I received this lovely looking duo of ryes courtesy of Axiom Brands – many thanks.
Being a self confessed rye head WhistlePig loomed large yet had always eluded me.
Now was my chance to try them out.
First the controversy.
To begin with WhistlePig didn’t distill their own rye. They bought a load of Canadian Rye destined to be used in blending, shipped it across the border & finished it to WhistlePig’s own requirements at their Vermont Farm.
Having built up a bit of a following & brand recognition they latterly distill their own rye made from grain grown on the farm, aged in oak trees from Vermont & cut with water from the farm well.
Some folks have a problem with this.
To me it makes sound business sense being able to sell sourced product before your own matures. It also allows experimentation & a growing knowledge in handling the spirit in advance of committing even more money into building a distillery.
But what really interests me is how it tastes.
So let’s go!
WhistlePig 10 Year Old, Straight Rye, 50%
Very marginally paler than the 12yo.
Classic peppery rye spice on the nose yet balanced & nuanced with the decade in oak.
A powerful rye hit on tasting. The balance has gone as rye spices shine through with added tannins in the mix leading to a long lasting dry finish.
A no nonsense take no prisoners brute of a rye.
WhistlePig 12 Year Old, Old World Rye, 43%
Can I detect a slightly darker hue to this one?
The rye spices have taken on a more rounded, almost perfumed nose. Makes me want to jump in!
Softer on the palate, even creamy to begin with, before it reminds you this is a rye with that classic dry peppery spice slowly growing in intensity.
A more balanced & complex rye that benefits from it’s ageing in Madeira, Sauternes & Port Casks.
The ‘in yer face’ honesty of the 10 or the complexity of the 12?
Both have their good points – but on balance – the Old World 12 piques my interest the most.
The novel triple cask approach adds depth & variety to the classic rye canon.
It’s not everyday you get a whisky sample sent through the post – especially one as outstanding as Highland Rye Single Grain Whisky from Arbikie Distillery in Arbroath, Scotland.
To begin with, this is a farm to bottle operation.
The grains used – barley, rye & wheat in this instance – are grown in the fields around the distillery.
There is also no chill filtration nor added colouring to mute the fabulous flavours within.
And it’s a rye.
The first for many a year Scotland has produced.
Rye at one stage was a common grain used in a mixed mashbill distillation by both Scottish and Irish distillers as testified by a certain Mr Jameson at the 1909 ‘What is Whisky’ enquiry.
It happens to be a grain I’m very attracted to.
It adds a bit of bite, a dash of dry peppery spice, a certain boldness, a touch of character and a degree of complexity to any whiskey.
Rye has no legal definition in either Scotland nor Ireland. Yet in America – often seen as the home of rye – it must have a mashbill content of at least 51% rye to gain the title – which this Highland Rye does.
So what’s it like to drink?
The nose captures the classic dry peppery spice augmented by elements of cherry sweetness from the PX cask finish.
The barley & wheat bring a silky smoothness to begin with, coating the palate in a warm snug of dark fruitiness before the rye makes itself known.
The palate gradually dries off into a wonderfully prickly peppery spice with hints of cherries dancing around on the enjoyably long finish.
The PX finish adds another layer of depth & complexity to this rye.
On a back to back tasting with its 2 year old sibling – which I purchased on first hearing Scotland had produced a rye – the youthful exuberance & freshness resulted in a cleaner, more classic peppery spice experience balanced with a barley smoothness.
The PX finish of the 3 year old – which is still a relatively unusual style of rye even in America – boosts that joyful youthfulness with richer, darker elements.
Arbroath – more famous for stovies & smokies – can now add rye to the culinary & quaffable delights on offer.
My thanks to all at Arbikie for the opportunity to taste this gorgeous rye whisky.
I was supposed to be revising for an exam – but the Teeling Small Batch on the Aer Lingus flight only reacquainted myself with this lovely little blend & provided a taster for what was unknowingly to come.
After checking into the city centre hotel – a quick read over the course book – it was out for a wander to visit the Whiskey Jar pub.
The promise of 400+ whiskies to whet my appetite accompanied by a tasty pie for the late Sunday afternoon lunch sounded too good to miss.
On entering I was taken aback!
Gathered in the pub were a clutch of whiskey companies displaying their wares.
A small cover charge – along with a tasting glass – had me at the first stall.
I got fierce excited at last years Whiskey Live Dublin over the opportunity to sample an Irish rye whiskey that was still maturing in Kilbeggan Distillery.
The bottle was filled straight from the cask at over 60% ABV & presented non chill filtered without added caramel.
