Rye is making a huge comeback, and is quickly regaining its prominence as one of the very best spirits around.  It is the shining star of many classic cocktails, works great on the rocks on a sunny summer day, and a good rye sips just fine straight up and neat.  Some of the following ryes are made exclusively of rye grain, while others have only the 51% rye necessary to make a straight rye.  Like many of the other posts in this series, these whiskeys are based solely on the flavor and quality of the whiskey, not on the price or availability.  Without further ado, the nominees for my favorite rye whiskey:

Name: Jefferson’s 25 Year Presidential Select

Distillery: Not Stated (Most likely Alberta Distillers)

Batch: 1

Age: 25 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: This whiskey most likely comes from Alberta Distillers’ 100% rye mashbill, but since I cannot confirm this, I have put this one into the rye category as opposed to the Canadian whisky category.  There is something magical that can occur to rye whiskies after they’ve spent a long time in the barrel.  All that brash rye spice gets tamed by the wood into something truly special.  Sipping one such whiskey is like listening to an elderly person who was a firebrand in their youth talk about their life story.  This is a rich, sophisticated whiskey with layers upon layers of old wood, maple fudge, and cinnamon spice.  Nosing this whiskey is pure heaven.  Unfortunately, this whiskey is released in very small batches, and is very hard to come by.  And, to boot, with the heightened popularity of rye whiskey, the price is only going up on this gem.

Name: Masterson’s 10 Year

Distillery: Alberta Distillers

Batch: 005

Age: 10 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This whiskey could just as easily be categorized as Canadian, but since I usually see it in the rye section, I have included it here.  This is one of several Alberta Distillers 10 year-old rye whiskeys sourced out to other bottlers.  Of those that I have had, this one is one of my favorites.  It provides great balance between spicy and sweet notes, while also mixing in notes of mint, pipe tobacco, and drying oak.  This is not a cheap dram, but it is a consistently good, well-aged rye whiskey.

Name: Sazerac 18 Year

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 18 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like many of the Antique Collection whiskeys, there have been many great Sazerac 18 releases.  I’ve simply chosen the one I enjoyed the most.  As I said above, something magical happens with old ryes, and this is no exception.  This whiskey unloads a full complement of rich oak, baking spices, and luscious vanilla cream.  This is a complex dream of a whiskey from start to finish.  Like other Antique Collection whiskeys, this is released once a year, and is often difficult to come by.  When found on the secondary market, this one tends to command a very hefty price tag, but it comes awfully close to being worth every penny.

Name: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 132.4 (66.2% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like the Sazerac 18, there have been many brilliant Handy releases.  This is a young, brash, exhilarating whiskey that packs a rye punch like few others.  Drinking this whiskey is an experience akin to chewing on a hot cinnamon candy that had been dredged in vanilla frosting.  The rye spices are in full force here, more so than in older ryes, but there is enough sweetness to bring complexity and body to it.  Few whiskeys will warm you better on a cold night.  Like the Sazerac above, it’s a tough find nowadays and usually ends up being priced awfully high when floating around the secondary market.

Name: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products

Batch: Barrel #148

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 114.6 (55.8% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: There have been many memorable MGP ryes bottled under the Willett label, but this one was my favorite of all the ones I have tried.  It has all the underpinnings of this series, with some briny notes and sharp rye, but what brought to love this whiskey was the creamy texture on the palate that supplemented the spiciness with sweet vanilla and cinnamon sugar notes.  It is highly doubtful that this particular barrel is still available anywhere, but Willett has begun bottling their own ryes, and what I’ve had so far has been pretty promising.

 

 

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