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Cigar Spirits: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey

17 Apr 2014

Rye whiskey is a quintessentially American spirit, and yet in recent decades Canada has become better known for rye than the United States. Canadian whiskey is synonymous with rye, as rye is the dominant grain in most Canadian whiskey.Jeffersons-rye-10-sq

Jeffersons-rye-10But most Canadian whiskey doesn’t meet the “straight rye” designation since the rye is often mixed with neutral grain spirits (basically vodka), to produce the low-proof, smooth-drinking Canadian whiskey you might be familiar with. And yet lots of rye is made in Canada, which caught the eye of some American whiskey sellers as old aged rye has gained a larger and larger following with American whiskey fans.

Three such Canadian straight ryes are particularly noteworthy: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey (10 Year, 94-proof), Whistlepig (10 Year, 100-proof), and Masterson’s (10 Year, 90-proof). All reportedly source their straight rye from the same Alberta distillery, and all are made with a mashbill of 100% rye, which sets them apart from rye produced in the U.S. (Lots of ryes, mostly made in Indiana, use a 95% rye mashbill.)

While they are distilled in Canada, due to their marketing and style, you’ll probably find them in the bourbon and rye section of your store, not lumped in with Canadian Club and Crown Royal. In the case of Jefferson’s, the label on the side discloses its origins: “Imported by Castle Brands, Produced in Canada.” Included is a batch and bottle number (the bottle I’m using for this review is batch 41, bottle number 251).

Jefferson’s pours a lovely reddish copper color and has a nose full of floral sweetness, a hint of what’s to come. Once tasted, it reveals a very clean, balanced profile with minty spice. It’s floral, oily, and has a honey sweetness. It lacks the forward spice that characterizes most American-distilled rye, but it’s very enjoyable in its own way. The finish stays true to the taste and it lingers on the roof of your mouth.

Normally I suggest a full-bodied cigar to stand up to rye’s spice, but the more subtle aspects of Jefferson’s Rye suggest a different direction. Instead, I’d stick with a milder cigar, either a Connecticut (USA or Ecuador) or the subtle spice of a Cameroon wrapper.

I’ve become a big fan of Jefferson’s Rye, and I heartily recommend all rye fans seek it out, especially at the very fair price of $40 or less. (It’s probably obvious by now, but this is totally different than the Jefferson’s bourbons which we’ve written about here and here.)

Now for the bad news: Jefferson’s Rye, at least in its current form, isn’t going to be around for long, and may already not be available in your area. Reports are they’ve lost their source of whiskey and it will soon be replaced with rye from a different (probably non-100% rye mashbill) rye, that won’t carry the ten-year age statement. So be sure to examine the bottle closely. Personally, I scooped up four bottles when I had the chance.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Wild Turkey 81-Proof Rye & Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 6-Year Rye

13 Mar 2014

I’m in the middle of a series of Cigar Spirits articles about rye, with the intention being a guide to rye along the lines of our A-Z Guide to Bourbon (part 1 and part 2). Today I’m tackling two ryes from Wild Turkey: the standard 81-proof variety, and the Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 6-Year-Old Rye.

WildTurkey81-WTRR-rye

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 6-Year Rye ($30-38) is named after Jimmy Russell (and his son Eddie), the longtime master distiller at Wild Turkey. According to the back of the bottle, it “has a crisp, lively taste that they believe to be the perfect 6-year-old rye.” The $25 81-proof standard Wild Turkey Rye is the most basic version of the Wild Turkey rye recipe, which has a mash bill of 23% corn, 65% rye, and 12% malt barley.

The two represent the two easiest-to-find rye whiskeys made by Wild Turkey. Wild Turkey also sells a 101-proof rye, but it’s limited in quantity, available only in certain states, and reportedly only comes in 1-liter bottles. Along with the 101 Rye, they make for an interesting case study in the difference age and proof can make.

Wild Turkey Rye 81 is a light golden color with a muted nose of floral and oak notes. On the palate it has buttery smoothness with hints of wood spice, pine, and honey. The finish is soft and short. Overall, it suffers from its diluted low-proof nature, but nevertheless is a pleasant, easy-drinking, value-priced rye.

The 90-proof Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Rye has a darker copper color and an inviting nose with baking spices and wood. On the palate it’s a rounded combination of oily intensity, floral notes, and spice with hints of dried fruit. The finish is long and spicy. It’s miles more complex and interesting than it’s 81-proof cousin, a fine ribeye steak to the regular Wild Turkey 81′s burger.

Both are solid pairings for a cigar, but Russell’s Reserve can stand up to a wide variety of mild, medium, or full-bodied cigars, while the standard variety is likely to be overwhelmed by a cigar that’s full-bodied. Both are good rye whiskeys, but the Small Batch variety is particularly noteworthy as a classic rye to enjoy neat.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: High West Double Rye! Whiskey

26 Feb 2014

I’m working my through a few more rye whiskeys before putting together a Guide to Rye, along the lines of our A-Z Guide to Bourbon (part 1 & part 2). Rye whiskey is increasingly popular these days and we want to help you sort out the over-hyped from the real gems.

