Welcome to another edition of “Not Adahn Gets Drunk at the Keyboard.” This will be the first in a series of rye reviews, primarily because I like the spirit and my LLS has and entire wall dedicated to this once side-eyed drink. Rye whiskey has always been probably the best value in the brown liquor market, with prices being cheap and the quality almost never dropping below “drinkable.” Now with it becoming popular, the magic of the market has resulted in ryes selling for Scotch prices (looking at you, Whistle Pig) which is something I just have a psychological block against paying. So I’m not going to. Fortunately, I can fill out a number of these while spending less than $40 a bottle. I’m limiting myself to four at a time due to palate fatigue. As is typical for my tasting protocol, I’ve got distilled water to open up the high-proof offerings, as well as taste modifiers of bread, butter, cheese, chocolate and salted almonds.
Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey– Nose is sweet, spicy, a bit cardboardy. It anesthetizes fairly quickly, so I’ll take it away from my nose for a bit before drinking. Taste is mild, woody, gentle, dangerously drinkable. And this was sub-$20. God bless rye whiskey!
Jim Beam Rye – I’m rather looking forward to this one. I was very fond of the old yellow labelled version, as it was the first whiskey that I thought tasted good at body temperature poured out of a steel flask at a football game. I haven’t tried this new green labelled “pre-prohibition style” whatever that’s supposed to mean. The nose is much drier than the earlier one. You can smell the barrels, but other than that, it fairly clean. Oh that’s nice. It’s sharper, very much in the Beam idiom of sweet carmel and a big hit of char extracts. Now that I think about it, those are probably carcinogenic AF. I need to dig out some carbotrap tubes and run this on the GC-MS at work to see exactly how bad this is for you. I still like it. I will admit that there may be some emotional attachment to the brand going on, as it played a notable role in my college years. My fraternity brothers have long been excellent bullshitters, with stories being so good that they became believed and passed down as fact to the next class. One of these stories was of “Brother Beam.” Proof that Jim Beam was a member of our house was demonstrated by the color of the bottle labels (black, white, yellow) and the fact that if you were lying on the floor paralyzed by alcohol and saw a Jim Beam bottle lying near you, the ribbon and wax seal logo kinda sorta looked like our badge. I typically dilute anything over 80 proof, though I don’t think this needs it. I’ll do so anyway for consistency’s sake. A few drops does increase the spice to sweet ratio, and oddly enough makes it a little astringent. I don’t think I like it any better that way. A little fat on the tongue (from a really good cheddar in this case) also tones down the sweetness.
Bulleit Rye – The Elon Musk of the spirit world, this rye thinks it’s better than everyone else having a cork rather than a screw cap. Well lah-dee-dah Mr. Fancy-pants. I keed. I’ve also never had this one, though I do like their “Bourbon.” I may have poured the two previous glasses a little too full, there are numb regions on my tongue I’ll need to taste around. OK, I don’t know if it’s me or it, but this thing has very little smell. It’s the whiskey, because it sure has a flavor. And that flavor is impressive. I”m not quite certain where to begin since it caught me completely by surprise. Let’s have another taste and I’ll try to pay closer attention. Ok, I’m not even sure this is rye. There are tremendous herbal flavors, green fruits, if it wasn’t for the primal flavor you could believe this was a white wine. But you know, still tasting like whiskey. Yeah, I’m tempted to disqualify this from the rankings for being out of genre, but holy hell this is an impressive spirit. How strong is this… 90 proof? Ok, a few mLs of water it is. Very interesting – adding water increased the nose. I’m getting… chocolate? Yeah, chocolate, and burnt oil, concord grapes and citrus peel. This smells really good. The flavor unfortunately, instead of being transformed the way most whiskeys are, was merely diluted. Still, if you wanted to spend time in a bar just smelling your drink, get this and dribble a little water into it. Can Mormons do that? I’m pretty sure Baptists can’t since their rules are only elaborations of the first rule which is to Have No Fun that is not The Lord. Yeah, I should have a bottle of this in the house at all times.
Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-In-Bond – I adore old cookbooks. I have in my possession a 1940 booklet of an advertisement purporting to be a reference manual put out by the National Distillers Products Corporation which goes into great length about how “Bottled-in-bond” is the assurance of the highest quality American whiskey. In fact, on page 6 is notes that “Such whiskey meets all the standards for medicinal whiskey as set forth in the United Stated Pharmacopoeia.” Relevant to this particular post, it also calls Old Overholt the “greatest of all Pennsylvania ryes.” It further notes that “The Scotch always omit the ‘e’ used in the American spelling of ‘whiskey’.” Obviously, such a handbook is to be taken quite seriously, so I look forward to this rye which is produced under regulations which are “the most stringent in the world.” If you’ve paid attention to the pictures, you noticed that this one was darker in color, which makes sense as it was diluted less than the others prior to bottling (oh, for those of you without access to The Host’s Handbook, bottled-in-bond whiskey is always 100 proof). Before I smell this one, I’ll need to wash the 80-year-old-book smell from many hands. Having done so, the aroma of this whiskey is more on the bass side of bourbon, with blackberries mixed in with caramel and maple. The first sip, neat: yummy. Compact, warming, a little sharp, a little… dare I say medicinal? With cheese: rounder, less distinctive. Now, taking it to ~80 proof with distilled water: It’s like an entire circus of charred-cask clowns has gone berserk in my mouth. Holy fuck, there’s “opening up” and then there’s “a porcupine on acid looking at a Klein bottle made of Mobius strips.” The transformation is total and absolute. With respect to the National Distillers Products Corporation, this Pennsylvania rye kicks the everloving shit out of Old Overholt. It is with a heavy heart that I must concede that the U.S. Government has had a hand in producing something great here. I would turn in my Libertarian card, but I never got one.
I titled this a ranking, so I guess I have to pick a winner:
Honorable Mention: Bulleit Rye – This is fantastic stuff, but too atypical to continue on to to the next round. I’m still drinking the fuck out of it.
Best Value Whiskey: Old Overholt – this is a legitimately good whiskey, and it’s cheaper than Jack.
Winner of Round 1: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-In-Bond. This shakes my confidence in FedGov turning everything it touches into crap. That’s how good this is.