New Liberty Distillery’s Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Quaker City Mercantile and New Liberty Distillery for the sample.

We will get to this somewhat unique whiskey in a moment. The first order of business, however, is deciphering the tangled web made by producers, owners, and marketers of this brand. Or maybe it’s not such a tangled web, maybe it’s a shrewd, new, diversified way of navigating the spirits industry. Or maybe it’s a fairly tangled web. At least to me it is, but then again, I have an art degree, and no one’s ever accused me of being particularly shrewd when it comes to business. In any case, tangled web or no, the many people and companies involved with this brand, and their relatively novel approach deserve a quick look alongside the whiskey.

The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is distilled by the New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia, PA. New Liberty was founded in 2013 alongside a craft spirits consultation company called Millstone Spirits Group. According to Millstone co-founder and New Liberty co-founder and master distiller, Robert Cassell, the idea behind Millstone is to provide hire-able expertise in “distillation, distribution, marketing and sale of distilled spirits.” New Liberty’s focus is whiskey, specifically rye whiskey and the revitalization of Pennsylvania’s distilling tradition. It’s interesting to note that Cassell, along with Tom Jensen, another founder of New Liberty and Millstone Spirits, founded Ireland’s Connacht Whiskey Company in 2015.

So, yeah, some of the people behind this one have many booze-making irons in the fire, but just wait, it gets even more involved. In the beginning of this year, New Liberty announced a partnership with Quaker City Mercantile, a Philadelphia ad agency and marketing firm that also owns a retail space in Philadelphia called Art in the Age, and a New Hampshire distillery named Tamworth Distillery. Quaker City Mercantile has a rather fascinating history. Having created the Sailor Jerry brand of spiced rum and then sold it to William Grant & Sons, the agency became instrumental marketing partners in two other William Grant & Sons’ brands, Hendrick’s Gin and Milagro tequila. In 2009, the agency became part owners of the Narragansett brewery, and recently also managed to be picked by MillerCoors to shine up the Miller High Life brand.

There you have it, in a probably all too brief nutshell. There are certainly a dizzying array of companies involved with this one, but it’s a somewhat interesting array. In particular, Quaker City Mercantile seems to relish blurring lines that are usually more distinct, but at least in this case, it’s a blurring that makes a lot of sense. The partnership between New Liberty and Quaker City has resulted in a revamped tasting room at New Liberty, and a major re-working of Art in the Age into a tasting room and home bar supply retail shop. Quaker City Mercantile is handling the design work for New Liberty and Tamworth products. The collaboration between those two distilleries will yield several new spirits which they plan to release every couple of months. The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is the first of these collaborative bottlings.

This one is made from a “Munich style” malt that came from a small, artisan, Pennsylvanian malter called Deer Creek Malt House. Munich Malt is a popular beer-making malt which is traditionally both germinated and kilned at a relatively high temperature, creating the familiar nutty, malty, bready flavor profiles found in many German lagers, bocks, and Märzens. The Penna Dutch Malt has been aged in new charred American oak barrels, and is made up of whiskeys ranging from a mere six months old all the way up to two years old. It’s also been bottled at a very respectable 50.1% ABV.

The Nose:  Lots of grain and distillate character, nicely tempered by sweetness, wood and a little spice. That toasted barley quality certainly comes through, this has some very pleasant coffee notes. There’s a subtle, interesting raw grain, dried grass quality as well, slightly herbal and almost rye-like. The sweetness comes through as malt syrup, rhubarb cobbler, light molasses, and Swiss Miss (no marshmallows). Subtle wood and spice notes of damp oak and vanilla bean, nutmeg, peppercorns and allspice. Adding a little water brings out even more grain and new make character, but also gives it a more expected “single malt” feel.

The Palate:  There’s a rough sweetness initially. Dark orange blossom honey, chocolate-covered cherries, coffee-flavored hard candy, and subtler hints of dried red fruits. While that young grainy character is present, it’s less prevalent that it was on the nose. More chocolate, dark and semi-sweet, along with candied, roasted nuts. The oak is lightly grippy with cinnamon, clove, star anise, and black pepper. As with the nose, a little water brings out more traditional single malt character, toning down some of the fruit and chocolate.