High-West-Double-RyeHigh West distills whiskey and other spirits at its distillery and saloon in Park City, Utah, which bills itself as the world’s only ski-in distillery. However, the contents of Double Rye! (like most of High West’s aged whiskeys) weren’t distilled at the slope-side distillery.

Not that they hide that fact. As the back label explains, this is a combination of two straight rye whiskeys sourced by High West. One is a young two-year rye with a high rye mashbill (95% rye), probably from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. The other is an old 16-year rye with a more traditional mashbill (53% rye). (My bottle was from batch “13F11” and it was bottle number 599.)

The “blend of straight rye whiskies” sells for around $35 per bottle. And the handsome bottle is notable for it’s old west style with bubbles in the glass that give the handmade appearance. The rye is a pure gold color. The nose is a very unique combination of pine and iodine, but with bits of maple candy sweetness and mint.

The palate is all about the dueling layers. The young whiskey has a raw quality to it, but there’s just enough of the smoothness and sweetness from the older rye to prevent it from being overly acrid or harsh. It’s a fresh combination of pear, honey, cinnamon, and raw wood. The finish is a bit harsh and short.

This is a tough whiskey to judge because it’s so unique. The rough nature of the 2-year-old rye that (I suspect) makes up the majority of this blend is dominant and, at times, harsh and unpleasant. But there are quite a few redeeming characteristics: sweetness, complexity, and unexpected depth.

Cigar-wise, you’ll want a spicy cigar to pair with the Double Rye! (yes the “!” is part of the appeal, and it’s descriptive of this brash whiskey). While there are more than a few better rye whiskeys, for more or less money, High West Double Rye! still has it’s charms as a bold, unique rye.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: E.H. Taylor Jr. Rye Whiskey

18 Feb 2014

In terms of new lines of American whiskey in recent years, E.H. Taylor has to be one of the more interesting. Produced by Buffalo Trace (makers of Blanton’s, George T. Stagg, Elmer T. Lee, W.L. Weller, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, and a little bourbon called Pappy Van Winkle) the six-whiskey line honors Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.

EH-Taylor-RyeTaylor is one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry and one-time owner of what is now called Buffalo Trace Distillery. He’s largely known as a proponent of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which ensured quality standards for “bottled-in-bond” bourbon (back then many bourbons were mixed with things like tobacco, turpentine, or other horrible additives to appear more aged than they were). But rest assured the Feds weren’t just worried about the quality of our bourbon. The law also ensured that the federal government could more easily collect taxes.

The E.H. Taylor line consists of four bourbons (Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, and Warehouse C Tornado Surviving), an Old Fashioned Sour Mash (which technically might be bourbon), and this E.H. Taylor Rye. With the exception of the Barrel Proof, all are bottled at 100-proof, the minimum for a bottled-in-bond American whiskey.

What sets this rye apart is a different mashbill than previous Buffalo Trace ryes (both the Sazerac/Handy recipe, and anything made at the Buffalo Trace-owned Barton Distillery). Neither uses nearly as much rye as the the E.H. Taylor mashbill, which uses no corn (only rye and malted barley), probably in a 95/5 ratio. The age of the rye isn’t disclosed, though the straight rye designation (without any age statement) means it’s at least four years old.

The result is a lively spirit with an intense nose of honey, nutmeg, and varnish. On the palate it really shows its range. Traditional flavors include vanilla, pepper, and oils with subtle, though more dramatic, hints of mint, dried fruit, tamarind, and cinnamon. The finish is long with fruit and woody spice.

I paid $68 for this rye. And while it’s a good rye, it can’t compete with Sazerac ($30) or Rittenhouse 100 ($25) for value, nor is it as good as Sazerac 18, which has a suggested retail of around $80 (though good luck finding it, let alone at that price). And yet, E.H. Taylor is still an impressive rye, one that I not only bought one bottle of, but another right after.

Spicy, full-flavored rye calls for a full-bodied spicy cigar. The Opus X, La Aroma de Cuba Edición Especial, and the Boutique Brands Swag all fit the bill. Ultimately, it’s what I call a stage-two whiskey: not one of the first five ryes I’d recommend to someone just feeling their way through the world of American whiskey, but not something I’d deter a more seasoned rye drinker from trying.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Wild Turkey Forgiven

6 Feb 2014

If bourbon must be made with a mashbill that’s over 50% corn, and rye must be made with a mashbill that’s over 50% rye, what do you call a spirit that’s a mixture of the two? Wild Turkey calls it a mistake, but a tasty one.

Wild-Turkey-ForgivenAccording to Wild Turkey, distillery staff “unwittingly mingled very rare, high-proof rye with perfectly-aged bourbon” (78% 6-year-old bourbon and 22% 4-year-old rye, to be more specific). Given that they named the result “Forgiven,” I guess we can assume the staff that made such a horrible error hasn’t been fired.

