View Full Version : Old Potrero Single Malt Spirit

07-02-2006, 17:34
This is my first attempt at tasting notes, so forgive the simplicity. I didn't see a review of this anywhere else on the site, though it has been mentioned once or twice before. I bought a mini for about 7 dollars, not wanting to invest too much in this particular spirit (not really a whiskey). This one helped me understand the effects of the wood on the spirit, as the differences between this and any rye I've had are quite apparent.
Old Potrero Single Malt Spirit- Anchor Distilling Company, San Francisco
124.2% abv
100% rye malt
"Aged 2 years in new and used uncharred oak barrels"

Color: Very pale yellow, almost like white grape juice. Not surprising given the age.

Nose: Neat-Dominated by alcohol, though strong cinnamon notes come through, as well as a distinct floral tone. Cutting it with a little water tones down the cinnamon, and brings out the floral notes a bit more. Just a touch of leather.

Taste: Neat- The cinnamon makes it through, with some sweetness. Not much complexity. Cut with water: Fruity, somewhat spicy. The rye sweetness is present, seemingly untempered by the wood. Actually somewhat reminiscent of low-end non-peated scotch, in a way that I'm not fond of- raw grain flavors, and alcohol burn.

Finish: Rough, strong alcohol finish, with a bit of a sour lingering flavor.

Overall: I'm glad I tried this one, and glad I only bought a mini. It's definitely worth trying for the experience, but it's a rough, raw, spirit. If this is typical of early American spirits, then I very much understand the evolution of the cocktail. I got pretty good pictures of the bottle before I drank it- those are posted below.

07-03-2006, 05:08
The Potrero whiskey almost certainly duplicates a lot of straight whiskey made from rye as sold in the early and mid-1800's. In those years, the pot still had hegemony and aging was minimal. The use of the new charred barrel was not invariable. Even the ubiquitous charcoal vat leaching, famously extant only in the Jack Daniels operation, would have moderated but not neutralised the strong flavor of young rye whiskey. Rye whiskey in particular can be very pungent, as we see even from modern examples of double-distilled, four year old rye aged in new-charred wood. These whiskeys too were distilled and entered at higher proofs than would have been common in the early 1800's.

What this shows is why rectification was so important then. The continuous still, lauded in its early form by Samuel M'Harry in 1810 and by F.X. Byrn writing on distilling 50 years later, offered the possibility economically to make a clean-tasting spirit. It is interesting to speculate whether high proof spirits would have become popular (in the form of whiskey blends, and vodka today) had lengthy all-new charred barrel aging been the norm in, say, 1840. But it wasn't. Systematic aging in new wood of bourbon and rye was just getting going and only by the later 1800's were warehouses being purpose-built to hold new spirit in cask for years to moderate its harshness. By then, the adding of neutral spirit to whiskey (or rather the reverse) became the norm. In Canada the parallel development of column-stilled high proof Canadian whisky ensured the disappearance of straight whiskey in this country. Perhaps due to climate, or regional taste, or just conservatism, the U.S. in certain regions held on to low proof whiskey but one thing is clear to me, had long aging in new charred oak not developed, the old low-proof young whiskeys would have withered. Given a choice between a 1-2 year old low-proof rye- or corn-based whiskey and blended whiskey the latter would have won without contest. Only when people saw that 4-8 year old straight whiskey was a palatable, distinctive beverage was the survival of straight whiskey (setting aside the challenges of Prohibition and the tax maw) assured.


07-06-2006, 13:54
While everything Gary says is correct, Fritz Maytag's contention that he is making an authentic 18th century whiskey is mostly a product of Fritz's imagination.

In particular, I have seen no evidence to suggest that 18th century distillers were routinely or primarily using a mash of 100% malted rye. The evidence from Washington's distillery, for example, is that they were using a mash pretty similar to a modern rye whiskey mash, consisting of a small amount of malted barley, a quantity of unmalted corn, and the largest portion being unmalted rye.

