View Full Version : Are ryes getting better?

03-28-2005, 14:30
I throw out a question for any who are interested: is rye whiskey better today than at any time in recent memory? I believe this to be so, at least since the mid-80's when the whiskey glut resulted in some well-aged ryes being put in price-brand bottles.

Three or so years ago I found Old Overholt rather poor, thin stuff, "muddy" (a word applied by Chuck Cowdery a couple of years back for this kind of rye, very properly in my opinion). Jim Beam Rye seemed (and still to a degree may be) a little thin and sharp. Wild Turkey rye was youngish and feisty, a whiskey lookin' for a rumble. Pikesville and Rittenhouse were good sound ryes, especially Rittenhouse, but regional-related brands little known outside their traditional markets. ORVW carried the flag for quality rye.

That was then.

Today, ORVW rye is still available (but possibly not quite what it was 5 years ago), ditto Heaven Hill's aforesaid ryes which seem unchanged, but Wild Turkey rye and Old Overholt have really developed for the better in my view. They seem older than before, better balanced, rich and hearty without spiritiness or a weedy quality. I haven't had Beam rye in many years and since Overholt is on an uptick I am hoping Beam rye is, too.

I think Wild Turkey rye may well approximate an 1810's Samuel M'Harry rye aged extra-long (for that time). M'Harry approved a 50/50 corn and rye mash which Turkey is pretty close to I think (the rye is a few points over 50% but can't make that much difference).

I hope HH considers releasing its Rittenhouse at a somewhat older age than hitherto, say 6-7 years. That would leave its Pikesville as the standard bearer for young rye whiskey.

And today we have, at a price, some interesting older ryes of which Black Maple Hill 18 years old strikes me as the best. Sazerac 18 year old rye is good, too (very suitable for the cocktail of that name and also Manhattans - dry ryes are partiularly good in mixed drinks).

Rye whiskey almost disappeared - from being the premier straight whiskey style on the upper East Coast and prominent in the Mid-Atlantic Region it declined big time in the mid 20th century.

Rye offers at its best a challenging palate but may reward those who like real whiskey and persist..


03-29-2005, 05:01
Just to give a kind of personal classification of current ryes:

High end aged ryes: these are ryes with a depth of flavour influenced by long age: ORVW 13 year old rye; Sazerac 18 year old rye; Black Maple Hill Rye 18 years old; Michter's 10 year old rye (untasted)

Quality younger ryes: Michter's Straight Rye (5 years old); Old Overholt (4 years old); Wild Turkey Rye (no age stated, probably 5-8 years old currently); Rittenhouse rye (100 and 80 proof, I prefer the 100) (4 years old); Pikesville rye (4 years old).

Of these, Wild Turkey and Old Overholt are most likely to be found nationally and are well-priced.

If I had to pick one in the older group as the best, I'd say it is ORVW 13 year old rye. To my taste current bottlings don't quite reach the balance of a few years back but it is still the one to beat.

In the younger group, I'd have to go with Wild Turkey as my favorite currently.

A rye I would like to taste: Fleischman's straight rye, a label of Barton Brands. This is hard to find but apparently is available in some markets. Jim Murray states in his 2005 Whisky Bible handbook that Fleischman's rye is sold in a plastic bottle and despite the image that may convey the whiskey is very good.

I know I have omitted some whiskeys in the rye family (e.g. Classic Cask's ryes) but I believe the survey above covers most of the brands regularly available and discussed here.


03-30-2005, 04:03
I've only had the pleasure of VWFRR 13YO, Sazerac 18YO (2001), JB Rye and Pikesville. They were all in the last 2 years so I can't make comparisons.

The first two are 2 of my favourite ever whiskies but Pikesville really did not do it for me. JB rye is pretty good and I would buy it again.

Thing is the WT Rye costs the same as the Van Winkle here. I can't see myself buying the WT until that situation changes.

Rye is good http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

03-30-2005, 20:57
Get the WT rye. It has a little different profile than the VW, but it's just wonderful. I don't think you will be disappointed by it. I feel it puts the JB to shame. Heck, my wife LOVES the WT rye. It's really here favorite whiskey. The VW is much more robust. The WT is a pleasantly refreshing rye (as it may be.)

