Sunday, August 15, 2010

3 Ryes and a Bourbon

Well I have some samples and bottles of american whiskies, and it isn't supermarket shelf brands, but 4 bottlings quite rare and hard - if not impossible - to find.

Where scottish single malt whisky refers to distilleries, american bourbon is more brand orientated, or quite often it's more recipe orientated. A bourbon brand can change distillery of origin, but the recipe usually remains the same. Bourbons from Jim Beam is made at two different distilleries (Boston and Clermont in Kentucky), but I have never seen any emphasis on any on these distilleries



Recipe is a keyword. A bourbon most contain at least 51% corn, be matured on fresh oak barrels, no minimum time required. Most bourbons are from Kentucky, but there's no location restriction. There's bourbons being made in a lot of US states. It's called bourbon after the old bourbon county, which used to cover most of Kentucky. The whiskey style produced here took name after the area of origin, but today it's only a catagory of whisky, origin can be from anywhere. So Old Bourbon whiskey, doesn't refer to the whiskey's age, but the Old Bourbon County. Straigh Bourbon has a minimum age requirement of 2 years on wood. Rye whiskeys are a minority production at most bourbon distilleries and is produced on a far lesser scale than bourbon products. To be named a straight rye whiskey it needs at least 51% rye and 2 years on wood

The remaining part of a bourbon is always some barley (contains important enzymes for fermentation process) and the rest is usually wheat or rye. There's a subcatagory of wheat bourbon and rye bourbon, which describes the last 35-45% and it has an impact on the resulting flavour. Corn is regarded as giving a more neutral flavour of these three grains. Rye, as I discovered when drinking the ones I review below, adds flavour.

Danish rye bread. I eat that almost daily

Just recently a distillery by the name of High West has started up in Utah of all places. Nothing aged has come out from the distillery yet, but they have bottled a series of well aged ryes and bourbons under the High West name, but distilled at other distilleries. Independant bottler style.

1. High West Rendezvous Rye 46%. Batch 48
Wow. This is aromatic. The nose reminds me of gin and Old Spiced aftershave. It really took me 3-4 drams just to get used to this, it's so different  from what I am used to drink, which is single malt whisky. This is an acquired taste, but it's winning on me. The first time I tried this 2 weeks ago I was sceptical, but just after a few drams I really like it. It's not that hard to teach an old dog a new trick ! According to John Hansell's blog this is a blend of two rye whiskies, a 6 year old made from 95% rye and a 16 year old made from 80% rye. As soon as you get used to drinking Old Spice :-), a sweet, woody and very very drinkable rye whiskey emerges.  

Rating 86 but be careful of this one if you have phobic tendencies

2. High West 16yo Rocky Mountain Rye 46% Batch 2
The connection to the Rendezvous is clear. The Gin/Old Spice is gone, instead I get the impression of forest resins and a lot of vanilla notes. For a traditional malt whisky consumer like me this is a much more approachable dram than the rendezvous. At Cognac and Rum tasting I often find my favourites to be the one that reminded me most of a single malt. But sometimes you just need to get used to new flavours. The intensity of these ryes and smack-in-your face flavours is something you need to acknowledge as well. It's 46% so I reckon quite a lot of water has been added, especially knowing GTS is around 70% casks strength. But it's still very flavourful and also easy drinkable

Rating 87

High West ryes is rumoured to be distilled at LDI Lawrenceburg plant. A big thanks to Jens-Erik Schjødt Svensson for sharing the bottles of High West he brought back from Chicago with me !

3. A.H Hirsch Reserve 45.8% Distilled 1974 at Michter's, Pennsylvania. Straight Bourbon Whisky 

Coming from the ryes, the first I notice is caramel, and I don't mean e150!, more the candy-fudge type of caramel. It's woody like a very old single malt with a very big note of blackcurrant. I like this. I like it a lot. The combination of ABV, age and woodiness is perfect, and the fine twist the blackcurrant gives me is marvelous. This bourbon is far from as spicy as the ryes.
Michter's distillery closed in 1988 and this bourbon has been kept on stainless steel tanks beyond its labeled age to keep it from ageing further

Rating 89

A big thanks to Jørn G Pedersen for the sample

4. Bitter Truth Rye Whiskey. Aged 24 years. 69.2%
A german independant bottling of a rye from a closed distillery. Rumoured to be from Bernheim.
Woody, spicy and fruity. The ABV is not for the faint-hearted. Liqourice. Oranges. Earthy. Minty. Just as with the George T. Staggs (GTS) I find  this is best consumed dropwise for an explosion of flavours in your mouth

Rating 89

Big thanks to Gormie for picking up the bottle for me

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