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Last week's rye tasting

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We had a blind tasting last weekend of three rye whiskies: Classic Cask 15 yr old 90 proof, Michter's Single Barrel Straight Rye 84.8 proof, and Old Overholt 4 yr old 86 proof.

The big discovery was how the Old Overholt stood up to the Classic Cask. I've always considered OO a very gentle rye. I've never been able to turn up a bonded bottle but this 86 was distilled in PA and I've always found it pleasant but not very punchy. Well, tasted blind it had a lot more oomph than I'd given it credit for. Not a real long finish but body and flavor that was neck and neck with the 15 yr old. I'm thinking maybe the whiskey is a bit older than four years.

In the glass the color of the CC and the OO was almost identical. Dark amber. The Classic Cask, a little heavier bodied with thick slowly forming legs, but the Overholt viscous and syrupy as well.

The nose of the CC had a lot of spice candy and burnt caramel together with the characteristic rye leatheriness. I noted that I felt like I was up in the stacks of an old library. My girlfriend was very emphatic that there was "tatami mat." And maybe on her suggestion, I went back and got a grassy, strawy note. Another novice taster was amazed by the honeysuckle on the nose.

Several people noted a burnt caramel taste. Maybe because it was the first whiskey we sampled, I found it to have the spiciest taste of the three. Some people got a citric note, but I found the sweetness dominant with just a little woodiness.

I was surprised to find the finish so pleasant. Medium to long with no real astringency. The other night I got an unpleasant astringency from a pour of 15 yr old bourbon, and I thought I might encounter that here, but no way. It was spicy and sweet and lingered evenly between the two.

In comparison, everyone found the Michter's quite tame. This was kind of how I expected the Overholt to show. A very light color and a very shy nose. The whiskey slid right off the glass. It looked so different from the CC. I got some of my rye leather on the nose but not much else. Others found it "mild" or "flat". One person noted lemon and maple.

The taste was what I would expect based on the nose. Smooth and gentle and light on the tongue. I found it very easy to drink and not at all unpleasant but not the full flavor experience that I expect. "Light anise with a wooden core" was one note.

The finish was short and simple. One person had it as "medicinal". I didn't find that. Overall I'd call it unobtrusive and inoffensive. Since then I've used it to mix Manhattans and Up-to-dates and they were terrific.

Finally, the Old Overholt. As noted, it was as rich and promising in the glass as its older rival. The nose said cookie dough all the way: brown sugar, vanilla, butter. There was also a surprising amount of "alcohol" on the nose which some described as acetone or witchhazel.

It had a very rich buttery mouthfeel, coating nicely. And a surprising amount of woodiness. I wouldn't have been surprised if I'd found out it was the 15 yr old. It had a very nice prickly spiciness and a lingering, if not overly long, warming finish.

The consensus was that if you wanted a single shot of rye, go with the Classic Cask, but for something you could sip all night long, Old Overholt was the man.

So again, the Old Overholt surprised me. The older bottlings continue to appeal. And since this one was blind, it can't just be nostalgia for the tax strips. As I'm a tax strip model myself, this fact is kind of comforting.

We followed up the tasting with a tub of guacamole and some Manhattan-smoked North Carolina-style pulled pork. A good time was had by all.


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