Try it... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

03-30-2005, 23:25
I bought a bottle of Classic Cask Rye (15 yo) a couple of months ago. It's very different from the Sazerac or Van Winkle ryes...it reminds me much more of the Wild Turkey rye..it has a very distinct "spicy" bite to it. It's quite good, but is it worth the $50 or so that I paid for it? Maybe not...If I had to do it again, I'd get a bottle of the Wild Turkey rye and save myself some money.

03-31-2005, 08:09
=== SNAP == Ok I'll but some next order http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

03-31-2005, 18:01
Based on Gary's intel here, I picked up a bottle of Old Overholt today and I'm now enjoying a pour. This is quite a bit different than my first (and only previous) bottle of years ago, which was my first rye whiskey. That first bottle seemed, if memory serves (and maybe it doesn't http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif), rather viscous and "heavy": maybe this is what folks were calling "muddy". Not bad at all really, but this new bottle is much brighter and less viscous. It is very clean and balanced, no "muddiness". Actually seems much more like the Jim Beam rye I had several years ago, but less sweet. In fact, this new bottling is strikes me as being a little thin, like the JB rye was, but first drinks from new bottles may not be that trustworthy. Time will tell.
I have not had Wild Turkey rye since the bottle changed a few years ago. It only appears in one shop locally and then only for a few weeks every year. Last time it was available, it was $22.49 vs. $10.99 for Old Overholt and Jim Beam rye and $9.99 for Pikesville Supreme, which I also like as a change of pace. Never tried Rittenhouse, which is not available here (or within a reasonable driving distance). I'd love to try the Rittenhouse BIB. Cheers, Ed V.

03-31-2005, 18:53
I think Overholt really does vary over the years. In the 80's it was mellow and rich, evidently containing older whiskey due to an apparent surplus in the industry at the time. In the later 90's it struck me as too young (albeit meeting the 4 year minimum), thin, muddy-ish, spirity - just not that good although still offering that Overholt palate (a spicy grainy-like taste, from the rye I presume). The current bottling is much better, I agree with Ed's comments but instead of thin I'd call it a bit light, but its flavor is round and deep still, with no spirity edges. I actually have a mid-90's Overholt but it is "parked" with a relation far away. I wish I could bring it to Gazebo because it would make an interesting contrast with current Overholt. I must say I have never perceived a connection between Jim Beam Rye and Overholt, they always seemed different to me, I'll have to try Beam rye again, it has been some years..


03-31-2005, 19:46
It occurs to me that the 1980's/early 90's Overholt must have been distilled by National Distillers which sold its brands to Jim Beam in 1987. If this is so, at what plant would it have been made? Does that plant operate still? Would that have been the Boston plant?


04-02-2005, 20:24
I can give no historical perspective, but when I first tasted Old Overholt a couple of months ago, I definitely connected on the "muddy" taste. My current sampling (fourth openng of this bottle?) doesn't give me that. My best description would be a simpler, watered version of Wild Turkey Rye. It could be my tastebuds tonight; I had chosen this inexpensive pour as my day was spent with a fishing buddy who likes beer, but I hadn't had anything for about two hours before the Old Overholt. For whatever reason, it's what I was looking for tonight.

04-02-2005, 20:48
Well put, I agree fully that Old Overholt is kind of a milder Wild Turkey Rye (remember too Overholt is 20 points weaker in proof). To some degree rye whiskey has a "muddy" taste but at its best that side is minimised and you get either a spicy character (like the current WT and Overholt) or somtimes a peppermint-like taste (e.g. Old Rip Van Winkle Rye and Classic Cask rye). The latter two are older than WT and Overholt rye so maybe that peppermint is something rye gets after many years in the bottle.

In any case, I assure people who want to try real rye whiskey that current Overholt and Wild Turkey rye are very good examples of the style and both are excellent values especially Old Overholt. It is a direct yet flavorful straight whiskey for some 11-13 dollars - truly a bargain of large proportions..


