Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey Review:

“The true pioneer of civilization is not the newspaper, not religion, 
not the railroad – but whiskey!” – Mark Twain

In the darkest hour for whiskey in America, the period from 1970 to 1990, rye whiskey fell very much off the radar. Few distillers continued producing the stuff, yet Heaven Hill Distillery, a producer which had been around since 1933, persisted in making rye and corn whiskey. And lately, with the almost overnight rise in the celebrity of rye whiskey, Heaven Hill fell into position as the dominant capitalizer on the huge demand. 

But even with Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond's well matured inception date, having been named the best American whiskey of the year in 2010 by WHISKY magazine explains its newly gained reputation. And to give away the punch line, for the price point, it possibly is the best whiskey in its class, coming in at about $20 a bottle (only $12 a few years a go).

This Heaven Hill brand, like most American rye whiskies, it is produced in Kentucky. Since 2008 Heaven Hill, having been producing all of its rye at the Brown-Forman Distillery for the last few years, has increased its production by at least 40 percent. Meaning anyone wanting to get their hands on the hard-to-get-stuff, will now see much more of it this year and after – A good thing for all of us.

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond:
Price: Around $20.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: I really enjoy the whole package. It isn't entirely modern - more something you would see in the 70s or 80s. Despite its dress it doesn't actually appear cheap. Some people don't like screw caps, but it actually works with the bottle. 

Alcoholic Content: 100 Proof, 50% ABV.

Color: Rich and dark amber.

Nose: A confident nose, with a deeper complex rye to stabilize it. It comes about with a rye/metallic forward nose. Creamy chocolate and cinnamon. Caramel, wood, and candied almonds. Mexican hot cocoa.

Tasting: Wow, wow, wow. This is fantastic. A light apple sweetness builds into a rich flavor of rye, chocolate, clove spices and ginger. A delightful winter warmer which develops into syrupy butter and Carmel finish.

Conclusion: Being from the same guys who produce Elijah Craig I am not surprised by the quality here. No matter, this is quite an impressive dram. Drink it neat, or with a very, very small drop of water. The high-proof also works well with any classic or pre-prohibition style cocktail; my spirit of choice when I order an Old Fashioned. Either way, if you see it on the shelf it is still probably a good idea to grab a bottle (or two).

A small side note I will add: I came a across some numbers on the Chuck Cowdery Blog about the “rye revival.” He states that, “Jim Beam Rye is far and away the leader at 42,365 cases. To give you a frame of reference, the big bourbon and Tennessee whiskey brands -- Jim, Jack and Evan -- each sell millions of cases a year. Wild Turkey 101 and Maker's Mark are each a bit shy of breaking the million-case threshold. A brand like Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve will sell more than 100,000 cases a year.” So even if these numbers are from 2010, this still gives us an idea of where we are in the “rye revival.” Yet, like the increase in production of Rittenhouse, the numbers will keep increasing (thank goodness!).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do Small Barrels Produce Inferior Whiskey?

In the last few years, with the explosion of micro-distilleries in the US, there has currently been a slew of blogs and articles flaying around debating the whole issue of small barrel aged whiskey verses large barrel aged whiskey. On one side of the argument you have a large majority of micro-distillers using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels to age their whiskey; think Tuthilltown. On the other side you have more traditional, and generally larger, distilleries aging whiskey in 48 and 53 gallon barrels; think Buffalo Trace. The question is: do smaller barrels produce whiskey, aged 2 years or less, similar or comparable to bourbon aged in, say, 53 gallon barrels for 8 years?  No matter what the outcome, it might seem insignificant at first, but the large scale effect of products claiming to be analogous (“as good as”) to mainstream bourbon or scotch, if they are actually inferior, could be devastating on the image of traditionally crafted bourbon or scotch style whiskies. I thought, rather than try and fully delineate my thoughts here, I would post a link to Chuck Cowdery’s blog post which deals with the exact subject at hand. I believe Chuck has a very clear understanding of the issue and I encourage all of you to download his (very) small book which details the whole argument in full - on Kindle for just 99 cents.

Photo Above: Tuthilltown 15 gallon Spirit Barrels, courtesy of The Spirit Review.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

George Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Review:

Approaching this Tennessee whiskey I had an expectation that it would be good. I’m quite a fan of George Dickel Number 12 and with such great quality at such a reasonable price I expected it’s more mature brother to be even better. Not only was I pleased with Dickel Barrel Select, I was pleasantly surprised; something which only happens rarely. Dickel Barrel Select, the distilleries small batch whiskey, only legitimizes George A. Dickel & Co as a distillery worth holding the marker as a true Tennessee whisky.  

To reiterate what makes Dickel unique, especially compared to its close neighbor Jack Daniels, the whisky is double-distilled: first using a column still and second utilizing a pot still. It is then chilled and charcoal mellowed before barreling (i.e. Lincoln County Process). Unlike Jack Daniels, the “other distillery” employs a higher proportion of corn, utilizes proprietary yeast strains and stores the whisky in a single story warehouse. So what about the review?

George Dickel Tennessee Whisky Review:
Price: Around $39.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: A lovely short and stout bottle with a wooden cork topper. Classy.

Alcoholic Content: 86 Proof, 43% ABV. 

Nose: Nice strong corn nose with caramel, leather, mint and maple oak. Direct and well rounded.

Tasting: Begins with huge corn on the front palette. It hits you aggressively, yet controlled and assertive with a little spice. Some later candy corn notes turn into a wonderful maple syrup and buttery goodness one associates with pancakes. Its medium finish ends with a fresh and minty oak foundation.

Conclusion: Dickel is very much an underrated whiskey from Tennessee and, as the Barrel Select shows us, a hidden treasure. Indeed, Diageo does not even have the brand listed on its site. Yet as much as I love having it all to myself, I hope that sooner or later, it will receive some of its due recognition from its owners. As Jason Pyle says in his Jack Daniels Single Barrel verses Dickel Barrel Select comparison review, "It’s too bad those morons from Diageo continue to treat it like a red headed stepchild, because the whiskey Dickel produces is some of the best in the country for the dollar." I can definitely reiterate that. This whisky is worth much more than its weight in gold - and a great gift, as it was in my case!