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Best Rye Whiskey

 

The Fifty Best Rye Whiskey Tasting 2016


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 22 American rye whiskies with a panel of 20 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 room temperature. Each of the ryes were judged and scored separately. Only ice water, unflavored unsalted 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 and Gold medals were awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Silver or Bronze medals awarded in 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

WhistlePig 15 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
(Shoreham, VT) 92° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, treacle, nougat, honey, vanilla, sweet ripe fruit, cherry, strawberry, pineapple, apricot, lemon, mint, lavender, violet, toasted oats, sweet cereal grains, sweet nuttiness, almond, clove, oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, honey, vanilla, cherry, balanced citrus, prune, dried fruit, corn, oatmeal, toast, roasted nuts, toasty spice, spicy, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, mint, pepper, oak, sweet oak, leather, earth, ultra-smooth spicy rum feel, rum-like sweetness, complex, very satisfying.
Finish: Fruity, cherry, bitter orange, banana peel, toast, cinnamon, mint, pepper, lingering spice, dusty, smooth, pleasant.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



   WhistlePig 15 Year Straight Rye Whiskey



Great Northern Rye Whiskey
(Plover, WI) 96° prf

Nose: Molasses, honey, marshmallow, butter, vanilla, stone fruit, citrus, banana, best banana bread aroma ever, sweet grain, toast, rye, cocoa, almond, nutty, gardenia, vegetal, sage, spearmint, new wood, oak, burnt wood, earthy, leather, mineral.
Palate: Caramel, honey, dark sugars, chocolate, butter, bananas foster, banana, banana nut bread, cherry, cherry pit, citrus, corn, squash, grassy, strong rye, toast, nutty, cinnamon, licorice, sage, bay leaf, cardamom, spicy, black pepper, sauternes, sour mash, mineral, leather, smoke, heavy wood, oak, earthy, solid.
Finish: Tart cherry, chocolate, tarragon, basil, herbal, spicy, peppery, woody, smooth, yummy, enjoyable, classic, world class.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Great Northern Rye Whiskey



WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Straight Rye Whiskey
(Shoreham, VT) 86° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, vanilla, buttery, sugarcane, honey, berries, cherry, orange, lemon, banana, nuttiness, mint, spice, cumin, nutmeg, leather, grain, oak, aged wood, pine, Grand Marnier.
Palate: Caramel, honey, vanilla, cherry, apricot, orange, lemon, melon, citrus, apple peel, raisins, prunes, camellia, sage, mint, spicy, cinnamon, grain, leather, earthy, oak, balanced, smooth, mild, a fine sipping whiskey.
Finish: Fruity, cocoa, rye bread, nutty, mint, oak, smoky, balanced, delicate, soft, pleasant, delicious, very elegant.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Straight Rye Whiskey



Widow Jane Rye Whiskey
(Brooklyn, NY) 91° prf

Nose: Caramel, salted caramel, sugarcane, green apple, lemon, Meyer lemon, dried figs, cola, banana leaf, floral, jasmine, mint, nutty, pecan, spice, earthy, barrel.
Palate: Vanilla, honey, red fruits, plums, green apple, apple, ripe banana, raisins, plantain, cucumber, cracklin’ oat bran, nutty, light honeysuckle, herbal, juniper, clover, thyme, mint, sweet anise, cinnamon, sweet basil, jalapeno, pleasant spice, pepper, oak, classic, perfect.
Finish: Nougat, green apple, juniper, minty anise, pepper, grain, tobacco, oak, easy, silky, very smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Widow Jane Rye Whiskey



HDC Dual Barrel Collection Rye Whiskey
(Gig Harbor, WA) 92° prf

Nose: Toffee, candy corn, vanilla, ripe bananas, buttery, cream, butter pecan, coffee cake, hot muffins, grains, rye, almonds, citrus, gardenia, musk, patchouli, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, menthol, wintergreen, oak, leather, talc, nice traditional rye.
Palate: Toffee, dark sugar, honey, vanilla, buttered corn, creamy, graham crackers, honey graham, chocolate, oatmeal, apricot, citrus, grape, raisins, walnut, herbs, licorice, mint, spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, faint black pepper, oak, pine, leather, approachable, delicate.
Finish: Prunes, raisins, dark berries, vanilla, creamy, cocoa, lovely grain, rye, sage, pepper, oak, well-balanced, soft, very smooth, mild, delicate, rich.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