07-06-2006, 15:31
Chuck, I agree with you, and in fact there is evidence to suggest all-malted rye whiskey was a late 1800's industrial development (there was a keynote brand called Montreal Malted Rye). But I think using all-malted rye is just a short cut and would lead more or less to the palate obtained when using a mix of unmalted rye and barley malt or unmalted rye and malted rye. This is especially when so when considering that the whiskeys in question were consumed quite young when the finer taste points that might emerge with aging were not appreciated, generally. Malted rye was certainly understood in the era you are referring to, M'Harry gives specific instructions on how to malt rye, for example. It is known too the process is tricky to accomplish, so probably the use of all-rye mashes had to await more sophisticated, industrial techniques which were not developed until the end of the 1800's. Certainly Maytag's rye whiskey is not the only type of rye whiskey made in the era in question but it falls within the parameters, IMO.


07-06-2006, 17:37
I was surprised when I found a bottle of this at a liquor store around the corner here in CT. I wish they had a mini, because I would like to try it. But it seems to me that asking nearly $70 for what appears to be a history lesson (especially an inaccurate one) is way too steep. I'm not seeing many positive reviews of this from people who actually like this whiskey for what it is. If anything, it seems people appreciate it for what it's about.


07-06-2006, 18:39
It is sold in minis (hard to find) and if it was me buying it today, I would look for it in that form. It is a whiskey that has a unique taste and not one I can warm to. I find the historical angle of interest but not everyone may, of course. On the point of rye malt, I think it is reasonable to think some rye whiskey was made from all-malted rye "back when". Not methodically or even typically, probably, but some was. In M'Harry , section XIII, Article 1, is entitled, "To make rye malt for stilling". The comments call for steeping rye for 24 hours or 48 hours, and ultimately kilning it. However in his main recipes (e.g., half rye, half corn, 2/3rds corn, 1/3rd rye, etc.) he calls for rye and malted barley. Evidently the rye here is unmalted. We should remember that malting grains is a short-cut, mashing occurs faster and more completely when grains are malted (generally). So I infer when people had the time and ability to mash their rye (or even corn) they did so, possibly when barley was dear or unavailable for malting. Again I don't say the Potrero type rye was typical of what was made then but I feel it was in the ballpark.


07-06-2006, 20:21
On the point of rye malt, I think it is reasonable to think some rye whiskey was made from all-malted rye "back when". Not methodically or even typically, probably, but some was.

That is not an unreasonable statement. Why I think it preposterous to claim that the "typical" 18th century whiskey was 100% malted rye, as Maytag does, is because:

1. There is zero supporting evidence for the claim.

2. Malting any grain is difficult and malting rye is trickier than most.

3. Malted barley was readily available anywhere beer was made, which was just about everywhere, except on the most remote frontier.

07-06-2006, 20:26
In terms of 1800's authenticity, a lot of whiskey then was, right after stilling, leached through layers of charcoal or similar materials. M'Harry advises this constantly in the book. I'd like to know what Potrero would taste like if it had undergone that treatment before barreling (I assume it did not although I don't know for sure). At the same time, M'Harry's continual advising to use the process reveals its use was far from invariable. When M'Harry talks about the "whiskey taste" and (often) the need to eliminate or modify it, I think he is referring to some whiskey which could have tasted like Potrero does. Some of his rye whiskey may have tasted like a young, more commercial rye whiskey of today, say like Jim Beam Rye. Maybe some tasted like a young Woodford Reserve. More research needs to be done in other distilling texts and other sources of the day to get a rounder picture. The surviving George Washington distillery records disclosed production of many types of whiskey, of which, i) a small portion was aged (probably 1-2 years, and likely was an early form of straight rye), ii) a small amount again was refined numerous times and probably sold young as an early form of vodka or the now defunct light whiskey, and iii) some of which was flavoured, e.g., with cinammon. Flavored schapps isn't new. :) The rest was common rye whiskey, sold off the still or fairly quickly. It may have tasted like Isahia Morgan Rye Whiskey, which is very good and has a pleasing "juicy fruit" quality; I don't know though if Geo. Washington's whiskey or the Isahia Morgan underwent charcoal filtration.


07-07-2006, 07:40
...I think using all-malted rye is just a short cut and would lead more or less to the palate obtained when using a mix of unmalted rye and barley malt or unmalted rye and malted rye.

