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Cigar Spirits: Masterson’s Rye Whiskey

10 Jul 2014

Up until a few years ago, straight rye whiskey distilled from a mash bill consisting of 100% rye was exceedingly rare. That much rye is difficult to distill, which is why many ryes use only slightly more than 50% rye. And up until recently, 95% rye was quite unusual. (You can look through previous rye write-ups here.)mastersons-rye-sq

mastersons-ryeBut as the American appetite for rye grew, older rye was suddenly difficult to find, especially if the whiskey company didn’t have their own distillery. So people began turning to unusual sources. One such source was Canada, where this 100% rye was distilled to be blended into Canadian whiskey.

That 100% Canadian rye found its way into three ten-year-old ryes: Jefferson’s, Whistlepig, and Masterson’s. Each has its own character, but the family resemblance is apparent side-by-side.

Masterson’s is the most expensive at $65 to $80. It comes in an elegant bottle adorned with a photo of old west lawman Bat Masterson, whose relationship to the whiskey is tenuous at best.

The 90-proof Masterson’s is light copper-colored and features a nose with clean floral notes and a subtle honey sweetness.

On the palate, there’s more floral notes, rubber band, licorice, and burnt caramel. The finish is long and floral with a hint of apple and lots of spice on the back-end.

In a way, Masterson’s is a test of your devotion to rye. If you really like the quintessential rye flavors (floral notes, a bit of spice, a lack of sweetness) Masterson’s will probably be right up your alley. If you just want sweet bourbon notes with a little extra spice, the 100% rye mash bill of Masterson’s probably won’t be for you.

Personally, I’m a fan. And although, for the price, I’d rather have the $40 Jefferson’s (which, unfortunately, has been discontinued), on taste alone it may be my favorite of the Canadian 100% rye trio.

As for a cigar pairing, I think a Cameroon-wrapped smoke is perfect for the floral spice of Masterson’s. Specifically, try it with the Drew Estate Nirvana, Fuente Hemingway, or La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

1 Jul 2014

Allow me to take a brief break from writing about rye whiskey to focus on a new staple bourbon in my collection. Rick Hill Farms has been around for a while, but I had never actually tried the spirit until recently (in part because, in my home state of Virginia, it is a “special order” item not regularly stocked by Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores).RockHillFarms-sq

RockHillFarmsSBRock Hill Farms is made by Buffalo Trace, which crafts many well-known bourbons, from Blanton’s to Eagle Rare to George T. Stagg. Buffalo Trace makes bourbon with three different mashbills (this chart has the details). Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel is one of five made with the high rye mashbill, which features 10-12% rye and a small amount of malted barley along with a majority of corn. (Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age, and Hancock’s all derive from the same mashbill.)

Rock Hill Farms doesn’t have an age statement, but reports list it as 8-10 years before being bottled at 100-proof. A 750 ml. bottle costs $50-60, roughly the same as the 93-proof, more widely available Blanton’s. (The bottle is a square decanter that an imaginative mind will have no trouble finding use for after its contents are gone.)

Rick Hill Farms is a lovely deep amber color. The nose has a rich combination of rock candy, honey, baking spices, and just a bit of oak. On the palate, it’s a velvety combination of caramel, dried fruit, fudge, and creaminess. It has a restrained intensity that’s easy to appreciate and worthy of drinking straight. The finish is long and full of apples and spice.

As far as cigar pairings go, it’s a versatile bourbon that can stand up to all but the spiciest cigars. A rich Nicaraguan cigar like a Tatuaje Brown Label or Drew Estate Liga Privada goes as well as a more subtle cigar like a Cohiba Behike or Davidoff Colorado Claro.

The obvious comparisons for the Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel are Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee, both of which are single barrel selections made from the same mashbill. For value, it’s hard to beat Elmer T. Lee, which is $20 less than the other two. But compared to Blanton’s, the higher proof Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel is a slight step above, perhaps due to the added intensity of its higher proof. That’s why it recently became a regular on my bourbon shelf and is a must-try for bourbon fans.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Sazerac Rye

11 Jun 2014

Recently, I’ve been writing up plenty of rye whiskeys (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) in order to put together a Rye Guide along the lines of our A-Z Guide to Bourbon. As you can see, I’ve covered quite a few ryes, but I recently noticed one glaring omission: Sazerac Rye.sazerac-rye-sq

sazerac-ryeSazerac, along with Rittenhouse and Bulleit, are three affordable rye whiskies ($20-30) that are staples at my bar. Unlike Sazerac 18 or the highly sought-after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, standard-issue Sazerac Rye (sometimes called “Baby Saz”) is distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery and aged six years before being bottled at 90-proof. Another member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, is essentially a barrel-proof limited release of Baby Saz.