The Finish:  Medium-ish, with toasted grain, café au lait, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and dusty, lightly tannic oak.

Thoughts:  A nice surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I found this a little unexpected. The distillate quality seems very good and the Munich Malt definitely gives this some character with the coffee and chocolate notes throughout. While it does have a youthful straightforwardness, it’s not hot or harsh, instead it’s surprisingly smooth, sippable, and somewhat unique at strength. It does a good job balancing the interesting young grain with the oak and spice. With a little water, this seems to lose a bit of complexity and novelty, falling back into more of an expected young single malt profile. I found this an enjoyable whiskey right now and, if they stick with this expression, I’m curious to see what a few more years in wood could bring to it. The price is steep at $50, but relatively in line these days with offerings from craft distilleries.

New Liberty Distillery’s Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey, +/- 2017

51% ABV

Score:  84

***Bonus Cocktail Whatzit! On a whim, I mixed up a damn delightful twist on a Boulevardier using the Penna Dutch Malt, Campari, and Tattersall Distilling’s Amaro in place of sweet vermouth. A little more bitter than the standard, the malt’s high ABV stood up well to the sweetness of the other two, and the herbal Amaro nicely complimented the roasty notes of the whiskey and tied it all together. 


Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry – Review


I’m sure we all remember Stage 7 of the 1996 Tour de France, right? That 200km romp through the Alps was one for the ages not just because of who won, the Frenchman by the almost-too-French name of Luc Leblanc, but also because of who lost. Spaniard Miguel Indurain had won the previous five Tours, but on this day, he unravelled in the mountains, dropped right out of contention, and opened the door for eventual overall winner Bjarne Riis. The stage was a quiet, yet staggering fall from grace for Indurain, and, in a way, helped to usher in a new, arguably dark era of cycling.

All that has pretty much zero to do with the bottle we’re looking at here, except for the fact that Stage 7 of the 1996 Tour De France started in the same French town that Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry is made in…Chambéry. Located in France’s Savoy, Chambéry’s history is closely tied to its region’s history as it was often a seat of power for the House of Savoy. Dolin has a long history as well with the roots of the company going back as far as 1815 and the brand itself being established in 1843. Chambéry holds vermouth’s only protected designation of origin in France and Dolin is, by far, the most widely known representative of that DOC.

Dolin uses a recipe of 54 botanicals and herbs for its vermouths, many of them grown locally in the Alpine region. In contrast to many larger, more mass-produced commercial brands that might infuse a mixture of the ingredients into a base that already includes the fortifying spirit, Dolin macerates the actual plants into its relatively neutral, low alcohol white wine for a period of weeks before adding sugar to sweeten it. After that a grape spirit is added to fortify the aromatised wine. The color for their Rouge comes from a combination of the plants used and the added caramelized sugar. Dolin also distinguishes itself by reportedly using a higher percentage of wine in its products. When Haus Alpenz’ distribution reinvigorated its US market presence in 2009, the brand quickly became popular in cocktail circles. Today, Dolin is still relatively inexpensive – not so cheap as, say, Maritini & Rossi, but not quite so lofty as Carpano Antica – making it a great starting point for exploring aromatised wines and spirits.

The Nose:  A slightly deeper, more complex sweetness than with others in this range. Honey, a little brown sugar, and a touch of Vin Santo. Juicy raisins, chocolate covered cherries, and macerated currants (do people macerate currants?). Along with those sweeter fruitier elements, there’s a balancing floral/herbal quality throughout that gives it a lot of complexity. There’s an integrated bit of quinine and anise and faint hints of clove, allspice and chamomile tea.

The Palate:  Like the nose with its caramel-y, Vin Santo honey. Continued juicy raisins and sticky plums, but more dried fruits as well. The floral/herbal quality is perhaps a little subdued here, though still quite present, with the wormwood and bittering ingredients swelling a little towards the end. It’s hard to call a sweet vermouth dry, but this one has a very pleasant, wine-like dryness towards the end.

The Finish:  Again, relatively dry, subtly bitter, with a seemingly trademark tempered sweetness.

