Rye Whiskey
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The Rye Revival– Revisited
Best Rye Whiskey

By the 1780s, around 5,000 log stillhouses were operating in Pennsylvania and Maryland producing the fragrant whiskey that came to be known as “rye”. Mostly by German immigrants that had been using rye in the production of schnapps and vodka back in northern Europe. 70 years later in San Francisco during the Gold Rush Era, bars lined every block of the Barbary Coast— and the bartenders’ staple was rye whiskey. Rye was usually served straight, but the distinctive flavor made it a perfect mixer during the early years of the cocktail. Three of the most popular classic cocktails were originally created for rye whiskey — the Old-Fashioned, the Manhattan & the Sazerac.

Before the Prohibition, there were over 50 brands of rye. When Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920, many enterprising residents of small towns across America chose to become outlaws – They produced thousands of kegs per month, supplying Al Capone and other gangs who in turn filled the demand of speakeasies throughout Chicago, New York and all the way west to San Francisco.

After prohibition ended and liquor became legal again, most American whiskey distilleries ceased production, and rye whiskey practically disappeared. By the 1980s, production of rye whiskies had all but vanished from its Mid-Atlantic homeland. For almost six decades since WWII, (with the exception of a brief cocktail-crazed period during the “Mad Men” era in the late 50’s), bourbon had taken over as the American whiskey of choice.

Then America’s drinking habits began to change. Around the beginning of the new millennium, we saw an emergence and popularity of mixology and cocktails. Foodies and gastronomes started a slow food trend— which carried over to a heightened interest in artisanal, hand-crafted spirits. Suddenly, there was a wave of sybaritic epicureans seeking new taste sensations and rediscovering old ones.

It was only until 2006 that small batch rye whiskey finally returned to the market, available for the first time in 85 years. Branching out from a handful of large, established bourbon companies, small batch distilleries have popped up across the country. These modern pioneers have dusted off old family records and great grandpa's handed-down recipes to create spirits deeply rooted in tradition. Specialty rye had been reborn, even though bourbon and Tennessee whiskey still accounts for 3/4 of American whiskey production. A decade ago in this country you could only find six brands of rye. Now there are more than 120 brands, and rye whiskey has become the go-to craft spirit of the moment.

Rye whiskey is made from fermented mashed grain that is at least 51% rye grain by law, sometimes with barley, corn and other grains blended in. Most of the newer, small-batch brands use 100% rye. Ryes must be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof), and aged in new, charred oak barrels, used one-time only. Ryes labeled as "straight" must be aged for at least two years.

Rye was once a standard ingredient in Canadian whiskey, but now usually contains mostly corn and wheat— and can still be legally labeled “rye whiskey" in Canada.

Rye whiskies are typically dry, peppery, and grainy, with complex flavors bursting with fruit, walnuts, and spice. This distinctly bold assertive character is embraced by a dedicated and growing following of discerning whiskey fans.

 

The Fifty Best Rye Whiskey Tasting 2015


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 16 rye whiskies with a panel of 12 judges. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. The ryes were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. Each of the ryes were judged and scored separately. Only ice water, neutral unflavored crackers and chips were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no bronze medals awarded for this tasting. The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The states of origin are identified for each brand.



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Last Feather Organic Rye
(Michigan)

Nose: Dried fruit, raisins, plum, banana, green apple, vanilla, caramel, creamy, cinnamon, walnuts, grain, root beer, pipe tobacco, oak.
Palate: Toffee, nougat, dark chocolate, caramel, vanilla, cherry, prunes, raisins, dried fruit, banana bread, rye bread, grain, clove, pepper, pipe tobacco, oak, smooth, wonderfully balanced.
Finish: Dried fruit, cherry, nutty, coffee, softly spicy, nutmeg, smooth, beautiful, just lovely.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



   Last Feather Organic Rye



291 Colorado Whiskey
(Colorado)

Nose: Vanilla, chocolate, light cocoa, caramel, honey, apricot, cherry, plum wine, dried orange peel, sugar cane. ginger, leafy mint, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, baking spice, intense spice, nuttiness, rye, oak.
Palate: Toffee, cherry, black cherry, apricot, honey, walnuts, herbal, ginger, sweet spice, clove, tarragon, grassy, black pepper, rye, oak, nice complexity, classic style.
Finish: Light honey, clove, spicy, nutty, oak, smooth.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