I respectfully disagree. In my experience malted and unmalted versions of the same grain are very different when it comes to their effect on the flavor of a spirit. Malted rye has a very distinct flavor, instantly observable in Old Potrero and Lot 40, which is nothing like straight rye made with unmalted rye, just as unmalted barley adds a very distinct flavor to Irish whiskey, clearly different from the flavor of all-malted-barley Scotch.

A book about moonshining I read once included a recipe that started with malting a bag of corn. That would have produced a spirit nothing like the corn whiskey we know! I would love to taste a whiskey made with malted corn, or malted wheat for that matter. The latter is certainly readily available due to its common use in brewing beer.

07-07-2006, 08:22
Chuck, it's not easy to do the comparison you mention. Lot 40 is (my understanding) a combination of malted and unmalted rye. Generally, the malted component would be less than the other. Still though, as you say there is a resemblance to Old Potrero. The comparison with, say, any of the other rye whiskeys out in the market, which all use (I believe) unmalted rye (say, Old Overholt), is hard to make because they are partly corn. There is no recipe I know of in the market that uses, say, 20% barley malt and 80% unmalted rye which is a traditional recipe for rye whiskey (see Byrn on this and Fortune Magazine's 1933 article on the looming end of Prohibition). When you add unmalted grain to the malted in the mash, the unmalted gets malted. Yes, it is "different" because not kilned but it is in the ballpark of rye whiskey flavours IMO. I did say, too, "more or less..". As for Irish whiskey, there does seem a "pot still" taste that comes from unmalted grains. But I am not sure about this. We see it even after 3 distillations to a high proof. It might result from other factors, added to which, Bushmills single malt, which has no unmalted grains in it, tastes notably quite "Irish"! It might have something to do with the stills there, or the kinds of barley used, or even the yeasts. I just don't know. But M'Harry talks about raw rye and malted indifferently. He does state that corn makes as "good" a whiskey as rye, so he was conscious of taste difference to a degree. Yet he never suggests that the use of malted rye would produce a worse whiskey than using unmalted or vice versa. I understand what you are suggesting but I'm just not sure the case exists to say the tastes from using one or the other are that different all things being equal.


07-07-2006, 11:24
Lot 40 is not, to be sure, pure malted rye, but it definitely has some malted rye in the mashbill. Old Potrero is indeed all malted rye, and has a distinctive flavor. Lot 40 is the only other whiskey I've had that shows the same flavor, albeit certainly not as strongly. So, from that I deduce that malted rye has a distinctive flavor of its own, distinct from the flavor that unmalted rye brings to straight rye or rye-mashbill bourbon. It sure seems to me that some chemical change in the grain as a result of malting changes the flavor of the resulting spirit.

Regarding the barley in Irish whiskey, I have never side-by-sided Bushmill's Malt with other Irish whiskeys, although I have had it and it seemed to me pretty similar to Lowland SMSW (which tends to be lighter than other SMSW), and did not show the flavor component which I believe to be the unmalted barley. If we ever end up in the same place at the same time, that could make for an interesting tasting experiment!

07-07-2006, 12:19
Indeed. I still have that bottle of Port Ellen by the way!


07-07-2006, 19:11
I have a bottle of the Old Potrero "Single Malt Straight Rye" (90 proof), which I need to revisit. It was a bit on the pricy side - which is why I haven't had many pours from it - but I've certainly liked the pours I've had. I've likened it to a rye that took a detour through Speyside, and that's not a bad thing (even though I flat-out love the likes of Rittenhouse BIB and WT Rye).

07-07-2006, 19:28
I have a bottle of the Old Potrero "Single Malt Straight Rye" (90 proof)...

Herein lies a problem I have with Old Potrero and Fritz Maytag -- every issue seems to be something different. Now, that may be great for marketing to the "I-gotta-have-every-variation" crowd, but I find it irritating.
I have the barrel-proof (125.2) "19th Century" straight rye whiskey, aged for three years. I find it (not its price, however) quite palatable. But I tried the new Hotalings Potrero at WhiskyFest Chicago and found it remarkably similar to the $18 unaged West Virginia rye, Isiaiah Morgan. The Hotalings was aged 11 years, but in uncharred barrels.
Now here's this 'single-malt spirit'. Well, so? I have no frame of reference, even within the Old Potrero family, how it should taste. And I'm not going to shell out that kind of money on pure amusement -- not when I know what I'm getting with so many other whiskeys.