Thoughts:  The Dolin Rouge is, in a way, a very compact vermouth, less cloyingly sweet than the really cheap stuff and also less bitter than the more expensive stuff. While there is a deep complexity here, it’s more restrained and subtle. Because of that, it’s usually thought of as cocktail vermouth that happily helps show off the drink’s main spirit. The darker, honey-ed quality compliments brown spirits, and the subtle herbal quality plays nicely, if a little submissively with white spirits. It’s relative bitterness and lack of sweetness makes it a good choice for those that usually find sweet vermouths cloying and simple.

  • Very good in a rye Manhattan, plays up the spicy, more herbal rye.
  • Very good in a Negroni, augments the Campari’s bitterness without adding to its sweetness.
  • Though it may be more commonly known as a cocktail vermouth, it’s pleasantly sippable on its own or over ice thanks to its depth and subdued sweetness.
  • At around $13 – $16, a great value.

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry, +/-2016

16% ABV


Drifting Away From Whisky?

Am I?
Yeah, you.
Away from whisky?
Never. Never.
Not even just a little?


Well, yeah, okay, a little. Maybe a little more than a little. I don’t think I’ve grown tired of whisky, or tired of drinking it, or learning about its past, or writing about it. I have grown a little tired of the fallout from its surge in popularity – the rising prices, the homogenization, and the unstoppable tide of marketing bullshit, but for all intents and purposes, I still like whisky quite a bit. I would say, though, that over the last year and a half, I’ve found myself equally (if not occasionally more) interested in a few of the other branches of this great gnarled tree of booze. Yes, there’s been dabbling in Rum and Armagnac, and perhaps quite a bit more than just dabbling in Gin, but what’s really piqued my interest of late is lower alcohol spirits: Amaros, apéritifs, vermouths, sherries, and those odd, provincial liqueurs that everyone ignores until some bartender says they shouldn’t ignore them anymore.

So consider this a warning. There’ll probably be more than a few reviews of this kind of thing in the coming months. As with whisky, I’ll be taking a look at the associated histories, both real and concocted, and jotting down needlessly verbose, yet slightly repetitive tasting notes. Some of these spirits are more geared towards cocktails, so I’ll try to place them in that context when that context calls for it. I hope this all sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. If it sounds less exciting to you than it does to me, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll probably just keep plugging away regardless.

Coming up in the next two or three…or ten months provided that I get around to posting the posts:

  • Several bitter, herbal things including locally produced Minnesota-made amaro from Tattersall Distilling.
  • A couple of very affordable, very common, very good London Dry gins.
  • Some easy-to-find, inexpensive vermouths because why not.
  • Some Pastis because it is Summer after all, and I’d forgotten how much I love Pastis.
  • Beer? Fuck it. Sure, beer too, what the hell.
  • And just to prove I haven’t abandoned whisky, or whiskey, some new indie bottlings from those Single Cask Nation guys, probably some bourbon, some incredibly ubiquitous blended Scotch, and most likely that semi-obscure corn whiskey that everyone needs a bottle of if only for the label.

Happy Summer, people. Please drink moderately and responsibly.


Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Common Ground PR and Limestone Branch Distillery for the sample.

One could say that there really is no overstating the importance and influence the Beam family has had on the bourbon industry. That, of course, would be overstating things, but not by much. Jacob Beam and his sons married powerful, brave women that gave birth to, and raised literally dozens of little Beams, many of whom were involved in whiskey-making, and had many little Beams of their own. And some of those little Beams were involved in whiskey-making as well. Beams have served as owners and distillers of a great many distilleries, bringing years of passed-down experience, technique, and even yeast strains with them, giving the bourbon world an indelible and inescapable legacy.