It was powerful – yet the mashbill of malted & unmalted barley together with a high rye content displayed that wonderful peppery rye spiciness with a smooth & creamy barley influence.
Almost a year on the production bottle has been released in time for Whiskey Live Dublin 2018 – as well as picking up a Gold Medal at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards.
As a self confessed rye fan I picked up a bottle in the distillery on my return from the highly enjoyable awards evening at Slane Castle.
Now the bottle design is rather muted & understated. There are some lovely tasting notes on the back label – an unexplained handshake logo on the neck – and a nod to the historical inclusion of rye in Irish whiskey making from times past.
I fully welcome the return of rye to the modern Irish whiskey scene.
On the nose it’s very soft, slightly sweet with just a hint of peppery spice that signifies the rye content.
The palate is also very silky & smooth. The barley content dominates the initial experience before that black pepper spiciness – which I love – kicks in to leave a wonderfully drying mouthfeel at the end which slowly fades away.
At 43% & with added caramel – which is found throughout the Kilbeggan range of whiskeys – I couldn’t help feeling some of the spark & vitality of that original cask sample had been lost a little in this more tame offering.
I just had to compare it with the Arbikie Highland Rye released late 2017 in Scotland.
Now this is also a barley/rye mix – but there’s no unmalted barley – and the rye content is higher at 52%. It’s also younger at only 2 years old & has no added caramel or chill filtering. It’s bottled at 46%.
There is more pronounced rye on the nose.
The smoothness & creaminess of the barley belies it’s young age before a joyfully massively drying peppery spice explodes on the palate leaving a fabulously prickly finish.
I’m afraid to say – when it comes to rye – Scotland do it better.
An opportunity to taste without prejudice. To judge all equally without bias to distillery of origin or mash bill. To savour & enjoy new tastes & styles in a manner echoing the ethos of the Declaration Of Independence written all those years ago.
Yet the Midlands masses were not moved and on the day there were more whiskey expressions on offer than punters to drink them.
Ah well. All the more for those that did attend.
I tried to put together a flight of whiskeys that represented as many different styles of American bourbon – to compare & contrast – within the limitations of what was readily available in Ireland.
To kick off with – a pair of entry level bourbons showed that even within the same category there were differences of taste & flavour.
To be labelled ‘bourbon’ under American rules means a minimum of 51% corn used in the mash bill. The mash bill is the ratio of grains used to make the whiskey – usually made up of the big 4; corn, wheat, rye & barley.
I twinned an Aldi own brand Clarke’s 1866 Old Kentucky Straight Sour Mash Whiskey with a market leading Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. Most preferred the Jack – although Clarke’s wasn’t far behind.
Considering one is twice the price of the other – it just goes to show you can get a decent pour of a fairly standard bourbon at an affordable cost if you’re prepared to shop around.
The next pour moved up a level both in terms of cost and flavour – FEW Rye Whiskey. All agreed this was a far more complex, definitely a different style and a far more satisfying whiskey. The spicy rye dominated the palate yet was balanced by the sweet corn element in the mash bill.
The rye presence continued into the Brothership Irish – American Whiskey. A collaboration between Connacht Distillery in Ballina and New Liberty Distillery in Philly. It’s a blend of 10 year old Irish Single Malt & a 10 year old American Rye. A lighter & smoother start than the previous pours – all picked out the Irish malt influence – yet joyfully morphed into a lovely drying peppery spice at the end. You can pick out the 2 different styles within the same glass and marvel at how they both compliment each other in the final mix. Fabulous.
I was very much looking forward to the next bourbon.
A representative at Hi-Spirits Ireland – a distribution company handling the Sazerac, Buffalo Trace portfolio – reached out to donate some liquid for the Blind Tasting. Much appreciated.
The bottle in question also happened to hail from the Barton 1792 Distillery which recently suffered a rickhouse collapse causing much loss of bourbon & property. Although thankfully no injuries.
1792 Small Batch Bourbon.
Again – much like the Brothership – this was a whiskey in 2 halves.
To begin with a rich, deep vanilla & burnt caramel coated the mouth leading you into a drier, cinnamon spice rye body which finished in a delightfully playful prickly heat. This ‘high rye’ bourbon pleased all present – although there was no clear overall winner on the night before the bottles were revealed. Beautiful bourbon indeed.
The final offering was more of a fun product.
Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye Mash.
This is the American equivalent of Irish Poitin. Raw un-aged whiskey.
At 62.5% this White Dog certainly packed a punch – yet was extremely palatable & very enjoyable. That familiar – slightly sour – new make nose, the oiliness on first tasting proceeding to a soft dry rye spice rounded the evening off with a bang.