HDC Dual Barrel Collection Rye Whiskey



Catskill Straight Rye Whiskey
(Bethel, NY) 85° prf

Nose: Toffee, honey, vanilla, candy cane, bananas foster, apricot, orange, cola, grain, rye, corn, panettone, Danish pastry, candied nuts, patchouli, cinnamon, cumin, caraway, white peppercorn, black tea, wormwood, earthy, mineral, oak, cherry wood.
Palate: Vanilla, sugar cane, berries, citrus, orange peel, dried fruit, grain, moss, herbaceous, mint, nutty, spice, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, white peppercorn, leather, oak, woodsy, silky, exceptionally smooth.
Finish: Walnuts, nutty, creamy, grain, rye, cinnamon, minty, peppery, oak, flavorful, briny, smoky, smooth, gentle, delicate, very fine, elegant, classic.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Catskill Straight Rye Whiskey



RallyPoint Single Barrel Rye Whiskey
(St. Louis, MO) 90° prf

Nose: Caramel, honey, vanilla, apple, apple pie, apple peel, citrus banana, cocoa, wheat, grain, sweet grains, carnations, herbal, nutty, spice, nutmeg, smoke, subtle, seductive.
Palate: Brown sugar, deep molasses, cocoa, honey, vanilla, berries, cherry, citrus, raisins, oats, rye, nuttiness, herbal, lemongrass, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, spicy, spice, oak, loud, vibrant, very easy drinking, everyone will like it.
Finish: Butterscotch, creamy, sugarcane, lemon peel, sweet cereal, basil, mint, spice, black pepper, very soft, smooth, balanced, full-on.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



RallyPoint Single Barrel Rye Whiskey



Cascadia Rye Whiskey
(Isle of Whidbey, WA) 87° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, molasses, maple syrup, vanilla, clover honey, candied fruit, berries, apricot, mild orange, carnation, honeysuckle, rhubarb, corn, sweet nuttiness, mint, spice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, grain, oak, pine wood, rum-like.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, honey, honeycomb, vanilla, cherry, apple stem, dried banana, rhubarb, ginger, sweet nuttiness, spicy, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pepper, grain, toasted wheat germ, oats, graham cracker, wood, cigar box, silky, smooth.
Finish: Caramel, creamy, vanilla, honey, fruity, dried banana, nutty, spicy, clove, cinnamon, peppery, wood, oak, well-balanced, smooth, fresh, flavorful, nice, pleasant, beautiful, good cocktail rye.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Cascadia Rye Whiskey



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey
(Baltimore, MD) 83° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, honey, molasses, vanilla, cherry, dried fruit, chocolate, grain, pepper, lingering cinnamon, faint nutmeg, leather, oak, subtle wood barrel.
Palate: Sweet caramel, nougat, honey, vanilla, cherry, citrus, ripe banana, plums, raisins, grain, nuts, clove, mint, peppery, gentle spice, oak, apple wood, bourbon, really delicate, mild, incredibly smooth.
Finish: Citrus peel, creamy, semi-sweet corn, vegetal, light mint, mildly spicy, peppery, woody, clean, delicate, velvety, smooth, explosive, classic.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey



James Oliver Rye Whiskey
(Portland, OR) 100° prf

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, honey, vanilla, cherry, apple, peach, raisins, banana bread, corn, toasted almond, cocoa, toasty, oak, cedar.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, buttery, clover honey, cherry, strawberry, apricot, plumy, citrus, applesauce, sweet nuttiness, cocoa, grain, graham cracker, coffee, spice, anise, cinnamon, clove, fennel, oaky, full mouthfeel, velvety, smooth, lovely sweetness.
Finish: Dried dates, creamy, walnut, mint, fennel, bay leaf, vegetal, grassy, peppery, spicy, sweet wood, soft, smooth, silky.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



James Oliver Rye Whiskey



Turley Mill Single Barrel Straight Rye Western Whiskey
Cask Strength

(Alcalde, NM) 116° prf

Nose: Caramel, sugarcane, honey, vanilla, buttery, cocoa, corn, grain, walnut, clove, cinnamon, lavender, herbal, wintergreen, tart apple, apple, cut grass, chive, peppery, tobacco, oak.
Palate: Caramel, honey, creamy, banana, cherry, raisins, dried fruit, citrus, sweet grains, nutty, cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, garam masala, spice, white pepper, pepper, Earl Grey tea, tobacco, leather, oak, smooth, one-of-a-kind.
Finish: Citrus, mint, bay leaf, nutmeg, white pepper, cumin, garam masala, light spice, creamy, buttery, woody, tannic, smooth, full-flavored, nice balance of heat and sweet, amazing.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Turley Mill Single Barrel Straight Rye Western Whiskey



