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Best Rye Whiskey

 

The Fifty Best Rye Whiskey Tasting 2017


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 25 American rye whiskies with a panel of 17 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, Gold and Silver medals were awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded in this tasting. The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The distilleries and states of origin are identified for each brand.



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
(Sugarlands Distilling Co., Gatlinburg, TN) 123.4° prf

Nose: Cocoa, chocolate tootsie rolls, honey, vanilla, cream, creme brulee, ripe banana, dried fruit, sweet grains, yummy toasted nuts, faint nuttiness.
Palate: Butterscotch, caramel, cream, molasses, vanilla, Nesquik powder, honey, banana, stewed candied fruit, pecan, cedar, salty, spicy and sweet balance, smooth, very spirit-forward.
Finish: Toffee, cocoa, vanilla, cherries, mint, clove, spice, peppery, complex, delicious.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



   Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey



Rabbit Hole Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
(Rabbit Hole Spirits, Louisville, KY) 95° prf

Nose: Toffee, chocolate, light cocoa, honey, maple, vanilla, powdered sugar, jammy, grain, sweet nuttiness, caraway, nutmeg, herbs, spicy, black pepper, leathery.
Palate: Toffee, cocoa, creamy, molasses, huge bouquet of fruit, apple, dried banana, ginger, apricot pits, walnut, roasted nuts, sweet nuts, bitter almond, toasty, straw, herbal, mint, spicy, spiced oak, woody, cedar.
Finish: Apricot, dried banana, brown sugar, honey, subtle Amaro, spice, clove, pepper, woody, well-balanced.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Rabbit Hole Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey



Ole George 100% Straight Rye Whiskey
(Grand Traverse Distillery, Traverse City, MI) 93° prf

Nose: Toffee brittle, chocolate, maple syrup, browned butter, vanilla, plums, bubblegum, dried fruit, banana peel, orange blossom, ginger, cucumber, light grain, caraway seed, fennel, clove, black pepper, leather, pine.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, nougat, molasses, mead, honey, demerara sugar, vanilla, dried berries, cherry, sharp apple, herbal, sweet lemon tea, spice, clove, pepper, old cinnamon, bark, toasted grain, smooth.
Finish: Fruitcake, cherry essence, vanilla, floral, minty, spice, cinnamon, clove, pepper, toasty, lightly charred oak, rum-like, fresh, zesty, great balance, smooth.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Ole George 100% Straight Rye Whiskey



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Runestone Straight Rye Whiskey
(J. Carver Distillery, Waconia, MN) 80° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, treacle, creamy, buttery, cocoa, vanilla, honey, banana, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, grains, nutty, cashews, Popsicle stick, herbal, vegetal, grassy.
Palate: Nougat, chocolate, creamy, sweet churned butter, honey, apple, grape, orange, sweet honeysuckle, corn, nutty, rye, clove, herbal, spicy, oak, smooth, silky.
Finish: Peach, melon, dried fruit, bay leaf, rye, straw, smooth, well-balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Runestone Straight Rye Whiskey



William Wolf Rye
(William Wolf Whiskey Co., Holland) 92° prf

Nose: White chocolate, cocoa, caramel, sweet butter, nougat, vanilla, clover honey, candied fruit, sweet raisins, madeira, muted fruit, ripe red cherries, ginger, lightly floral, lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg, grain, leather, sherry wine.
Palate: Toffee, cocoa, buttery, dark sugar, clover honey, mild maple, cherry, cooked fruit (apricot and banana), dried fruit, dark raisins, rose, raw nuts, cereal, bay leaves, cloves, spice, white pepper, salinity, light funk, mild, gentle.
Finish: Dried fruit, spice, clove, bitter canella, tobacco, leather, oaky, pine, bold, smooth, silky.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



William Wolf Rye



Diamond State Straight Rye Whiskey
(Painted Stave Distilling, Smyrna, DE) 88° prf

Nose: Mocha, chocolate, sweet cream, brown butter, maple, apricot, dried orange, banana, bread, crackling oat bran, honeysuckle, ginger, herbal, nutmeg, caraway seeds, black tea, coffee, honey-coated wood, pine, sweet oak.
Palate: Caramel, custard, creamy, sweet cream, maple, honey, plum, cherry, ripe banana, grains, cereal, nuttiness, herbal, fennel, spice, black pepper, smoky, wood, cognac, balanced.
Finish: Vanilla, burnt sugar, demerara syrup, orange marmalade, dry apple, spice, fenugreek, caraway seed, pepper, grainy, soft, rich.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Diamond State Straight Rye Whiskey



