rye whiskey review

Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey (2016) Review

Michters Barrel Strength Rye 2016

Michter’s Distillery has released a year’s worth of limited production whiskies, and it’s only May.  So far, 2016 has seen both their limited production 10-year-old rye whiskey and 10-year-old bourbon hit shelves.  Now, add another limited production whiskey to the list, as we’re seeing the second release of their robust barrel strength rye whiskey.  The first bottling came last spring, and it was fantastic.  You can read my review here.

The standard rye expression from Michter’s is bottled at 84.8 proof.  I think it is tasty, but lacks some “oomph”.  That was all corrected with their barrel strength rye.  This single barrel rye whiskey ranges in proof from 110.2 to 114.8 proof.  My sample bottle, from barrel 16D432, comes in at 111.8 proof.  Retail for Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey is $75.

Michter’s barrel entry proof is 103 proof, which is lower than a majority of the big producers.  Why does the mean for the flavor of the whiskey?  Bourbon historian Michael Veach explains barrel entry proof at length in a great article on his website.

Rich and mouthwatering is a good description for the nose.  Concentrated aromas of dark brown sugar, allspice, vanilla frosting, and creamy caramel hit your nose all at once.  In a strange way, it sort of reminds me of the nose from a 1980 bottling of Wild Turkey 101 I had a few months back.  That sort of makes sense, as high-rye mashbilled Wild Turkey’s barrel entry proof back then was pretty low.  Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye is full-bodied, coating your tongue in a melange of bold flavors.  What appeared on the nose is also found on the palate.  Think caramelized dark brown sugar and creamy butter on the entry.  Allspice, rye spice, cinnamon stick, and some vanilla extract soon develop mid-palate, as does a touch of oak and black cherry.  This almost comes across as a high-rye bourbon rather than a rye whiskey.  The rich, dark brown sugar/caramel/vanilla/spice flavor combination lacks the overt sharpness of most rye whiskies.  The rye grain shows up in the modest finish, which is a bit dry.

I find that this 2016 release is slightly more enjoyable than the 2015 release, which was a standout rye.  This year’s edition is dangerously drinkable.  No, seriously.  Michter’s Barrel Strength rye whiskey is one you will fall in love with instantly.  Spoil yourself and pick up a bottle.

(Note: A review sample was provided by Michter’s.)

High West Midwinter Nights Dram Review

High West Midwinter Nights Dram 2

High West one of the country’s premier craft distillers (I know that term is contentious).  Yes, they are distilling whiskey, but the majority of their current stock is sourced whiskey.  That doesn’t matter as they have a master’s skill in blending what they do source.  Just look at their excellent Bourye, a blend of bourbon and rye whiskey.  Or their solid and very enjoyable Rendezvous Rye.  However, High West Distillery is not content on resting on its laurels.  They find themselves experimenting with different blends and finishes.  For example, they’ve taken their Rendezvous Rye and finished it in ex-port casks and French oak casks.  The result is A Midwinter Nights Dram, a play on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

High West Midwinter Nights Dram 1A Midwinter Nights Dram is a limited release whiskey, usually hitting shelves in the fall.  My sample bottle is Act 3, Scene 1, which translates to the third batch and first bottling day.  It’s bottled at 98.6 proof… yes, that’s the average body temperature.  The suggested price is $90, which is a $40 premium over High West’s Rendezvous Rye.

The base whiskey is High West’s very solid Rendezvous Rye.  It’s a blend of a 6-year-old rye whiskey (MGP-distilled rye whiskey with a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley) and a 16-year old rye whiskey, produced at the Barton distillery.  That one carries a mashbill of 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% barley.  This blend of rye whiskies is then finished in both French oak barrels and ex-port barrels.  French oak casks usually impart some spiciness to whiskies, while the port barrels will add some fruit notes.

That 95% rye from MGP is known for it’s prominent dill aroma, and it’s the first note out of the glass.  Past that are wonderful aromas of cinnamon dough, sweet vanilla, light toffee, and fruit tart.  A blast of warm cinnamon spice hits your tongue on entry, developing into dark brown sugar, a not-so-sharp and semi-sweet rye grain.  Candied orange peel ever so slightly peaks through the bed of flavors.  The port barrel finish provides some much welcome dried fruits in the form of dried black cherry and dried plum.  Aged vanilla and oak lead us to the long finish filled with rich toffee and baking spice.

I previously said and still stand by my statement that Rendezvous Rye is a solid whiskey, especially for its $50 price tag.  But taking that rye further with a short, secondary maturation in port and French oak barrels has turned it into a completely different whiskey.  Well duh!  But is it good?  No.  It’s utterly fantastic.  A Midwinter Nights Drams is promoted by High West as the perfect wintertime, fireside dram.  I think they’re spot on.  The whole tasting experience almost comes across like a Christmas cake with it’s sweetness and spice, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  This one comes with a very high recommendation and is on the shortlist for my favorite whiskies of the year.

(Note: A review sample was provided by High West.)

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey Review

If there’s one thing Utah’s High West distillery does well, it’s blending whiskey to create something unique.  Sometimes, it’s really different.  Look no further than their Bourye, a bourbon and rye whiskey blend, or their Campfire whiskey, made up of bourbon, rye whiskey and peated Scotch.  Other times, High West sticks to mixing similar types of whiskies together, which leads us to Rendezvous Rye.

High West Rendezvous Rye 1

As stated right on its label, Rendezvous Rye is a “blend of straight rye whiskies.”  In the case of the current batch, it’s a blend of 6-year-old and 16-year-old rye whiskies.  The younger rye comes from MGP in Indiana in the form of their famous 95% rye & 5% malted barley mashbill.  The Barton distillery in Bardstown, KY, provides the 16-year-old rye whiskey.  The mashbill here is 80% rye, 10% corn, and 10% barley.

High West does not chill filter their whiskies, and Rendezvous Rye is no exception.  It’s proofed down to 46% abv (92 proof) and available for about $50.  My sample bottle is from batch 15I22.

Based on the price point, it’s safe to say the majority of this blend is comprised of the younger whiskey, presumably giving it a youthful quality and showcasing the rye grain.  The older rye should mellow things out and provide some more complex aromas and flavors.

The nose has that dill note usually found in MGP’s 95% rye whiskey, but this whiskey is not a one trick pony.  I pick up some caramel and vanilla, as well as a little oak.  The nose is just okay.  Where this whisky really shines is in the flavor department.  The entry is full of sweet cinnamon and a sharp rye grain.  That develops into rich toffee, light brown sugar, and vanilla bean.  A bit of astringency follows courtesy of oak from the older whiskey.  Fresh spearmint shows up on the backend and freshens things up, leading to a long, semi-sweet and minty finish.

This is a VERY pleasing whiskey.  Blends are nothing new in the American whiskey business, but High West is leagues ahead of most.  Taking an already tasty 95% rye MGP whiskey and adding some much older rye of a different mashbill elevates this release from good to great.  There are lots of decent rye whiskies on the market.  Why choose decent when you can buy this for a price that won’t break the bank.  Highly recommended.

(Note: A review sample was provided by High West.)