04-02-2005, 21:00
Rye whiskey hearkens back to European styles of spirits since it employs a northern European grain that has been used for centuries in Germanic or Germanic-influenced lands to make liquor. I have decided to bring my Filliers 5 year old genever gin to Sampler so people can see how close European rye spirit can be to straight rye. Filliers is from Belgium and is made from a cereal mash of which a majority of the grains is rye. The rest is corn, wheat and barley malt, i.e., a U.S. straight whiskey-type mash. The product is NOT flavored with juniper, it is unflavored despite carrying the name gin (this information is from Michael Jackson's writings on genever). Filliers is aged 5 years. I don't know the specifics of distillation method or distillation proof but based on the taste it is not GNS quite evidently. Aging in wood gives it a taste quite close to U.S. rye, the main difference is Filliers evidently is not aged in new charred wood, it is aged (as is traditional for most European spirits) in reused cooperage. So that smoky sweet wood taste you get in all straight whiskey isn't there, oak flavor yes but not the "red layer" taste of U.S. whiskey. Still, the Filliers is a cousin to the U.S. version of rye spirit, the undertone in both drinks is the same (this was even truer when Overholt was thinner a few years ago and showed less barrel character than today). In my opinion, the survival of a rye spirit in a corner of Belgium that shows some resemblance to U.S. rye is (some) evidence that straight rye really is European in origin. Bourbon is all-American but not straight rye, it must have been brought to the U.S. by German-speakers who were familiar with techniques of rye distillation at home. I shall come to Sampler equiped with a near full crock of Filliers 5 year old genever "gin"; I believe people who essay it will see the connection to straight whiskey and that it can't be coincidence.


04-02-2005, 21:57
I certainly agree with the value of Old Overholt. My buying it expecting. correctly, a good, interesting whiskey at a great price was an act prompted by all the knowledgeable posters on these boards, including you of course, for which I thank you all (there are actually a number of bottles in my stash that are the result of the same process). Would you describe the peppermint tones as being in Sazerac? I've not found the Van Winkle or Classic Cask ryes. I have a bottle of the Saz, but I don't sample it too often because I realize that drinking it "too often" would translate into "too quickly." And I have the only bottle I could find.

04-02-2005, 23:56
I've not found the Van Winkle or Classic Cask ryes.

Hi Bob, I notice you're from Decatur. If you're looking for the Classic Cask rye, try Green's Liquors on Ponce de Leon...I was there a couple of months ago and bought a bottle of the Classic Cask rye. Not sure if they'd still have it in stock, but worth a look. They have a nice bourbon selection too!

04-03-2005, 02:12
Sazerac 18 year old rye to my taste has a dry, characteristic cereal flavor that is more spicy than peppermint-like. It reminds me more of an older version of, say, Wild Turkey or Overholt than, say, ORVW 13 year old rye. I am not sure differing proportions of rye to corn can explain this, I think it has to do with yeast or other factors. Probably all ryes have some of each flavor but some seem oriented more to one than the other. Canadian rye whisky classicly is lightly flavoured with the kind of taste we are talking about that is dry, cereal-like, spicy: e.g. Schenley OFC is like that, so is Crown Royal usually (sometimes the accent in CR seems more bourbon-like). But in Canadian whisky it is only an accent since the main work is being done - or not - by the light whisky base which can be distilled from any cereals and to a high proof. In American rye you get the full-bore taste since it is all straight whiskey made with 51% or more rye. (Maybe earthy is a better term than "muddy" to describe the spicy/grainy side of rye whiskey).

The different facets of rye whisky take time to accustom to and some persons never come to terms with the flavor. I find it a rewarding taste because of the big flavors, the directness and dryness. A Canadian rye that shows this spicy cereal characteristic is Barrel Select of 40 Creek. Like the current Overholt it is well-shaded by barrel tones except in the Canadian whisky like for Filliers, the predominant barrel taste is "dry oaky". This denotes non-charred wood aging. Some Canadian whisky including Barrel Select uses some new charred wood for some of its make-up but in Canadian whisky red layer taste is at most an accent, never the main characteristic. In U.S. whiskey the smoky sweet cured red layer taste defines every rye (and bourbon) whiskey.

Rye whiskey aged in non-charred wood is probably one of the early forms of U.S. rye whiskey, i.e., appearing before use of the new charred barrel became generalised. So in other words Canadian ryes like Forty Creek and also Lot 40, and the European, aged, rye-based Filliers, may resemble one kind of early U.S. rye whiskey. The Old Potrero that is aged in toasted but not charred casks may be another example as is claimed by the maker, i.e., a rye from a time (18th century) when charred casks were not used or not exclusively. When you taste Overholt it seems to be what Filliers or Forty Creek or Lot 40 would be if placed in a new charred cask for at least 4 years. Anyway there is a family resemblance to all these drinks and they seem apart from bourbon which due to its majority corn content is a uniquely American spirit. Whereas American rye whiskey still shows lineage I think to European influences.