Palm Ridge Rye Whiskey
(Florida Farm Distillers, Umatilla, FL) 100° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, molasses, maple, vanilla, buttery, buttercream, crème brûlée, corn, honeysuckle, musk, grappa, aged rice wine.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, nougat, cream, buttery, cocoa, dark chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, vanilla, honey, sweet red apple, plum, sweet nuttiness, toasted hazelnuts, smoky aged walnuts, oaky, young bourbon.
Finish: Honey, maple, walnut, caraway, clove, mint, fennel, spicy, pepper, pine, well-balanced, big and gentle.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Palm Ridge Rye Whiskey



Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey
(Tuthilltown Spirits, Gardiner, NY) 92° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, sweet butter, bright honey, vanilla, maple, ripe banana, orange, dried fruit, wheat, popcorn, ground coffee, herbs, peppercorn, aged port, char, subtle bourbon barrel, oak.
Palate: Cocoa, chocolate, sweet cream, honey, sugarcane, plum, cherry, citrus, orange peel, buttery, buttered popcorn, mixed cereals, oats, grainy, straw, fennel, walnuts, black pepper, Tennessee maple charcoal, oak, smooth.
Finish: Honey, creamy, orange peel, mint, sage, clove, caraway seed, rye, pepper, spice, fresh, easy, zesty, rich, elegant.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey



Wood's Alpine Rye Whiskey
(Wood's High Mountain Distillery, Salida, OR) 98° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, molasses, maple, mocha, cocoa, creamy, vanilla, candied ginger, green apple, sweet nuttiness, grain, rye, rye flour, cinnamon, coffee, espresso.
Palate: Dark chocolate, Baker’s cocoa powder, creamy, vanilla, pear, corn, grainy, wheat, toasty, walnut, hazelnut, peanut, nutmeg, spicy, coffee grounds, espresso, woody.
Finish: Chocolate, nutty, coffee, clove, light spice, pepper, Sichuan peppercorn, smooth, zesty, I respect this.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Wood's Alpine Rye Whiskey



Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey
(Sweet Potato Spirits, Atwater, CA) 90° prf

Nose: Nougat, cocoa, molasses, brown sugar, maple, vanilla, orange peel, light nuts, light spice, light-bodied red wine, musty, dusty, soft, delicate.
Palate: Caramel, nougat, creamy, chocolate, vanilla, ripe banana, red maraschino cherries, orange, green apple, apple, ginger, roasted nuts, nutmeg, pink peppercorn, spicy, mild pepper, has everything in balance.
Finish: Dried fruit, honey, canella, grainy, clove, spice, nettles, oak, smooth, clean.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey



Stein Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 2 years
(Stein Distillery, Joseph, OR) 80° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, buttery, honey, candied ginger, ripe plum, orange peel, green apple, nutty, almond, nutmeg, green peppercorn, jalapeno, pepper, white pepper, moss, straw, mineral, earthy, wood.
Palate: Toffee, honey, molasses, maple, buttery, cream, cocoa power, apricot, green apple, grassy, herbs, faint mint, almond skins, grain, oats, toasty, spice, pepper, mineral, leather, dry old oak, bright.
Finish: Honey, creamy, cinnamon, clove, cumin, sweet spice, minerality, woodsy, oak, cedar, clean, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Stein Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 2 years



Deadwood American Rye Whiskey
(Proof & Wood Ventures, Bardstown, KY) 83° prf

Nose: Molasses, light brown sugar, maple, honey, vanilla, candy corn, ripe banana, apricot, orange peel, lavender, bakery, toast, crackers, rye, oak.
Palate: Caramel, brown sugar, sugarcane, honey, maple, vanilla, buttery, creamy, cheese danish, apricot, pineapple, orange, green melon, citrus, sweet herbs, grain, toasted nuts, old oak, light rum, well-balanced, smooth, very drinkable.
Finish: Apricot, tropical fruit, orange peel, creamy, vanilla, bakery, lavender, bay leaf, caraway, wood, balanced.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Deadwood American Rye Whiskey



Gunpowder Rye Whiskey
(New England Distilling, Portland, ME) 87° prf

Nose: Sweet demerara, honey, vanilla, unripe stone fruit, lemon juice, bergamot, dried fruit, fermenting fruit, floral, vegetal, cereal grains, dusty barn, burning leaves, leather.
Palate: Caramel, mint chocolate chip maple, demerara, clover honey, vanilla, melon, plums, dates, juniper, herbs, almond, rye, nutmeg, spicy, mild pepper, cigar box, gin-like, leather, wood barrel, seasoned oak.
Finish: Dry honey, prune, citrus, herbal, minty, caraway seeds, spicy, pepper, creamy, soft, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Gunpowder Rye Whiskey