Sazerac (along with Handy) is reportedly made with a mashbill of 51% rye, 39% corn, and 10% malted barley. It features  a bright amber color and with a nose brimming with fresh, floral notes and hints of licorice. On the palate Sazerac shows a nicely balanced combination of buttered popcorn, toffee, and clove with bit of pepper. The finish has caramel and baking spices.

Is Sazerac Rye going to blow your mind with its amazing-ness? Probably not. But it’s very enjoyable and an obvious standout value at $25 a bottle. It’s a versatile rye that’s plenty good enough to be sipped straight (as I recommend), but you wouldn’t be heart-broken if your buddy throws a bunch of ice cubes in it or decided to mix it into a Manhattan.

Naturally, it goes great with a fine cigar. I’d recommend a balanced, medium-bodied smoke. Specific recommendations include the Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Illusione Epernay Le Matin, or the Tatuaje Black.

If you’re a rye fan who hasn’t tried Sazerac Rye, you’re missing out. There are very few better ways to spend $25 on a whiskey of any kind.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Redemption Rye and Riverboat Rye

29 May 2014

Redemption Rye and its brother Riverboat Rye don’t claim to be the result of secret recipes handed down from great-great-granddad or prohibition-era gangsters. Both are sold by “Bardstown Barrel Selections” and distilled at MPGI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (formerly LDI), a wholesaler of whiskey.

redemption-ryesIf the Lawrenceburg address sounds familiar, it should. It’s 95/5 rye/malted barley mashbill is the basis of a number of ryes on the market: Dickel, Bulleit, Templeton, Old Scout, and others. But each takes on its own characteristics based on age, barrel selection, proof, etc.

As far as Redemption Rye and Riverboat Rye are concerned, each is relatively young: “under four years” according to their labels, probably in the 2-3 year range (although some sites selling Riverboat identify it as slightly younger than Redemption). Redemption is filtered and bottled at 92-proof. Riverboat is taken down to 80-proof, but in a twist from the usual (at least for whiskey bottled at so low a proof) it isn’t filtered before being bottled.

 Redemption Rye

The youth of this whiskey (~$27) is apparent from the nose which features fresh apple and oak. On the palate it shows flavors of cereal grain, oak, and some peppery spice swith honey sweetness. The clean finish clings to the roof of your mouth.

It has surprising sophistication for its young age and it’s pleasing neat or on the rocks. That, combined with a fair price (at a time when so many places are bottling up even younger whiskey and trying to sell it for twice as much), makes it worth checking out if you’re looking to expand your rye horizons.

Riverboat Rye

Bottled unfiltered, it’s a bit cloudy, and when you put it up to the light, a small amount of particulate is visible. The going price seems to be $25 for a 1L bottle, or a 750 ml. bottle for $20. It’s similar to Redemption though tamer, probably due to its lower 80-proof. The nose is more apple juice than raw apples and the Palate seems to feature sawdust and honey. The finish barely exists.

Riverboat rye is slightly smoother than Redemption but far less interesting. It’s a perfectly good cocktail rye that you might also consider offering to someone who wants a rye, but would be scared off by a higher proof. (On the flip side, a more seasoned rye drinker is going to find the low proof less than satisfying.)

The company also sells an un-aged rye, bottled straight from the still at 92-proof.  It’s raw, floral, and briny. I suppose this could work in the right cocktail, though more than anything it’s an educational experience. At the same proof as Redemption Rye, the side by side comparison shows how much impact a few years in a new charred oak barrel adds. (And unlike Jack Daniels’ new un-aged rye, you aren’t paying a premium for the experience.)

The unique characteristics of each rye impact the cigar pairings. Redemption Rye has the strength to stand up to a spicy Honduran cigar like a Camacho Corojo. Riverboat Rye requires a more subtle, smooth cigar, like the recently-released Dunhill 1907 or the León Family Reserve by La Aurora.

Ultimately, comparing young rye with something even twice as old is not particularly helpful since the style is so different. That said, as far as fairly priced younger rye, Redemption is a real standout in the category.

-Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

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