Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek needs no introduction.  They even have freakin’ commercials now.  So no gimmicks here, let’s cut to the beef.  Knob Creek Rye labels itself as patiently aged, meaning I have no idea how old it is.  I don’t really care.  I do care that I scored it on sale for $35, like a true booze-hound bargain-hunter.   I also care that it’s 100 proof, I like that.  In fact, I need that—I’ve got a scratchy throat and a sprained wrist—poppa needs his medicine.  Unlike Knob Creek, I don’t have ample patience today.  So I’m going to cut past the usual drivel, which you likely skip over anyways, and hit some tasting notes.

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Curse my allergies…After a deep huff I’m able to cut through and get a touch of cinnamon, some herbal notes and a touch of fresh sawdust.  The first impression on my admittedly hefty sip was how gentle this is, not only as a 100 proof rye without a dragon’s breath, but as a rye in general.  Rather than strong hefty spice notes Knob Creek has played a bit more with a softer cinnamon spice muffin like note, a rich caramel middle and, as their “age statement” would imply, a generous dose of balanced oak.  This bit of oak leaves the rye just a touch dry as it finishes over the palate but it lingers well with floral, ginger and spice notes that just lightly massages my phlegmatic throat.

Summation points?  While the price point, even on sale, is a touch high, this is a fine drinkin’ whiskey.  Knob Creek Rye is a refined and balanced rye, so balanced that it mellows down it’s rye spice and high proof into a benchmark for a mid-range rye.

Two Bulleits in the Chamber…

Tonight a have a double shot for you, or perhaps a double barrel…double action? Double tap?  Either firearm based pun? Reason for the pun, tonight I’m going at two Bulleits, their bourbon and rye.  I suspect these products need no introduction, based equal parts on their stand out branding, their mid-range price, and their quality Bulleit has—over just 15 years—become a behind the bar staple.  You probably recognize it, the bold molded glass stating alternately “Bulleit Bourbon: Frontier Whiskey,” or “Bulleit Rye: American Whiskey.”  That bold, old west bottle, striped with a simple striped label stands out to even a whiskey novice.  The story behind the Bulleit brand, so it comes from founder Tom Bulleit begins in about 1830 with his grandfather Augustus Bulleit, who brewed for about 30 years, until his death.  On reviving the Bulleit whiskey tradition Tom switched over to a bourbon style whiskey going from Augustus’ 2/3rd rye, 1/3rd corn formula to about 2/3rd corn, 1/3rd rye.  The final product is bottled at 90 proof.  In its short 15 years Bulleit had been bought up twice, first by Seagram’s, second by liquor giant Diageo, with whom they’ve grown into a massive success and expanded their line to include tonight’s rye and the sadly out of my range Bulleit 10 year bourbon.  The rye, by the way is a 95% rye, 5% barley mash produced alongside many other rye brands in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  That’s enough background, I’m thirsty.

Bulleit

 First off I’m going to go to the bourbon, knowing from experience that the rye would heavily influence my palate.  First entry into the nose is a rather powerful experience, full of vanilla, cinnamon and oak—with something in the back that reminds me of apple cider that you left in the fridge too long in the hope it would get a little hard.  The first taste is rich and chewy with caramel, vanilla, smooth oak, with just a bit of smoke—leaving with that lovely rye cinnamon that carries through on the finish with just the right amount of 90 proof burn. 

And now that my palate and my brain are fully lubricated, let’s get to the rye!  First off, the smell—glory be, I love the smell of rye whiskey…not in the morning, I want to keep my job.  But damn this smells fine the rye spice coming across full of cinnamon, brown sugar, cloves…quite frankly it smells like pie.  Delicious, boozy pie.  Certainly the nose on this doesn’t lie, with that rye cinnamon heavily in the forefront, but balanced off with a lovely sweetness that seems to be coming from a heath bar like combination of toffee and soft cocoa.  The finish rounds out with something almost reminiscent of honeyed spearmint and a bit of dry oak.  Overall this rye is very pleasing, and my favorite of the two.  Also worth noting is that in a face-off between these contenders and last week’s Cleveland whiskey the Rye came out the clear winner—and Ian, Ben and I came out rather drunk.

 While there are certainly many factors that have played into the rapid success of Bulleit bourbon in recent years, particularly given the explosion in the popularity of whiskey in general, it’s certain that it’s not hype making Bulleit popular.  The reasonable price and consistent quality ensure that while you may come for the looks, you stay for the whole package—just like any love in life.