One of these Beams, the wonderfully named Minor Case, was the son of Joseph B. Beam, who was the son of David Beam, who was the son of Jacob Beam, the paterfamilias of the entire bourbon-making Beam clan. Born in 1857, Minor Case worked at several distilleries before buying Orene Parker’s share and becoming part owner of the F.M. Head Distillery in the late 1800’s. The Head & Beam Distillery lasted until 1900 when Minor Case purchased Head’s share and the distillery was renamed the M.C. Beam Distillery. In 1910, Minor Case sold his namesake plant to J.B. Dant who needed to increase production of his popular Yellowstone brand. Minor Case Beam died in 1934, shortly after Prohibition ended. His son, Guy Beam, as well as two of his grandsons, Jack and Walter, also worked in the bourbon industry. In 2011, Minor Case’s great-grandsons, Stephen and Paul Beam, jumped back into their family’s legacy and founded the Limestone Branch Distillery.

In 2015, the Beam brothers sold a 50% stake in their distillery to the large beverage company Luxco. This investment and partnership has allowed them to revitalize not only a family heirloom brand, Yellowstone, but create this new brand that honors their distilling heritage as well. The Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey comes in a wonderfully designed bottle from David Cole Creative. This designer has been responsible for the visual impact of many of Luxco’s and Limestone Branch’s recent releases, and this one might just be the best yet. The bottle itself was designed by David Cole, an inspired mingling of pre-prohibition flask-style bottles and a memory of “True Grit” cinematic ruggedness. The front features embossed glass lettering and the family crest reportedly used by Minor Case himself for his own labels. Speaking of labels, the front one is made of nicer, heavier weight paper, printed by letterpress, and glued by hand to each bottle. This attention to both visual and tactile quality is not something you see very often with booze bottles. The whole thing is topped off by a wood and cork stopper. From head to toe, this is a beautiful bottle.

I mention the design and detail of this one partly because it truly deserves mentioning, but also because it’s surprising to see this level of  custom design for what is actually a very young whiskey. The Minor Case Straight Rye is a two year old whiskey that’s been finished for around six months in Meiers #44 Cream Sherry casks from Cincinnati’s Meier Wine Cellars. It was distilled by MGP Ingredients in Indiana. However, while there’s a lot of MGP whiskey hiding under different labels these days, there’s a curious newness to this one that makes it stand out. Contrary to what’s been said in other reviews, this one is not made of MGP’s rather ubiquitous 95% rye recipe whiskey. In 2013 MGP began making a 51% rye recipe whiskey alongside their 95% rye recipe, and the flavor profile of this Minor Case Rye definitely hews closer to that of a lower rye recipe whiskey.

It’s interesting to note that Limestone Branch’s partner (and de facto supplier) Luxco, also released a somewhat similar two year old rye earlier this year, the Ezra Brooks Straight Rye. The price point for the Ezra Brooks is much lower, around $20 versus $50 for the Minor Case Rye, and the packaging not quite so elegant. One wonders if the Minor Case is the same whiskey with just a bit of finishing, a selection of the more “honey” barrels picked by Luxco for the two releases, or a slightly different blend of MGP ryes altogether. It’s also interesting to note that Limestone Branch and Luxco thought highly enough of this whiskey to put the Minor Case name on it. The bottle is a fitting homage to the legacy Beam’s great-grandfather and their family’s bourbon heritage, but does the whiskey carry the same class? When I first saw the price of this one, around $50, I have to say I was a  little put off by it. Yeah, the bottle is great, but $50 for a two year old whiskey? It’s hard to not think that you’re just paying for the design work here, but let us not judge a whiskey by its cover…

The Nose:  Relatively little youthful heat, mostly this is a nice, complex nose that leans towards the sweeter side. There’s candied orange slices, vanilla syrup, and cherry juice ahead of subtler hints of pralined almonds, and dried red fruits. The rye is relatively quiet, showing up as a lightly spicy, slightly herbal counterpoint to the sweetness. There’s a little oak here, sanded, toasted boards, maybe a faint whiff of cedar closet, too. Spice wise, there’s cinnamon red hots and baking spices of nutmeg, vanilla bean, ginger powder, and a little clove.

The Palate:  A little hotter initially than the nose, but still, less so than you’d expect for such a young whiskey. The red fruits of the sherry cask’s labor are more prevalent here, macerated cherries and currant jam, along with juicy oranges and dark honey. The rye is sharper here as well, peppery and toasted. There’s nice notes of semi-sweet chocolate and roasted salted almonds that lead to some mildly tannic oak and a swell of more cinnamon, clove, vanilla bean, a little nutmeg, and a bit of black pepper.

