3 dashes of Angostura. Sweeten to taste with simple syrup (one spoonful will be relatively dry; 3 spoonfuls sweet enough for dessert). Add ice, stir, and let sit. Retrieve chilled glass and rinse by turning the glass at an angle and rotating, coating the sides with the absinthe. Leave any standing absinthe in the bottom of the glass. Strain the second glass into the chilled and rinsed one; drop lemon peel in and enjoy.

A versatile drink, it can be served ice-chilled to temper a steamy bayou afternoon, or room temperature on a fireside winter night. Adjust accordingly.

SOURCES: In addition to those mentioned in the text, consult Carson, The Social History of Bourbon, and “Handy v. Commander” in The Southern Reporter: Containing all the Decisions of the Supreme Courts of Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi, vol 22 (June 9, 1897-February 9, 1898): 230-236.

REVIEW: WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye

WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye
100 Proof – WhistlePig Farm

In “American Pie,” the now immortal folk dirge from one-hit-wonder Don McLean, we find our depressed troubadour driving his Chevy to the levy where “them good old boys” were drinking whiskey and rye—and singing “this’ll be the day that I die, this’ll be the day that I die.” If they’d had a couple bottles of WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye, to quote the slightly-less-immortal but still iconic Uncle Rico, “everything woulda’ been different.” If my pop culture mashup of a song that defined a generation and a man who lived in his van offends you to the extent that you refuse to read further, at least walk away with this wisdom: this stuff is better than good. It’s great.

Lately, there’s been a bit of controversy concerning the real source of WhistlePig: the United States or Canada. At present, it looks like a mix of both. WhistlePig Farm in Vermont is growing hundreds of acres of rye to use for production and whiskey is currently being aged in barrels constructed from Vermont wood. That said, what’s available of the 10 year in stores right now was distilled in Canada before being selected for bottling in Vermont. This has some reviewers crying foul over what is essentially a well-executed PR campaign. Frankly, while I’m an advocate for age transparency, I don’t care much about the controversy here. The age of WP10SR isn’t in question and they’re far from being the only operation that bottles whiskey produced somewhere else. (Furthermore, from the Buffalo Trace Antiques to Maker’s Mark to Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Program, which successful distilling and/or bottling operation hasn’t put a PR twist on its products? Like it or not, whiskey is a business.) My main concern is how the whiskey tastes.

NEWS UPDATE: As of October 2015, a functional distilling facility has been installed on the WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham, Vermont. Current supplies of WP10SR have Canadian origins, but that will be changing in the future, making WhistlePig one of the rare “grain to glass” operations on the market. Click here to read the distillery’s press release in full.

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WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye, 100 Proof

The nose on WP10SR is a bouquet of oak, citrus, sweet vanilla, and caramel. (Note 1: the first time I sat down to taste, the caramel outmuscled the vanilla on the nose quite a bit.) The overall scent profile is sweet, but not “thin”—that is, the 100 proof spirit’s alcohol content doesn’t overwhelm its true flavor with a false sweetness. The first sip was all vanilla on the tongue, which surprised me; this was almost perfectly inverted from the smell test. (Note 2: the second time I sat down to taste, I got much more vanilla on the nose, and a more balanced flavor on the tongue.) Vanilla slowly gives way to a pairing of mellow warmth (lingering vanilla and caramel) and a healthy dose of rye spice in your mouth—the prelude to a long, balanced finish that leaves a pleasant trail of warm vanilla with a final small kick of rye deep down.

I’m typically a proponent of the idea that you paid for the whiskey, so you’ve earned the right to drink it however you’d like. I.e., if you want to mix $60 bourbon with ginger ale, do it, it’s yours and you should enjoy it. That said, this is sipping whiskey at its finest. It’s not cheap in the $75-$85 range, but given WP10SR’s depth of flavor and accessibility for drinkers of all experience levels, this is still a solid value purchase. -MCH

Value: Med-High
Drinkability: High
Overall Rating: 9.1

*Special thanks to Lana Gersten and the folks at WhistlePig for kindly providing a review sample.