Wild Buck Rye Whiskey
(Weeki Wachee, FL) 100° prf

Nose: Toffee, nougat, caramel, dark sugar, honey, ripe tropical fruit, deep apple, green fruit, citron, figs, raisin, corn, crackling oat bran, honey bunches of oats, grain, nutty, cinnamon, nutmeg, wormwood, allspice, floral, musk, patchouli, leather, earthy, wet rock, old oak.
Palate: Toffee, vanilla, sugarcane, honey, green apple, ginger, citrus, ripe banana, figs, dried fruit, raisins, corn, honey graham, nutty, spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, woody, apple wood, cherry wood.
Finish: Honey, lemon-lime, spicy, peppery, oak, easy, soft, smooth, well-balanced, flavorful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Wild Buck Rye Whiskey



North American Steamship Rye
(Riverside, IL) 87° prf

Nose: Bananas foster, banana, green banana, fruit salad, cherry, apple, green apple, citrus, vanilla, buttery, piecrust, rye flour, grain, almond macaroon, sweet nuttiness, faint spice, perfume, herbal, slightly musty, earthy, leather, oak.
Palate: Toffee, nougat, molasses, vanilla, honey, light fruit, banana, coconut, lemon, prunes, banana peel, dried fruit, creamy, cocoa, grain, rye flour, toasty, nutty, almond, walnut, mint, herbal, mulling spices, spicy, clove, cinnamon, white peppercorn, cherry wood, oak, cedar, clean, extremely mild.
Finish: Banana, prunes, maple, cereal, nutty, spicy, peppery, oak, zesty, semi-sweet, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



North American Steamship Rye



Elk Rider Rye Whiskey
(Gig Harbor, WA) 92° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, vanilla, citrus, banana, dried fruit, chocolate, plantain, sweet corn, honey graham, fresh bread, grains, nuts, coffee, herbal, patchouli, leather, smoky, barrel char #3.
Palate: Sugarcane, honey, vanilla, cherry, citrus, lemon, cereal grains, the sweetest graham cracker, wheat germ, nutty, nutmeg, clove, frankincense, gentle spice, herbal, mint, menthol, grassy, peppery, tobacco, leather, oak, sweet wood, smooth.
Finish: Nutty, lovely grain, cinnamon, sage, spice, mild tobacco, leather, wood, oak, delicate, soft, smooth, mild.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Elk Rider Rye Whiskey



Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey
(Bardstown, KY) 110° prf

Nose: Caramel, sugarcane, molasses, honey, vanilla, cocoa, sweet cream, cotton candy, caramelized apple, green apple, banana, corn, grains, rye, herbal, mint, gentle spice, cinnamon, tobacco, leather, birch bark, sweet pine.
Palate: Nougat, green apple, citrus, dried fruit, raisins, grain, brioche, nutty, Red Hots, spice, cayenne, pepper, cinnamon, caraway, cumin, rosé wine, coffee, tobacco, leather, deep wood, forest, nice balance.
Finish: Citrus, mint, spicy, cinnamon, cocoa dust, cream, grain, oak, wood-forward, well balanced, full-flavored.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey



Town Branch Rye Whiskey
(Lexington, KY) 100° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, cherry, apple, lime, banana, raspberry leaf, dried fruit, fruitcake, grain, toasty, toasted walnut, nutty, nutmeg, twigs, earthy, leather, oak, perfection.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, candied fruits, cherry, plum, apple, green apple, citrus, cherry pit, fruitcake, ginger, green pepper, walnut, white peppercorn, caraway, grain, mint, bay leaf, spicy, brine, leather, mineral, dusty, earthy, mud, leaves, dry wood, oaky.
Finish: Cherry, coconut, vanilla, buttery, orange peel, almond, cinnamon, clove, anise, spicy, peppery, mineral, cherry wood, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Town Branch Rye Whiskey



Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
(Frankfort, KY) 90° prf

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, dark sugar, honey, vanilla, subtle bubblegum, tutti frutti, orange cream, tropical fruit, banana, plum, raisin, cherry cola, floral, grain, caraway, walnuts, peanut, allspice, nutmeg, oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, dark sugar, honey, Creamsicle, berries, cherry, banana, red plums, apple, citrus, herbs, mint, grain, nuts, peanut, cinnamon, spice, pepper, white peppercorn, Hawaiian sea salt, lava rocks, earthy, oak, very smooth.
Finish: Vanilla, dark sugar, toasted sweetened grain, oatmeal, caraway, fenugreek, basil, mint, herbal, spicy, black pepper, leather, oak, smooth, delicious.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey



Kooper Family 100% Rye Whiskey
(Dripping Springs, TX) 80° prf

Nose: Sugarcane, honey, vanilla, banana, orange, citrus, green banana, raspberry leaf, corn husk, graham cracker, grain, sourdough, malt, floral, herbal, vegetal, wet grass, earth, leather, wood, oak.
Palate: Vanilla, honey, creamy, brown sugar, apricot, citrus, raspberry leaf, dried fruit, chocolate, cocoa, grain, crackling oat bran, rye, nutty, walnuts, black pepper, musk, herbal, mint, ambergris, cumin, tobacco, leather, oak, soft, silky, succulent.
Finish: Toffee, vanilla, raisins, spicy, oak, smooth, soft, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kooper Family 100% Rye Whiskey



WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
(Shoreham, VT) 100° prf

Nose: Caramel, molasses, honey, buttery, vanilla, cherry, strawberry, apricot, peach, raspberry cobbler, lime, banana, dried fruit, floral, spicy, cinnamon, leather, grain, lightly toasted grain, earthy, clay.
Palate: Nougat, vanilla, honey, green apple, tart cherry, black currant, grape, dark raisins, almost chocolate, floral, camellia, white popcorn, walnut, maltiness, spice, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, white pepper, black pepper, caraway, fennel, oak, deep wood, complex.
Finish: Orange, pineapple, citrus, cherry, dried fruit, creamy, spicy, peppery, caraway, bay leaf, tannic, dusty, woody, rum-like.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey



Bluebird Distilling Rye Whiskey
(Phoenixville, PA) 92° prf

Nose: Honey, ripe banana, plantain, vegetal, mint, grain, rye, malt, nutty, spice, musk, peat, aged barrel, wood, oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, apricot, figs, dates, raisins, dried fruit, grain, rye, nutty, spicy, citrus, clove, patchouli, grass, leather, earthy, wood, oak, smooth, perfect grain to sweet.
Finish: Berries, figs, honey, vanilla, grain, nutty, tobacco, leather, woodsy, smooth, very fine.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bluebird Distilling Rye Whiskey



High West Double Rye!
(Park City, UT) 92° prf

Nose: Nougat, caramel, light honey, blueberry, berries, apricot, apple, banana, walnuts, dried hay, pepper, very subtle grain, white wine, woody, oak.
Palate: Honey, sugarcane, light candy, plum, grape, currant, raisin, citrus peel, sweet pepper, rye, walnut, anise, licorice, fennel, caraway, basil, herbal, botanicals, mint, spice, white pepper, fresh-cut grass oak, reminiscent of cognac.
Finish: Orange peel, smoky sweet corn, nutty, mint, bitter fennel, spicy, peppery, cherry wood, soft, elegant, wonderful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



High West Double Rye!



Copper Fox Rye Whiskey
(Sperryville, VA) 90° prf

Nose: Caramel, banana leaf, dried fruit, dried flowers, birch bark, rye flour, wheat, burnt grain, herbs, nutty, some spice, clove, cut grass, musk, patchouli, beer batter, tobacco, leather, briny, salty, smoky, musty, dusty, earthy, new wood, pine, oak.
Palate: Clover honey, maple, vanilla, citrus, dried fruit, chocolate, banana bread, wheat, rye, grains, cinnamon, cloves, patchouli, ginger, grass, brandy, tobacco, leather, cigar box, ash, charcoal, charred wood, burning leaves, smoke, earthy.
Finish: Raisins, banana peel, sweet basil, mint, leather, cigar box, woody, oak, ashy, soft, smooth, delicate.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Copper Fox Rye Whiskey

 


 

The Rye Revival – What Took So Long?

 

Rye whiskey was the favoured grain of the East Coast. George Washington even had the largest rye whiskey distillery in early America on his Virginia estate. 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 ofspeakeasies 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. One reason the spirit fell out of favor is because of the easing of importation of other whiskies from Ireland, Scotland and Canada growing in the 20th century. 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 account for 3/4 of American whiskey production. A decade ago in this country you could only find six brands of rye. Now there are over 200, and rye whiskey has become one of the go-to craft spirits 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 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.

In the U.S., rye is riding on the soaring rise in popularity of American whiskeys and bourbon, growing in volume sales by 536% since 2009. According to the Distilled Spirits Council (Discus), rye whiskey volumes have grown from 88,000 cases in 2009 to over half a million cases in 2014, and then another sales gain of 19.5% during 2015.

 

 

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