The Finish:  A lengthy mingling of dusty red fruit, dark chocolate, baking spice and mouth-watering grippy oak.

Thoughts:  So good. This whiskey is surprisingly impressive. The sherry cask finishing has taken some of the expected rough, young rye character out of the equation, but it’s added a layer of sweet complexity and maturity. While there is a bit of brash youth, there’s also balance here, integration, and nice progression from start to finish. MGP has made some very nice whiskey and Limestone Branch has deftly added another dimension to it. I love having this bottle on my shelf, and I’m quickly finding that I love having it in a glass as well. Luxco has been putting out a lot of very good whiskey lately in some very nicely designed packaging. The high price of many of these has been my only real gripe. With the Minor Case Rye, I’m damn near flabbergasted that I may actually think the price is worth it. Definitely recommended.

Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey, +/-2017

45% ABV

Score:  86



Blood Oath Pact No. 3 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Common Ground PR and Luxco for the sample.

I hate to say it, but I think I kind of overdid it on the Blood Oath Pact No.2 review. I pretty much threw every blood oath I could google in a short period of time into one review, and now, here I am with another Blood Oath whiskey to expound on and I’ve got nothing. Sure, I could spend even more time going down some interwebs rabbit hole, but really, what else am I going to find? An obscure stunt pulled by pseudo-lumberjack wrestler named Jos LeDuc, who famously swore a blood oath in an attempt to end Jerry “the King” Lawler’s career? Nah. Besides, being a Milwaukee boy, I always preferred The Crusher. And if I had to pick non-local squared circle heroes, then maybe I’d root for those High Flyers, Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne.

So, yeah, I don’t have all that much to say about actual blood oaths this time, which is perhaps all for the best. Even I think I’ve gotten pretty long-winded lately, maybe it’s time to just cut right to the chase. Luxco’s Blood Oath Pact No. 3 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is, as the number three suggests, the third Blood Oath to hit the shelves. Pact No. 1 was made up of a 12 year old high rye bourbon, a 7 year old high rye bourbon, and a 6 year old wheated bourbon. Pact. No. 2 consisted of an 11 year old high rye bourbon, 11 year old wheated bourbon, and 7 year old high rye bourbon that had been finished in Port barrels. Released in a “limited” edition of 30,000 bottles in March of 2017, Pact No. 3 is comprised of three high rye bourbons: a 12 year old, a 7 year old, and another 7 year old that’s been finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from Napa Valley’s Swanson Vineyards. As with the previous Blood Oaths, Pact No. 3 comes beautifully packaged in a pine box and retro/vintage-y labeling.

The Nose:  A weighty, rich balance of sweetness and oak. There’s floral honey, tart pie cherries, a little bit of cherry cola, juicy oranges, and a hint of burnt banana meringue. The rye is strong and both herbal and toasted…fresh baked rye bread maybe. There’s solid vanilla bean notes as well as hints of candied almonds. The oak is polished and smoothly tannic with a touch of worn leather. Holding down the spicy side of things, there’s Vietnamese cinnamon, nutmeg, a hint of fennel root, and a just bit of warmed corn oil towards the end.

The Palate:  Even more oak forward than the nose, but it’s still nicely complimented by sweet notes of more cherry cola, juicy ripe oranges, dark red fruits, and floral honey. The rye is still strong, lightly toasted with peppery herbal notes blooming towards the end. The nuttiness is now more roasted and salted and the vanilla bean earthy and vegetal. Though the oak is coarser here, and more tannic, it’s still well-integrated. There’s cut staves, allspice, nutmeg, raw ginger, and black pepper,

The Finish:  Lengthy and dominated by oak and spice. There’s a bit of cola and vanilla syrup sweetness, but mostly it’s nicely tannic and full of baking spices and ground pepper.