OYO Dark Pumpernickel Rye Whiskey
(Middle West Spirits, Columbus, OH) 90° prf

Nose: Toffee, sweet cream, buttery, brown sugar, maple, vanilla, honey, coffee ice cream, candied fruit, sugarplums, plums, apricot, cereal, roasted grain, rye, herbal, grassy, maritime, leather, rye-forward.
Palate: Caramel, creamy, nougat, apple, green apple, dried berries, grains, rye, caraway, clove, nutmeg, spices, black pepper, cigar box, oak.
Finish: Spiced apple, stewed berries, new canella bark, nutmeg, bay leaf, pepper, light spice, black tea, coal, smoky, balanced, mouth-filling, smooth, zesty.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



OYO Dark Pumpernickel Rye Whiskey



A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Whiskey
(Laws Whiskey House, Denver, CO) 100° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, molasses, sugarcane, honey, creamy, vanilla, caramel corn, mild citrus, floral, herbal tea, herbal, nutty, baking spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, leather.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, salted caramel, cocoa, chocolate, creamy custard, vanilla, orange, orange peel, citrus, lime, winter melon, baking spice, cinnamon, spicy, pepper, oak, smooth.
Finish: Orange marmalade, winter melon, orange peel, ginger, spice, pepper, cedar, faint salinity, zesty, soft, smooth, mellow, elegant.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Whiskey



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

Nose: Toffee, caramel apple, creamy, cocoa, light maple, vanilla, honey, stewed berries, overripe banana, orange peel, lemon myrtle, grains, wheat, nutty, spice.
Palate: Vanilla, buttery, creamy, honey, demerara syrup, molasses, pear, orange peel, walnut, toasted nuts, toasty, clove, spice, white pepper, oak, bourbon-like, rich.
Finish: Cherry, apricot, light honey, dried fruit, sweet corn, rye, nutty, spice, pepper, angostura bitters, bourbon, stone, soft, easy.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey



Turley Mill Straight Rye Western Whiskey
(KGB Spirits, Alcade, NM) 99° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, chocolate syrup, cocoa, sugarcane, vanilla, dried fruit, dried orange peel, coffee, almond, walnut, light spice, brandy, aged wine, smoky, woody.
Palate: Butterscotch, buttery, caramel, creamy, toffee, molasses, cocoa, vanilla, banana, banana bread, dried apricot, unripe berry, green pepper, bitter nuts, caraway seed, spice, peppery, mild oak, vodka, rum, aggressive, smooth.
Finish: Fruitcake, stewed pineapple, dried orange peel, toasted almond, caraway seed, fennel seed, pepper, mineral, flavorful, smooth, solid.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Turley Mill Straight Rye Western Whiskey



Monterey Rye Small Batch No.21
(Fog's End Distillery, Gonzales, CA) 90° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, vanilla, honey, marzipan, jelly bean, popcorn, kettle corn, green banana, red wine, grappa, rum, sherry.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, caramel, creamy, buttery, brown sugar, chocolate, honey, jelly belly, creamy vanilla, peaches, dried fruit, kettle corn, nutty, clove, liqueur-like, classic rye.
Finish: Toffee, soft caramel, whipped cream, pepper, oak, balanced, soft, smooth, different.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Monterey Rye Small Batch No.21



Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey
(3 Badge Beverage Corp., CA) 90° prf

Nose: Nougat, light custard, sugarcane, mesquite honey, candy, peach pie, cherry, banana, popcorn, grass, spice, leather.
Palate: Caramel, cocoa, vanilla, honey, cotton candy, cherry, sweet stone fruit, apricot, tropical fruit, green apple, slight peach, citrus, grainy, toasty, caraway seeds, ginger, herbs, spicy, tobacco, wood, oak, smooth, well-balanced.
Finish: Vanilla, buttery, grain, vegetal, clove, spicy, peppery, mineral, well-balanced, soft, smooth.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey



Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey
(Sagamore Spirit, Baltimore, MD) 112.4° prf

Nose: Toffee, caramel, dark brown sugar, maple, cocoa, vanilla, honey, honey crisp apples, orange zest, oak, birch, maritime.
Palate: Caramel, buttery, chocolate, vanilla, banana, sour apple, caraway, rye, bay leaf, coriander, clove, cooking spices, spicy, pepper, mineral, salty, bizarre, spirit-forward, smooth.
Finish: Stewed cherries, caraway, spicy, woodsy, mineral, iron, sharp, dry, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey



Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey
(KO Distilling, Manassas, VA) 90° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, toffee, buttery, molasses, sugarcane, maple, vanilla, tropical fruit, sweet citrus, dried fruit, honeyed oats, grain, maritime, hickory, sweet oak, barrel-aged gin, well-aged barrels.
Palate: Caramel, molasses, maple syrup, honey, berry candy, orange peel, papaya, citrus, corn, grain, clove, spicy, peppery, malty, leather, earthy, minerals, oak, woodsy, hidden sweetness, smooth.
Finish: Roasted fruit, light pear, Tuscan juniper, cumin seed, gentian, spicy, peppery, iron, earthy, pine, just right.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey



WhistlePig FarmStock Rye Whiskey
(GoAmericaGo Beverages, Shoreham, VT) 86° prf

Nose: Toffee, molasses, sugarcane, vanilla, maple, sweet cherry, green maraschino cherry, apple, citrus, honeysuckle, sweet spice, nutmeg, fresh new wood.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, creamy, buttery, nougat, honey, vanilla, cherry, apricot, dried fruit, herbal, thyme, basil, spicy, pepper, cinnamon, clove, oaky, powerful, complex, well-balanced oak, pleasant, a sipper.
Finish: Crisp apple, citrus, orange bitters, cherry pits, buttery, creamy, mint, pepper, smoky, seasoned wood, soft, delicate.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



WhistlePig FarmStock Rye Whiskey



Stein Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 5 years
(Stein Distillery, Joseph, OR) 92° prf

Nose: Vanilla, cream, honey, apricot, herbal, earthy mushrooms, hay, wheatgrass, grassy, moss, hazelnut, sweet nuttiness, sweetened coffee, cinnamon, spice, pepper, charcoal, cigarette ash, smoke.
Palate: Maple, cream, butter, cane sugar, citrus peel, sweet nuts, corn, sweet barbecue sauce, smoked violet, chamomile, herbs, cider, sweet reposado mezcal, young bourbon, spicy, minerals, earthy, burnt tea, woody, pine, cedar, balanced, mellow.
Finish: Lemon curd, honeysuckle, pepper, spicy, salinity, smoky, wood, nice, soft, smooth, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Stein Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 5 years



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Wigle Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey
Organic

(Wigle Whiskey, Pittsburgh, PA) 84° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, chocolate, clotted cream, honey, molasses, dried fruit, raisin, cola, sweet nuttiness, almond, spice, ginger, cinnamon, clove, hay, straw, clay, earthy, musty, tree bark, wood chips, strong oak.
Palate: Molasses, honey, cherry, dried fruit, sweet butter, lanolin, walnut, bitter almond, light mint, moss, spicy, pepper, coffee, tobacco, rum-like, earthy, old wood, woodsy, oak.
Finish: Cherry, vanilla, spice, black pepper, mace, mossy, earthy, cedar, well-balanced, smooth, soft, easy, great for cocktails.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Wigle Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey



RockFilter Organic Red Rider Rye Whiskey
(RockFilter Distillery, Spring Grove, MN) 91.5° prf

Nose: Light toffee, buttery, sugar, dried orange, sweet raisin, grainy, straw, bay leaf, aged ham, meaty, smoky, cigar box, saddlery, leather, musty, seawater.
Palate: Sugarcane, honey, fruitcake, sweet green apple, herbs, walnut, areca, bamboo, grain, toast, yeasty, pekoe tea, bay leaf, sweet Carolina barbecue sauce, country ham, leather, pipe tobacco, smoky, cigar box, oak.
Finish: Green apple, sweet walnuts, grain, caravan black tea, mint, bright pepper, dusty, woody, heavy barrel treatment, char, mesquite.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



RockFilter Organic Red Rider Rye Whiskey

 


 

The Rye Revival – What Took So Long?

 

In the United States, 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 an excess of a half million cases in 2014, and then another sales gain of 20% during 2015. Over the last two years alone, rye whiskey has shown a tremendous 97% growth. Is it any wonder that distilleries are rushing to produce rye whiskies? Many did not foresee the trend, and since rye must be aged, have to wait a couple more years for barrel maturing or were short on inventory to satisfy demand.

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 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. 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 a little over ten years ago, in 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 275, and rye whiskey has become one of the go-to craft spirits of the moment. North American farmers have seen their largest rye crop in years as whiskey sales soar.

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. Many 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.

 

 

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