Described on the bottle as a “blend of and rye straight whiskies” this unique spirit is bottled at 91-proof, notably lower than the traditional 101-proof for which Wild Turkey is known. It sells for $50 per bottle, which has the same shape as Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed offering.

The result is a light, orange/gold-colored spirit with a largely straightforward nose that features caramel with some melon and oak. The real fun starts on the palate, where the interplay between bourbon and rye emerges.

It’s a tasty combination dominated by resin, caramel, and wood spice, but also with notes of berries, apple, and cinnamon. The finish is long and oily with plenty of wood and dry spice.

It’s not what I look for in a rye or or a bourbon, but still I really enjoyed Forgiven. It’s a lively American whiskey that demands your attention: more rye than bourbon (despite the percentages), Forgiven pulls in a complex combination of sweetness, spice, wood, and fruit.

Even though the proof isn’t all that high, it demands a full-bodied cigar. I’d particularly lean towards a full-bodied Broadleaf Maduro-wrapped cigar like the Liga Privada No. 9, La Riqueza, or RoMa Craft Cromagnon.

If you consider yourself an amateur in the world of bourbon and rye, wait before you pick up a bottle of Forgiven. Instead, try these fine bourbons, or one of these ryes. But if you’re moving into bourbon connoisseur stage, you should definitely seek out Wild Turkey Forgiven.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

30 Jan 2014

It’s my contention that George Dickel is as underrated as Jack Daniels is iconic. That’s not a slight on either.  The two Tennessee whiskey brands are inextricably linked, but in all likelihood you’ve probably heard of Jack Daniels and not George Dickel, which might just be exactly how Dickel fans want it.

DickelBSBoth are more or less bourbon, but utilize the Lincoln County Process to filter the whiskey through charcoal. The result, according to both competitors, is a unique, smooth variety of American whiskey.

George Dickel Barrel Select is the top-of-the-line offering from Dickel ($35-40). In a whiskey world where “small batch” is pretty much a meaningless term, Barrel Select is a genuinely small batch product, with each batch consisting of just 10 barrels combined in each batch.

It’s bottled at 86-proof and, according to Dickel’s website, it’s aged between 10 and 12 years. It’s a medium amber hue with a nose that features tropical fruit, maple, and leather.

On the palate it has raw corn, roasted cashew, caramel, and wood. It has a slightly oily quality that reminds me of a Campbeltown single malts. The finish is clean with hints of wood along with maple and honey sweetness.

There’s a depth and sweetness to the Barrel Select that’s exceptional, even if it really makes me want to try the same Tennessee whisky at a higher proof (100- or 107-proof would be my ideal). Still, it’s a whisky that proves my contention that Dickel is under-appreciated, even if, at around $40, this may not be the best value of the Dickel line.

It has enough subtlety to call for a mild- to medium-bodied cigar pairing. I’d suggest a Macanudo Estate Reserve, Cuban H. Upmann, or E.P. Carrillo New Wave.

I can confidently recommend George Dickel to bourbon fans. In all honestly, you’ll probably want to start with the No. 8 or No. 12 varieties, which provide a fantastic price-to-value proposition, but don’t shy away from the Barrel Select, which is very smooth, flavorful, and highly underrated.

-Patrick S

photo credit: George Dickel

Cigar Spirits: Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whisky

14 Jan 2014

These days there are plenty of bourbons and ryes that appeal to their esteemed heritage to justify a premium price point. It usually goes something like this: In 18XX, Captain John so-and-so was the first to create this amazing American whiskey, which was renowned for its special distilling techniques and smooth, complex flavor. Today, his great-great-grandson has re-created that recipe to introduce this special whiskey, which sells for $50-80.

RittenhouseRye100Usually such stories are stretching the truth at best. This is particularly true of new whiskeys that tend to rely heavily on marketing hype to justify a higher price because they don’t make their own whiskey, but buy wholesale and need to sell it for more because they’re a glorified middle-man.

Rittenhouse isn’t such a whiskey. It’s a bottled-in-bond, 100-proof rye made by Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, that sells for $25. (Heaven Hill also makes Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Larceny, Parker’s Heritage, and a number of other bourbons.)

The burnt umber-colored spirit features a fairly standard nose with vanilla, oak, and a hint of citrus. But it’s on the palate that the Rittenhouse gets interesting with fudge and marshmallow, orange marmalade, and hints of pine. Spice comes through on the finish, with wood and ginger zing.

This is an incredibly rich rye for just $25, with a lot more than just the woody spice you’d expect from a non-age statement rye. It’s perfect for a Manhattan (which, although it will likely be made with bourbon, traditionally rye was used) or other rye-based cocktails. I enjoy it straight.

Pair it with an earthy cigar like the Cuban Cohiba Maduro, Liga Privada No. 9, or Tatuaje Noella Reserva.

No matter what you choose, I highly recommend Rittenhouse as an American whiskey that provides tremendous value for an incredibly reasonable price. People seem to have caught on to how good Rittenhouse is, which is why it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find. It’s well worth seeking out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys