I started drinking rye around 1979. At the time there were only three available (where I was), WT, JB and OO. I quickly settled on WT as my favorite. When the BTACs came out early this decade, I fell in love with the Saz 18. It became my "special occasion" rye, with the WT still around as an "everyday" pour.
December 2006 I finished off a bottle of WT. At Christmas 2006 my wife presented me with a bottle of BMH 18. I'd just opened a bottle of Saz. Just after that I began the 4 day drive to OR. Once out here I opened the BMH, and having these two on hand meant an adequate supply of sippin' rye.
About the time I joined SB.com I was ready to buy something in the lower price range. Saw the favorable comments about Ritt BiB, found some locally for $14. A good "everyday pour" for less than the WT.
Finally tried Saz Jr a couple of months ago. Wow. Takes some of the sting out of not being able to find the 18 in OR.
Middle of last week I found myself needing to come up with something for Vbt #112. Looked at the Vbt history and saw, surprisingly, that WT rye had never been done. Bought a bottle, posted notes. Second guess, by Tim (TNbourbon) got it (BTW Tim, when are we going to see Vbt #113?).
Yesterday I decided to try the Ritt, WT and Saz Jr side-by-side. Here are my notes:
Rittenhouse BIB (Brown-Forman version BTW; DSP-KY-354) $14
Nose: Lots of ethanol, which mostly blows off within ten minutes, but never completely. Burnt/brown sugar, oak, rye and a bit of spice (coriander).
Taste: Not complex. Brown sugar. Spicy rye and oak. A noticeable burn.
Finish: Medium-long. Warm, with caramel/brown sugar at first, ending with an almost peppery rye spicyness.
Comments: I've seen a numer of tasting notes which report ginger on the nose. I didn't get that. I even went to the spice rack and sniffed some ginger. No match. I sampled several other spices and the best match I got was coriander.
Wild Turkey Rye (Vbt #112 notes; yesterday's tasting gave no reason to alter these) $22
Nose: Immediately after pour, floral notes are pronounced, with spicy rye, honey, and fruit in the background. After several minutes, caramel and some vanilla emerged.
Taste: Complex, yet well-integrated, with rye, corn and even a little malt, along with honey, caramel, vanilla and smoky oak. After several minutes there were transitory flavors of citrus (orange).
Finish: Medium length; starts sweet with caramel notes, concludes dry and oaky.
Comments: The floral notes are just amazing. It's almost like a good brandy.
Nose: Pear and floral notes. Rye, with just a bit of cinnamon. The oak is barely detectable.
Taste: Clean but spicy rye. A tingley component that suggests citrus. Some caramel. Again, a little cinnamon and just a hint of oak.
Finish: Medium-long. Caramel and rye at first, followed by just a little dry oak.
Comments: Others report peach on the nose, but I get pear. Others also report the taste of mint, but I think that's the tingle that I (and others) report as citrus.
As near as I could tell these were identical in color, which was really surprising. The illumination was bright sky (north window). I turned on several lights (incandescent and CF) to see if it made any difference. It didn't. Weird.
To me there is a definite quality jump going from the Ritt to the WT and Saz. The Ritt lacks the complexity and finesse of the other two. It's good, perhaps the best under $15 straight whiskey on the market, but I think the extra $8 for the WT is worth it when looking for a sippin' whiskey.
As for the WT vs the Saz, the extra $6 for the latter does not get you a better whiskey, just a different one.
Finally, I'll mention that in all these years of drinking rye whiskey, I've only had it neat or on-the-rocks. Today I had some WT with Coke, about a 2:3 ratio (WT:C)(also the Coke was a 1:1 blend of sugar-sweetend Mexican Coke and Coke Zero). I was surprised; it was quite good. It seemed a more...(looking for the word here)...sophisticated drink than bourbon and Coke, probably because of being less sweet.
I've decided to start trying some of the traditional rye-based cocktails, the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and, of course, the Sazerac (my wife has been wanting to get some Absinthe anyway). I'll be trying all three of the ryes in these.