04-03-2005, 10:13
For me at this point I will say the Old Potrero Rye has a great (I don't know the
right word for smell or aroma in english)taste to my nose and tongue.
And I know for price wise it is not a every day pour but I like what there
tring to make. It is at the 100$ range but it is worth the price.
Then comes Sazerac and the Van Winkles and the WT and the Beams.
The Rittenhouse is extraordinarly for the price it is offered.10$ for the BIB.
Everyone should try it !!


04-03-2005, 19:04
Thanks. I'll swing by Green's in the next couple of days. Hope they still have the Classic Cask; since all the ryes I have, Gary describes as "spicy" or "cereal" I really do need to find a "peppermint" variety. These explorations are fun.


04-03-2005, 20:11
Bob, there are a number of bourbons that have a high rye content that offer the peppermint/wintermint palate: one is Bulleit, another is Four Roses Single Barrel. While these are certainly bourbons they are rye-like in many ways. Grandad 114 is rye-like too but here it is more the spicy/cereal type of taste, so again Bulleit or Four Roses Single Barrel may be more the ticket for the peppermint-type of rye taste. Classic Cask rye (I have only had the 21 year old) is good but it comes at a high price.


04-03-2005, 21:13
Thanks Gary. I have only tasted Bulleit once, but will re-visit it. My impression was that I didn't care for it, but might with more time. On the other hand, OGD 114 is a real favorite, and has been since the first taste. So perhaps simple availability has already allowed me to stumble on a preference for the spicy/cereal rye style. It will, of course, require further study.


04-14-2005, 06:46

I would agree that there are lots of great ryes out there now. Whether there's more now than in the past, I can't say. I wish however, that they were more readily available. Despite the number of very fine ryes that have been mentioned, how much is known by the average liquor store owner & employees about rye? Very Little. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif I just want to slap those dummies when I ask for rye, and they point out there Canadian Club. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/banghead.gif

Anyway, I rank JB rye at the bottom; Old Overholt slightly above JB; WT rye quite a bit above the OO; Van Winkle/Saz/Classic Cask are all superb! I recently tried Rittenhouse at LeNell's and thought that too was a superior rye at a great price. Luckily I was able recently to find a couple of bottles. I'll have to sample it a lot more now at my leisure.

04-14-2005, 07:12
I had some of the Michter's 10-year-old rye last night at WhiskeyFest. I still question the price, on principle, but according to the representative I talked with, they are selling all they have at the current price and have stores clamoring for more, as quantities are limited. My first reaction upon tasting it was, "this is older than 10 years," to which he replied that it contains some 16 year old and some 21 year old whiskey. While he wouldn't reveal the source, he did say they have good continuity of supply and should be able to keep producing that and their younger rye product. (The overall shortage of bulk market American whiskey was a common topic of conversation last night.)

04-14-2005, 07:40
Interesting. The regular Michter's Straight Rye is very good and the price more reasonable. The thing about those Michter's straight ryes is they have a good body, which rye doesn't always have.


04-14-2005, 13:10
This is complete conjecture, but a Heaven Hill employee indicated that the warehouse has lots of old rye, some as old as 25 years. It may be that they are now becoming the bulk supplier of ryes as the bulk of bourbon is in short supply. I just don't think that the market is there for super premium ryes just yet. Its evidently building as evidenced by the rapid consumption of the Rittenhouses, Sazeracs and Michters.
Its just a matter of time. I was awestruck by a 15 year old that was presented at Heaven Hill recently.
Ed http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bigeyes.gif

04-14-2005, 13:32
Hopefully I can pick some Rittenhouse Rye up in New Zealand later this year..
I'm still waiting for the day when there is more Rye available in Australia than Jim Beam http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif
So to put in in perspective (Are Ryes geting better) - I think they will here when more are made available.

05-03-2005, 20:00
I was awestruck by a 15 year old that was presented at Heaven Hill recently.

I forgot that one, it was indeed a nice pour. That bottle was supposed to have made a circuitous trip to the gazebo, did I miss it somehow?

05-03-2005, 22:52
That bottle was supposed to have made a circuitous trip to the gazebo, did I miss it somehow?

No. Larry said, he would save that bottle for us...but not the Sampler. It's for the tasting during the Festival.