Review: Templeton Small Batch Rye Whiskey

Dateline:  Chicago, 1928.  Eight years ago the manufacture and sale of alcohol were banned by Constitutional Amendment.  People are so desperate for a buzz they’re drinking rub alcohol.  Goddammit, they’re so high and dry they thnk Canadian whisky is good, poor bastards.  The man making his fortune off this prohibition? Scarface Al Capone, former New York street bulldog, part time psychopath, full-time gangster.  When you run the most notorious liquor operation in the country like Al does, you have your pick of the litter.  Mr. Capone, he drinks the high class domestic product.  Not some hillbilly heat moonshine full of wood alcohol and kerosene, but Iowa’s finest, Templeton Rye.

Flash forward to today and the Rye that Templeton once only cooked up illegally is now paying its dues to the revenues and has gone legal.  This new incarnation of the speakeasy legend is steaming off a prohibition era recipe, and playing big on its underground heritage.  Beyond their reminiscences of Prohibition legends and all that jazz age hokum this new Templeton is earning a new reputation in its modern incarnation, winning numerous spirits awards, including consecutive Gold medals at the renown San Francisco Spirits Tastings in 2009 and 2010.  But what do I care about gold medals?  When it comes down to it, bathtub gin or Templeton, what ot comes down to is hooch in the glass.

What comes in a glass of Templeton?  Whiskey fit for a bootlegging magnate, Capone had taste if this is what the old boy was drinking.  A wonderful and tantalizing nose of cinnamon, peppercorn and hefty brown sugar wafts draws you into a deep and complex first sip, with rye that goes beyond just that young cinnamon burn and almost widens across the palate to reveal a hearty dose of oak that can only have come from years of patience.  This rye is clearly well crafted, which is a stunning feat for such a young brand but the secret, I suspect, is that the folks at Templeton had a stroke of genius—they used a proven recipe.  Clearly they did everything else right, but to me the greatest genius of this product is that they took a recipe for a superior product that was unused, and made a superior product.  Also, I must say, the buzz is probably better than rub alcohol too.

Photo: Review in process

Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Rye

Over the long weekend I paid a visit over to Cooperstown, NY to see my girl and dig the town.  I know what you’re thinking—and I don’t really blame you for it—baseball.  Well in spite of my All-American appetite for liquor, I’m not much of a fan of America’s pastime  I’ll play it, but that’s as far as my interest goes, so I avoided the museum and all that bat and ball capitalism and made my first stop a liquor store.  Actually, two of them.  It was 10 am and the girl was in a meeting, what’s a boy to do?  Anyways, this is where I met the star of this show—James E. Pepper and his 100 proof and thoroughly patriotic 1776 Rye Whiskey.  I may not like baseball much but damn do I love rye.  I’ll admit this bottle reached out to the historian in me with its “aged” label and an evocation of the American Revolution I was only too willing to buy into in a town that once served as a camp for the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign during the war.  So I dropped the hammer at around $27 bucks, and now I imagine you’re wondering—do I regret it?

No, of course not, because money may not always buy happiness but it can always buy tastiness, and friends, James E. Pepper is that.  Apparently the Pepper family started making rye in 1776 and continued doing so until around prohibition, and supposedly this whiskey is the result of the extensive study of studies of the original Pepper Rye.  The odds of me getting my hands on pre-prohibition Pepper are pretty low, so I can only tell you what I taste here.  First off this whiskey is pretty hot, which is no surprise at 100 proof, and fortunately I find it’s that sweet spot of bold heat that doesn’t over-power the underlying flavors.  This is particularly good because there are some great flavors in here.  Of course there’s the obligatory rye spice and, dare I say, pepper—but there’s also some sweet honey that plays in both taste and consistency on my palate.  There’s something else here, something I find a bit unusual…is that peppermint?  Damn, another pepper pun: but there really is some soft and almost refreshing peppermint that lingers oh so sweetly near the end of a good quaff.  This is quite pleasant, easy sippin’ rye, perfect for a crisp autumn day on Lake Otsego reading with a lovely lady at your side.  So, while the history nerd in me may have bought this because of a likely exaggerated history based marketing scheme, the drinker in me has quite enjoyed this reigniting of the Pepper family brand and wishes them many more years of history making hooch.

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Also note: I am drinking this out of an unusual choice of glassware—perhaps that portends a coming article on a visit to Ommegang brewery?

Review: Thirteenth Colony Rye Whiskey

“Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I crave, if I don’t get rye whiskey I’ll go to my grave.”  I like whiskey, maybe you’ve figured that out by now. I’m starting to think I may be inclined to bourbons with a higher rye content.  Maybe I’m starting to realize I really like rye, but that could the rye speaking.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, and have been sober enough while reading to recall the previous articles, you’ll realize that I have already reviewed a product of the Thirteenth Colony Distillery—their corn whiskey.  Well the people at the distillery read that article, and seemingly they liked it, because when I mentioned I wish their rye made it up to good ol’ NH they said, and I don’t quote: for you it does.  Basically they sent me an awesome gift pack consisting of a bottle of rye, some cool cozies, and a bumper sticker.  I believe in the blogging world they now refer to this as “swag.” I like to swig my swag.  I am not a good dancer, and therefore not a man to dance, but I did a little goofy jig every time I thought about the wonders coming my way.