Hedmans Brorsa
07-08-2006, 03:02
I would pretty much agree about these tasting notes - the only exception being the alcohol scent on the nose. Then again, my bottle is something like 2 years and 10 months. Maybe almost a year of extra aging has sorted out that issue?

What baffles me, though, is that so many seem to find similarities with Scotch. I have tried malts from about 50 different distilleries and I cannot sense any traces of kinship with Potrero. In my view, this whiskey is unique.

Irish single malt vs Lowland Scotch? I would agree that the products from the Cooley distillery has a marked Lowland character. Not so the malts from Bushmills, who are so smooth and soft that they make even the Lowland malts seem like monsters! :)

07-09-2006, 17:57
To find something that tastes similar to Old Potrero, you have to go to something like grappa or marc, or slivovitz.

Hedmans Brorsa
07-11-2006, 02:54
To my knowledge, Ive never had grappa or marc.

A friend of mine who is half-Croatian used to treat us to slivovitz during my University days. I have to say that it is very much an acquired taste. Unlike whiskey, who I took to almost immediately, I found slivovitz hard to stomach. Took me quite a while to get used to it.

Then again, if I understand it right, almost any Eastern European country produces its own form of slivovitz so there may be huge differences in between.

What I was coming to, in a somewhat long-winded fashion, was that I find no similarities between Potrero and Croatian slivovitz, at least.

07-11-2006, 15:31
I can't say if I've had Croation slivovitz, but I have had it from a couple of different countries and it's all pretty similar. If you read what I said, I said the nearest comparison would be something like slivovitz, in that Old Potrero is very raw, sharp, harsh, vegetal, etc. Old Potrero is closer to those unaged brandy-type spirits as a group than it is to other whiskeys, as a group, in my opinion, but I wouldn't make too much of that statement. It's probably sufficient to say Old Potrero is in a class by itself.

Hedmans Brorsa
07-12-2006, 02:19
Old Potrero is very raw, sharp, harsh, vegetal, etc.

This is my problem! I seem to be (almost) alone in regarding OP as non-raw, non-sharp and non-harsh :grin:

Then again, I´ve only had two bottles so far, (oh, how I tried to lay my hands on a Hotaling bottling but to no avail :( ) one non-straight, aged in used barrels, and one straight rye. In my view both are delicious, amazingly sophisticated for their age. To these deviating taste buds, Fritz Maytag never fails to deliver!

I actually have an unopened bottle of (Croatian) slivovitz at home. Maybe it´s time for a side-by-side comparison?

07-12-2006, 12:23
In fairness, I should say that for a small company with very small output, Maytag puts out a lot of different whiskey. Most of the Old Potrero I have tasted is raw, sharp, etc., but when I particiated in the WHISKY Magazine "Best-of-the-Best" tasting, the Old Potrero we tasted (blind, so I only knew after the fact) tasted like a very flavorful, mature rye whiskey. I believe it had been aged for three years, at least according to the label, but the taste suggested it was longer.

07-12-2006, 17:16
This has just become available in Australia through www.southtradeint.com.au (http://www.southtradeint.com.au)
I'm planning on picking up a bottle in the next week or so to evaluate :)

11-07-2006, 12:27
Sipping the Hotaling's bottling (ten years old, 50% abv). It's finally become clear to me. This whiskey (as well as the others, including the "straight" bottling) should not be evaluated against Kentucky straight rye. One of the profound characteristics of this whiskey is an oiliness. And the addition of water does not merely soften (as it does with most bourbons and KY straight ryes), but causes the whiskey to explode in complexity. These two factors, combined with its all-rye-malt makeup, lead me to believe that this whiskey should be evaluated in the space of other malt whisk(e)ys. Under that evaluation, these drams (particularly the Hotalings) are very, very exciting and interesting.