291 Colorado Whiskey



Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye
(Kentucky)

Nose: Cherry, plum, cola, toffee, chocolate, cotton candy, vanilla, honey, brown sugar, sweet corn, grain, nutty, cinnamon, baking spice, mint, wood.
Palate: Toffee, dried cherries, light strawberry, fruit cake, rich vanilla, cane sugar, toasted almond, grain, nutmeg, mint, wormwood, peppery, great toast, leather, oak.
Finish: Cherry, citrus, gardenia, cocoa, spicy, toasted, leather, oak, dry, round, lovely.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey
(Brooklyn, NY)

Nose: Toffee, buttery, honey, citrus, peach, black cherry, plum, grain, nutty, ginger, spice, clove, leather, white oak, aged.
Palate: Cherry, honey, Graham cracker, grain, barley, mint, herbs, rosemary, cardamom, clove, spicy, birch wood, oak, leather, great complexity.
Finish: Clove, pepper, slight spice, leather, woody, soft, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey



Wigle Small Cask Rye
(Pennsylvania)

Nose: Banana bread, dried apricot, vanilla, fresh honeycomb, chocolate, nuts, mint, herbs, spice, cinnamon, clove, peppery, grain, toast, leather, oak.
Palate: Vanilla bean, toffee, honey, honeycomb, banana, citrus, apple skin, grain, clove, allspice, cinnamon, leather, cigar, oak, balanced.
Finish: Mint, honey, spicy, peppery, cedar, oak, soft, smooth, unique, lovely.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Wigle Small Cask Rye



John David Albert's
Taos Lightning 5 yr Rye

(New Mexico)

Nose: Cocoa, toffee, caramel, vanilla, peach, banana, green apple, plum wine, toasted popcorn, baking spices, cinnamon, bread, light oak.
Palate: Cherry, dried cherry, green apple, banana, honey, caramel, vanilla, nougat, mint, cinnamon, tarragon, black pepper, grain, earth, nutty goodness, oak, smooth, balanced.
Finish: Black peppercorn, nutmeg, spice, banana, nutty, woody, oak, soft, incredibly smooth, easy.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



John David Albert's Taos Lightning 5 yr Rye



Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey
(Iowa)

Nose: Cherry, plum, citrus, honey, vanilla, nougat, roasted filberts, light toffee, herbal, eucalyptus, light cocoa, clove, nutty, leather.
Palate: Walnuts, citrus, apple skin, honey, grain, green pepper, black pepper, fennel, tarragon, cinnamon, nutmeg, spice, mint, zesty, some oak, rich, silky, classic.
Finish: Cocoa, cherry, grain, leather, spicy, pepper, mint, dry, really nice, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cedar Ridge Rye Whiskey



Monterey Rye
(California)

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, vanilla, cream soda, crème brûlée, ripe banana, pear, nutty, tobacco, wood.
Palate: Nougat, butterscotch, chocolate, caramel, vanilla flan, cream, banana, apple, brown sugar, sugar cane, popcorn, sweet nuts, smooth.
Finish: Vanilla, cream, clotted cream, oak, smooth, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Monterey Rye



Sazerac Straight Rye
(Kentucky)

Nose: Apricot, banana, green apple, vanilla, honey, cotton candy, toffee notes, cocoa powder, ginger, grain.
Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, honey, cane sugar, cherry, dried fruit, citrus, ginger, mint, spearmint, herbs, clove, spice, black pepper, oak, well balanced, ultra-smooth, beautiful.
Finish: Ginger, fruity, honey, buttery, mint, peppery, spice, oak, smooth, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sazerac Straight Rye



Ole George Rye
(Michigan)

Nose: Plum, black cherry, banana nut, vanilla, honey, cocoa, grain, honeysuckle, herbs, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, eucalyptus.
Palate: Dried fruit, cherry, apricot, green apple, honey, sugar cane, creamy, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, black pepper, clove, woody, charred wood, oak, smooth.
Finish: Grain, black pepper, clove, spicy, complex, beautiful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Ole George Rye



Kinsey Cask Strength Rye
(Pennsylvania)

