Well, I thought I'd sampled the gamut of rye with my recent tastings at Whiskyfest - I've had the Sazerac, the VW 13, Old Potrero and Anchor's charred oak rye, as well as Beam, Old Overholt, Wild Turkey, and, of course, my holy grail, Sam Thompson. The only ones I've missed (I thought) were the Hirsch and VW 12-year-old premium ryes and Pikesville and Stephen Foster (?) low-priced ryes.

So, I walk into the Shadyside specialty LCB store in Pittsburgh last night, and see this squat, black-waxed bottle with a simple buff label featuring a line-drawing of a keg, and announcing that this was "The Classic Cask hand crafted Single Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey - Aged 15 years". Written in pen was "Batch #: RW-102, Distilled: 1984, Bottled: 1999, Bottle #: 106/263", and further down, "90 proof, 45% Alc. by Vol., Distilled and Bottled in Kentucky". On a small back label we have "bottled by the Classic Cask Co., Bardstown, KY, Spirit Imports, Inc., sole distributors". This little item went for $50 the bottle - there were three on the shelf. I bought one.

On getting it home and chewing away at the black wax, I note a cork that's fresh and clean-smelling, not an old or abused bottle. The whiskey is a relatively dark mahogany brown. In my little snifter the body is extraordinarily thick and viscous, with legs that would slowly dwindle to fine threads. The nose is open and accessible - leathery rye with elements of roasting peanuts and warm springtime soil (I imagined green rye sprouts). Mouthfeel is thick and coating - I could actually chew the film on my tongue - with flavors of oak, rye-spice, blackstrap molasses and copper. The finish was medium-long, softening as it went, with a clear apple taste just as I was ready for another sip, and a final whiff of butter. This was a complex, highly mature whiskey with very clear flavor layers - to my beginner's palate, a world-class spirit.

What is this stuff? I've never heard of it before, and the age narrows the possibilities. If it's either Ken or Julian's whiskey I might better understand the quality - whoever made this should take a bow, and tell us a little about "The Classic Cask".

Ralph Wilps