01-04-2007, 10:21
What you say about the reaction to Old Portrero at the WM b of b tasting is very interesting. I think that Old Potrero is really suis generis and hard to classify. Because its 100% rye it is not abourbon or even a rye according to the legal definition...
I had a head to head between Old Potrero and Elijah Craig 12 (my favorite bourbon) and everyone thought the OP was all in all better, more noble and a better spirit. This is the one at 3 years old, the 19th century version.

BTW, I remember reading the first report of the Best of the Best's original incarnation and being really intrigued about the fact that some distillery managers coudn't recognize their own product!! I was wondering if you could share some reminiscence about what must have been a fascinating event...:bowdown:

01-04-2007, 21:42
What you say about the reaction to Old Portrero at the WM b of b tasting is very interesting. I think that Old Potrero is really suis generis and hard to classify. Because its 100% rye it is not abourbon or even a rye according to the legal definition...

It is a rye by the legal definition - since the definition doesn't specify a upper limit for rye content. Its uniqueness, though, is that it is 100% malted rye - and, being from one distillery, it qualifies as a single malt. Rye is very difficult to malt, and "normal" straight ryes have some barley malt in the mash to provide the necessary enzymes for breaking the starches down to sugars, with unmalted rye and a smaller portion of corn to provide most of the mash.

I have the 90-proof straight rye version of Old Potrero, and I'd compare it more to Highland Scotches than to traditional straight ryes - but it is distinctly different as it's rye not barley.

11-07-2007, 15:50
OP is great, especially with a drop of water added, but where can I buy it? Here in Montgomery County, Md. the county stores don't have it, no do the surrounding areas, apparently.

11-07-2007, 16:09
Not that this will do you any good, but it's usually pretty easy to get around here but, now that I think about it, they didn't have any at Binny's just now, although I usually see it at Sam's.

11-07-2007, 16:31
Not Binny's, not Sam's.

12-05-2007, 13:44
I went through exactly one bottle of this a year or so back. Tried everything from mixing it with ginger ale to neat in a sniffer. It is quality and it is what it is and I'm glad I gave a solid college try but its not my cup of tea. I will copy their graphics though if I ever buy a barrel and have it custom labeled.


12-23-2007, 06:27
I just got a chance to taste the three-year-old straight (new charred wood) version of this (distilled 1995, bottled 1999). Barrel proof (62.6%, I think). Absolutely stunning, with the vanilla, toffee from the wood combining with the fruit and spice from the malt.

12-23-2007, 07:26
I just got a chance to taste the three-year-old straight (new charred wood) version of this (distilled 1995, bottled 1999). Barrel proof (62.6%, I think). Absolutely stunning, with the vanilla, toffee from the wood combining with the fruit and spice from the malt.
Jake, this bottling showed up in the VBT thread here:

I agree that it's certainly enjoyable whiskey. Just wish you could count on Maytag to make the same thing more than once, and at a price I could regularly afford.

03-06-2008, 17:08
interesting that no one uses a malted corn. without proof or other than hearsay, i have heard that malting corn was considered (at one time) the 'elegant' way of making corn whiskey.

'triple distilled' was another, with a 3rd distillation being the combined 'low wines' of initial fermentation (distillation), and a re-fermenting (and secondary distillation) (of the same malted corn mash) with some sugar, the feints and slobbers (not the foreshots) of the first run.. added to the second.

for economy's sake, primarily, to extract every speck of the possible alcohol. but, consequentially, getting all the flavors of the grain as well..

now, it's been 40 years since i discussed it with knowledgeable people and i'm not attempting to prove any of it, but it's as i heard it.. i suspect the malting of various grains, most especially corn, had more to do with the pride and work ethic of the individual 'shiner, and the logistics of it, than adherence to a fixed recipe.

I'd love to see some malted corn whisky done in an alembic still and aged in Jerez sherry barrels. :) any volunteers?

03-13-2008, 04:01
I'm no expert in malting but my understanding is that corn is very difficult and time consuming to malt which would fall under your pride and work ethic heading. I accidently malted some a few years back when I allowed a plastic bin full of corn bought to feed wildlife to sprout while sitting in my garage. Apparently the condensation and hot summer was enough to sprout the corn. When I opened the lid I must say whiskey was the farthest thing from my mind.