Thoughts:  Fairly excellent. This is a well put together bourbon that shows off the mashbill nicely and adds a subtle layer of complexity thanks to the wine cask finishing. The wine influence comes through in the form of red fruits and perhaps a little dusty oak and spice, but it’s so well incorporated that it doesn’t stand out as “the finished part.” I enjoyed Pact No. 2 very much, and thought it did a good job of showing off its components, but Pact No. 3 comes across as a more cohesive whiskey. The nose is more expressive and the palate slightly more tempered and balanced. Once again, the price is an issue for me. Luxco clearly has a good thing going, and they’ve judged their market well, but the ~$100 price tag of this one strikes me as high. Still, the whiskey itself, damn good and certainly recommended.

Blood Oath Pact No. 3 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2017

49.3% ABv (98.6 degrees…I mean, proof)

Score:  88




Usquaebach An Ard Ri Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Review

*Sincere thanks to Usquaebach and Colangelo PR for the sample.

The Usquaebach brand is one of those brands that manages to be both oft-seen and under-the-radar at the same time. Their white and tan stoneware flagon-ed Old Rare Blended Whisky is a rather familiar sight on store shelves, but you just don’t hear much about the whiskies. Oh sure, there’s the occasional print ad, or random review, but really, this is a brand with a relatively low profile. Hell, until late last year when they released the An Ard Ri, Usquaebach apparently hadn’t made a change to their three-expression line-up in over 25 years.

The Gaelic an ard ri means “the high king,” and is a perhaps hyperbolic nod to Usquaebach’s longevity in the marketplace. While the brand is owned by the U.S.-based Cobalt Brands, the whisky is provided by Hunter Laing & Co. For this new, fairly limited release, Hunter Laing’s master blender, Stewart Laing, created an all-malt blend of whiskies reportedly from Auchroisk, Blair Athol, Benrinnes, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Glengoyne and Inchgower among others. With the exceptions of Craigellachie and Glengoyne, these are not distilleries you hear about all that often. They are workhorses and the majority of their output goes to some of the big blended Scotch brands. For the Usquaebach An Ard Ri Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Laing chose single malts between 10 and 21 years old and bottled it at a “cask strength” of 57.1%. This release was limited to 2000 bottles…I’m sorry, flagons. Yes, that’s right, the Old Rare will no longer be the only flagon on the block. The An Ard Ri comes in a striking blue one with a similarly striking $200 price tag.

The Nose:  A rich yet slightly taut, complex nose that’s almost savory at times. Initially, there’s light, floral honey, overripe pineapple, honeydew melon, and a mineral, almost white wine fruitiness. Close behind, malt syrup, cereal flakes, and leftover cereal milk mingle with almond extract and a hint of toasted pecans. There are some subtle old library notes, smooth and worn oak, and leather, and mild spice notes of vanilla bean, peppercorns, allspice, dried star anise, and clove. Behind all of this, loitering in the shadows, is a faint hint of peat. Adding a little water adds a bit of citrus sweetness, plays up the milky malt a bit more and gives everything a little more room to breath.

The Palate:  A quite nice, lush, viscous mouthfeel. There’s darker honey now, along with juicy raisins, prunes, and mixed tropical fruits. While there’s still notes of caramelized grain, there’s additional hints of bittersweet chocolate, and a more pronounced nuttiness – salted almonds and candied walnuts. The oak is sturdier but still of the old library variety. The spices are stronger and lightly herbal with quite a bit of black pepper and raw ginger, Vietnamese cinnamon, clove, and a bit of fennel. As with the nose, water brings out more citrus and a bit more nutty complexity.

The Finish:  A slightly wine-y, honey and raisin sweetness fades slowly along with a slightly bitter nuttiness, and a mix of tannic oak and spice.

Thoughts:  A very nice whisky that manages to have both a young vibrancy and a nice dose of mature complexity. The nose, while compact and integrated, offers quite a range to explore. The palate is more straightforward, but echoes much of the nose and adds more oak influence to the mix. While this was drinkable at strength, I found just a little water opened the nose up nicely and brought more fruitiness out which balanced the wood and spice even further. The $200 price tag is a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Yes, it’s a very limited release, and yes, the price is more or less in line with where we’re unfortunately at in terms of price these days, but that doesn’t necessarily justify it. It’s easy to recommend the whisky itself, it’s quite good. It’s harder to recommend it at this high of a price.