At this point you’re jealous and sick of my little story, so here it goes; let’s talk swag.  My cozies are awesome, and camo.  ‘Murica. Oh, right you care about the rye. Now what I’ve been doing is starting with a big whiff, which for a moment almost has a soft sweetness with a bit of clove and cinnamon, until you’re hit with some burning numbness and you think it’s possible you’re getting a buzz on the fumes.  That’s a good first sign in my book.  Now with a sip. I can only really describe what’s happening from front to back of the mouth, because there is so much going on here.  On the very tip of my tongue is a lovely cooling and numbing sensation, and, moving back around the middle of my tongue, I catch a beautiful brown sugar and vanilla sweetness which begins near that last hump of the tongue to show some more bite, hearty and spicy. The cinnamon and clove from the nose appear, plus tons of peppery goodness, and finally at the back of the throat is a most gloriously benevolent burn—47.5% alcohol goodness that doesn’t hurt or feel like it’s going to burn through.  Finally that beautiful warmth sinks down and you’ve got a happy belly and mind.  Oh those good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing this’ll be the day that I die, but I bet they didn’t have rye like this.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is biased. He gets his first free bottle of booze and can’t help but love it.  That’s why I drank most of the bottle before I reviewed it, as they say a drunken mind writes a sober heart, or something like that, and I let the rye remove the bias. Since this bottle of rye arrived I haven’t found a way that I don’t want to drink it. I’ve drank it straight, chilled, with a little water, with an ice cube—all joyously.  It kills me that I can’t buy this at my New Hampshire state liquor store yet, because I can’t let the last of such a rare and lovely thing leave my bar. Thank you to the generous folks at Thirteenth Colony, you’ve crafted another great spirit.

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Earlier today I had a pour of this rye with a tiny pinch of sugar, a few drops of water and several healthy dashes of angostura bitters. I was sitting on a porch watching a pink sunset spill across the lake in good company. It was a perfect cocktail if I’ve ever had one.

Review: Bulleit Rye

Let me preface everything I say here: I’ve been sitting on this whiskey for a while—one decent (hefty) pour left in the bottle.  It’s hard for me to reserve whiskey—I tend to drink it like a Mongol hoard was heading my way and I wanted to make sure there was nothing left for them.  So this is a bit unusual clearly.  I did this because I like this whiskey; I wanted to enjoy it and review it right.  So here it goes.

It should be known, I am a great fan of American rye whiskies.  They’re bold, peppery, and thoroughly warming.  They’re great straight or in any of my favorite classic cocktails.  Bulleit Rye is certainly no exception.  Bulleit Rye is the good kind of gut shot, warming and mellow, without the consequence of a bullet gut shot.  The death and all that. Unless you drink too much of this 90 proof love, then you could die.  Don’t do that.  Although the whole gut shot metaphor works really well with the “frontier whiskey” image that Bulleit projects.  It’s like a western movie.  Now to the taste: with a 95% rye bill, Bulleit does not skip on the spice—forget tequila; this would go great with Mexican food.  That spice is balanced by a nice warm tingle on the tongue, just lovely and light enough for you to enjoy the slight oaky vanilla any good whiskey leaves.  Frontier whiskey really is apt because the underlying flavors here are all robust and manly; there’s a bit of leather in there that makes me think if I was more of a cigar guy they’d be the perfect pair.  It would definitely go well with anything cooked over a fire.  I’m rather hungry, so it’d go well with a boiled boot too, if it came to that. Also, it’s that good.

I’ve enjoyed this particular bottle as a greeting for the return of two great whiskey-loving friends, and it served as a great lubricant for good conversation by a fireside.  I’m glad I’ve saved this bottle, although I really hoped to give a better review—which is why I’m quite glad that I know a magical place where this stuff grows on shelves.  Or something like that.

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See, empty.

Review: Jim Beam Rye

This is a rocker’s whiskey.  A bottle slides down the gullet and leaves a sweet caramel coating that won’t be there in the morning when you wake up wondering what the fuck happened to you.  It’ll come back slowly.  You’ll remember how this whiskey had just a touch of peppery bite, and little else.  It would make a marvelous breakfast slug, your body won’t rebel, no convulsion in the stomach or throat.  Soothing with a coffee chaser.  Back to the night before, when you didn’t need a glass or ice.  You were on, all night, and it never hit hard.  Everyone was digging it, the part that you remember.  The music was perfect; the interplay brilliant, everything pulled together as if you’d actually been practicing.  Jim Beam Rye, easy going for those who go all night.Image