Entrepreneur. Cocktail and spirit champion. Old world wine provocateur.
As you all may know, I have a lot of rye whiskies in my possession. It has, over the last few years, become my spirit of choice. I was once a gin man (and still am) and I had a long tenured love affair with tequila (still do), but at the end of the day, it is the rye whiskey that I move to most often.
That being said, it is sometimes hard to distinguish the characteristics that differentiate rye whiskies and a lot of our decision making is based on things like label appeal, marketing stories, location information and price. That’s ok, because those pieces can be telling signs of the quality that a distiller (or brand manager/owner) puts into their product. But it is a dangerous path to go down because it often results in choosing whiskies with the biggest marketing budgets. Plus, whiskey has become a popular sku to carry and the result is a lot of options and not a lot of information.
To combat this trend, I decided to take some rye whiskies that I had on hand and put them to the test in a blind tasting. If you’ve never tasted blind, it is a phenomenal way to gain an unbiased perspective on a spirit. Back when I was a beer junkie (still am), we used to do blind tastings at the bar weekly and build our list based upon the results. It is pretty amazing how your perception can shift when you don’t know what you are tasting. Here are my thoughts on the first batch of tonight’s whiskies.
Rye #1: Light in color with light honey tones and a very light brown hue. Some spicy rye notes on the nose with floral and lavender characteristics. An aggressive and long lasting bite with a little juniper pop and not a lot of oak. Acidic on the tongue.
Rye #2: Rich, ambered honey color. Grassy with new oak notes on the finish. Smells like a mild to medium char level with no smokey notes attached. Touch of sweet caramel aromatics. Long lingering finish but mellow and not overly aggressive. Tastes of lightly cooked caramel, Werthers candy, and some spice. Easy to drink, flavorful, nothing not to like about it.
Rye #3: Darkest color with tones of underbrewed coffee. Most aggressive notes of alcohol but balance is there. Medium to heavy char aromatics with a slight smokey undertone. Vanilla and brown sugar on the nose as well. Balanced and drinkable, long finish with heavy spice and prickly mouthfeel. Tastes cocktail ready, won’t get lost.
So, which is which, you ask? Good question. Rye number 1 was the Pow-Wow Botanical. That one was pretty obvious given it’s incredibly unique aromatic profile. Rye number 2 was Templeton Rye, which was a bit harder to place but I was able to determine that based on the proof of the spirits. It was a little softer and mellower than rye number 3, which was Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond. The Rittenhouse was great with a lot of complexity, but you can taste and feel the high proof in your mouth.
And the winner? Well, if I had to pick one to keep drinking for the rest of my life? Probably Templeton Rye. Second choice? Rittenhouse (a very, very, very close second choice). And finally Pow-Wow.
Blind tastings are a great way to try spirits. It gives great insight not only to the spirit you are tasting, but the component pieces that make the spirit what it is. To really think about proof, aging, color and aromatics when tasting is invaluable. So go out, buy more booze, and start tasting!