Nose: Cherry, dried plum, faint apple peel, vanilla, molasses, spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, Graham cracker, grain, leather.
Palate: Raisins, banana, citrus, honey, Graham cracker, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, spicy, herbs, pine, wood, oak, leather.
Finish: Mint, spicy.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kinsey Cask Strength Rye



Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey
(Iowa)

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, whipped cream, corn cobs, plantains, wheat, grain, barley, pepper, spice, herbal, nutty, wood, leather.
Palate: Toffee, nougat, caramel, vanilla, buttery, honey, cherry, banana, strawberry, soft spice, cinnamon, pepper, malt, grain, oak, silky, well balanced.
Finish: Cherry, honey, malt, spice, oak.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey



Kinsey Rye
(Pennsylvania)

Nose: Cherry, peach, mixed dried fruit, light banana, vanilla, buttery, toffee, nougat, sweet grain, ginger, sassafras, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, light cinnamon, light spice, black pepper, leather.
Palate: Strawberries, apricot, banana, dried raisins, nice fruit notes, honey, sugar cane, powdered sugar, vanilla, caramel, creamy, sassafras, clove, spice, lemongrass, mint, floral, oak, smooth, well balanced, pretty, easy drinking.
Finish: Honey, buttery, citrus, woody, flavorful, soft, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kinsey Rye



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye
(Canada)

Nose: Strawberry, banana, citrus, fruit, vanilla, honey, molasses, creamy, grain, oak.
Palate: Cocoa, hint of chocolate, creamy, molasses, honey, cherry, dark fruit, raisins, dried fruit, ginger, herbal, mint, roasted nuts, spicy. pepper, black pepper, oak.
Finish: Cocoa, toffee, peanut brittle, nuts, cherry, cinnamon, mint, spicy, flavorful, smooth.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye



Masterson's Rye
(California/Canada)

Nose: Cocoa, cherry, candied currant, stewed plums, vanilla, sugar cane, banana, banana bread, fruitcake, grain, cinnamon, faint oak, soft.
Palate: Cherries, fruit, vanilla, nougat, honey, sugar cane, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking spice, spearmint, black pepper, pepper, oak, balanced.
Finish: Toast, nutty, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, spicy, pleasantly dry.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Masterson's Rye



3 Howls Rye Whiskey
(Washington)

Nose: Honey, brown sugar, nougat, corn, oatmeal, grain, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pine nuts, leather.
Palate: Dried fruit, plum, banana, vanilla, honey, powdered sugar, corn, buttery, cocoa powder, sweet grain, herbs, mint, spicy, black pepper, walnut, oak, smooth.
Finish: Dried cherries, banana, cocoa, nutty, woody, spicy, zesty, light. smooth, easy.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



3 Howls Rye Whiskey

 

 

 

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Comments and Suggestions:

 
Thu. July 7, 2016 1:33 PM - by: moomoo
Have consumed Crown Royal for many a year. Tried Knob Creek Rye over a year ago and now consume only rye. Knob is my favorite but Bullit is also very high on the list. As mentioned by "Gary", a double rye w/ginger is mighty tasty after a good day or a bad day.
 
 
Sun. June 12, 2016 1:12 PM - by: Gary
My Dad liked his Hi-ball or 'old-fashioned'. It was simply rye and ginger over ice. I got into it too and get a kick out of young bartenders who have no clue what I'm asking for! I wonder what brands of rye are carried by most bars in FL. I'll have to go find out!
 
 
Tue. February 2, 2016 12:18 AM - by: Rob
Just tried a rye today. Will have to hunt down some off the list. Not very common around here. I must say it's a different taste, though enjoyable and as with other styles or regions lot of room for variety within the range to suit anyone. To Chris: Not all whisky is Bourbon, but all Bourbon is Whisky. Kentucky does not have sole claim to the spirit.
 
 
Thu. December 31, 2015 9:25 PM - by: Tim
Chris, if Kentucky whiskey is the only thing you can drink, you have a very narrow palate as well as a narrow mind. There are so many varieties to experience, it would be a shame not to enjoy more than just Kentucky's offering. As for the yuppie comment... Your an idiot!
 
 
Sun. December 27, 2015 9:35 PM - by: Chris
The ONLY people who make decent bourbon are located in Kentucky. PERIOD. No, I don't live anywhere near Kentucky. The rest of the horse huckey on this list is just yuppie BS.
 
 


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