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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Are ryes getting better?

    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..

    Gary

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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.

    Gary

  3. #3
    Enthusiast
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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

  4. #4
    Advanced Taster
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    Aug 2002
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    Akron, Ohio
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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...

  5. #5
    Connoisseur
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    Feb 2003
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    San Francisco, CA
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    623

    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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.

  6. #6
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    === SNAP == Ok I'll but some next order

  7. #7
    Advanced Taster
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    Oct 2003
    Location
    Massachusetts
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    182

    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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 ), 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.

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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..

    Gary

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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?

    Gary

  10. #10
    Enthusiast
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    Decatur GA
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    Re: Are ryes getting better?

    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.
    Bob

 

 

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