Bettye Jo

05-04-2005, 14:42
I don't think that Larry was going to bring that rye to the sampler. I hope he brings it to The Festival (or my house).
The discussion of Heaven Hill's Rye stash came up at The Sampler and someone suggested that they made rye for Pikesville after the closure of their distilley, but while they were still selling product. When the product was discontinued, HH was left with a considerable amount of stock that is now approaching 25 years in age. I'd like to get some of those really old ryes and see what they're like. Then I'd like to blend them, ala Dr. Ryestein and see what happens. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/woohoo.gif

05-04-2005, 16:00
When we (me, Dane, John and Linda Lipman) were shown the warehouse during the HH visitor tour a barrel was pointed out as containing whiskey 30 years old. I would think such whiskey must be used for mingling although I don't know for sure. HH may itself be becoming a kind of specialty house for well-aged bourbon since as John Lipman pointed out many of the bottles of Elijah Craig 18 year old are older than that, approaching in some cases 24 years of age. Maybe HH's 23 year old whiskey contains, in fact, 30 year old whiskey from barrels such as we saw, I don't know. The Craig 18's we tasted in the tasting room were very good, I hadn't had it in a while and was favorably impressed.


05-04-2005, 16:29
I saw the same barrel a few weeks ago while in Bardstown. Our guide said that a wealthy tourist wanted to purchase it, but passed when told the price (our guide wasn't privy to the negotiations, only the eventual outcome.) Really though, at 30yo it would only be good for blending with other barrels and would thus reduce it's concieved value. It's probably more valuable to HH as a fixture.

05-05-2005, 08:44
This is very interesting. In the 80s (and again early 90s) HH produced a limited release 28-year old bourbon. To the best of my knowledge, it is the longest-aged bourbon ever bottled. It wouldn't be out of the question HH would again choose to bottle something in the 28-30 year range upon request.


05-09-2005, 11:55
I would have to say the recent Old Potrero Rye is the most flavorful. Reminds me of drinking a piece of black rye bread. This would be the 19th century, 90 proof version.

I have not found another rye that matches Old Potrero's flavor intensity.

05-10-2005, 16:15
I was lucky enough to taste the HH 28 yo when in Japan a few years ago. While very good I thought it was getting a bit woody, perhaps a few too many years sleeping. That said, if I had the chance to try a 30 yo bourbon and liked it I can see paying over $250 for one. I have a good half dozen bottles of scotch that are double that and a bunch in that area. Sadly, if they do bottle a 30 yo it would be export only at this point in time.

This is very interesting. In the 80s (and again early 90s) HH produced a limited release 28-year old bourbon. To the best of my knowledge, it is the longest-aged bourbon ever bottled. It wouldn't be out of the question HH would again choose to bottle something in the 28-30 year range upon request.


05-11-2005, 00:55
During the recent Sampler weekend, our tour of Heaven Hill's rickhouse concluded with the guide showing us a barrel of 37 year old bourbon. Her story was that someone asked her if it was for sale and she referred him to the front office to see. The point was that the barrel was still there. I just wonder how much is actually left in that barrel at this point.... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/searching.gif

05-18-2005, 20:25
Have you tried the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13yr? It is really intense in flavor and quite complex for a rye. This is probably my all time favorite rye. If you haven't had it, I highly recommend it. Oh, and it's less than half the price of the Potrero.

05-31-2005, 15:59
Just mixed some Pikesville into a proper (decent amount of verm, well-bittered) Manhattan garnished with a Turkish jarred sour cherry. Beautiful, with a sandalwood thing coming out and a firm kick of rye, just softened and delineated by its partners (come to think of it, just like a good Sazerac). Guess I know what I'm drinking next!

05-31-2005, 18:25
Sounds great, well done.


06-01-2005, 16:51
Gotta say, it performed better in a Manhattan than a Sazerac. Not to say the Saz is bad, of course :-).

06-01-2005, 17:31
The Sazerac needs a more nuanced whiskey than a Manhattan. The combination of a Gothic-flavored drink like Pikesville marries perfectly with the no less monolithic herbal sweetness of red vermouth - each is the foil of the other. The Sazerac, on the other hand, with its delicate backdrop of absinthe/faint sugar/bitters, needs a softer whiskey to cozy up to. Old Grandad would work well with its rye edge -so would Bulleit and - especially - Four Roses Single Barrel.


06-02-2005, 08:23
I happen to think Overholt works very well also (especially price/value). Turkey rye is good as well.