Usquaebach An Ard Ri Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, IB, +/- 2016

57.1% ABV

Score:  86


Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Rye – Review

*Sincere thanks to Rabbit Hole Distilling for the sample.

Rabbit Hole Distilling’s Kentucky Straight Rye, like their Kentucky Straight Bourbon, was contract distilled reportedly by New Riff Distilling. Sure, sure, that in and of itself isn’t super exciting, but what if I told you the mashbill for this rye was 95% rye and 5% malted barley. Nothing too interesting there either, right? There are a great many rye whiskeys on the shelves that use that same mashbill: Bulleit Rye, George Dickel Rye, Redemption Rye…probably three or 15 others. They all use that same 95% rye recipe whiskey produced at MGP Ingredients in Indiana. But wait, you say, I thought you said New Riff in Kentucky made the Rabbit Hole Rye, not MGP Ingredients in Indiana. Well, I can’t slip anything by you, now, can I? Sharp as a tack and it’s not even Friday yet.

MGP’s somewhat ubiquitous 95% rye recipe did serve as Rabbit Hole’s inspiration for this whiskey. To produce the stuff at New Riff, they turned to someone who knew that recipe pretty well, Larry Ebersold, who served as Master Distiller at MGP back when it was called LDI and before that when it was known as the Seagram Lawrenceburg Plant. Ebersold is not the only industry veteran Rabbit Hole has turned to for consulting help. They’ve also enlisted Dave Scheurich, who, up until his retirement in 2011, was the master distiller and leading force behind Woodford Reserve, and Randy Allender, a production veteran who spent over two decades with Jim Beam. Leading the production at the new Rabbit Hole distillery will be Cameron Talley, who previously served in production manager and supervisor roles with Brown-Forman and Gruppo Campari.

So, it looks like this new company has wisely enlisted a lot of experienced help to get their brand off the ground. They’ve also wisely decided, with this rye and their straight bourbon, to start with younger spirits that are bit off the beaten path. When the Rabbit Hole Distillery is up and running towards the end of 2017, it will be far easier to have their own spirit catch up to their young contracted stuff than it would’ve been to try to replicate the success of some older, more familiar, sourced stuff. Like their bourbon, the Rabbit Hole Rye is two years old and has been aged in new American Oak barrels made by the Kelvin Cooperage. It’s worth noting that both this rye and the straight bourbon have been bottled at a generous 47.5% ABV.

The Nose:  Raw-ish stuff, with quite a bit of alcoholic heat. There’s some sweetness at first, cinnamon infused honey and crème brûlée, and a bit of fruit in the form of orange peel and slightly underripe bananas, but this is pretty darn grain forward. And that grain would be, not surprisingly, rye. Here, it’s crackling and green, herbal, a little minty, and slightly peppery with hints of dried prairie grass. There’s a bit of that familiar MGP 95% rye dill pickle note, but that’s less present than it is in, say, the Bulleit Rye. While there’s not too much wood, there is ragged cinnamon, clove, and burnt sugar behind all that rye.

The Palate:  While still youngish and hot, this is vaguely reminiscent of the Thomas Handy Ryes – robust and grain forward. Initially, there’s a very nice, creamy mouthfeel that has more burnt sugars, fresh orange peel, and red currant jam. After that, raw vanilla bean and dark chocolate. The strongish rye, while still somewhat raw and grassy, now also gains complexity and brings some nice toasted notes. A little tannic oak shows up towards the end with more cinnamon, clove, and Tellicherry peppercorns.

The Finish:  Somewhat lengthy with surprising bit of marshmallow early, and more herbal, toasted rye, tannic wood spice and clove towards the end.

Thoughts:  Pretty good. The nose was okay here, but didn’t impress me overly much. I really enjoyed the palate, which gained some depth and somehow managed to make it all seem a little older than it is. There was just a bit too much youth to the nose, it did show off the mashbill nicely, but I found it a bit too jarring. The palate follows the adage that very young ryes can be very good – it’s complex, balanced and progresses nicely all the way to the end. While the nose kept me from liking this more, and the ~$50 price tag seems steep, the impressive palate hints at a lot of potential down the road.

Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Rye, +/-2016

47.5% ABV

Score:  80