Rye Whiskey
 

Best Rye Whiskey

 

The Fifty Best Rye Whiskey Tasting 2020


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 27 American rye whiskies with a panel of 14 judges. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Strict tasting rules were applied. The rye whiskies were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at room temperature. Each of the ryes were judged and scored separately. Only ice water, unflavored unsalted crackers and chips were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. The tasting notes below are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The distilleries, states of origin, alcohol proof and other tidbits are identified for each brand. Clicking on the brands' names will link to their websites. Following the tasting results is a brief history of rye whiskey.

DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
(Sugarlands Distilling Co., TN)  Aged 4 yrs.
Bottled-in-Bond.  100° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, sticky toffee, dark chocolate, molasses, Bit o’Honey, honey, vanilla, warm apple bread pudding, banana, cherries, sweet rye grain, rye, nutty, mint, cloves, spice, sweet spice, cigar, leather, earthy, peat, fresh wood, cedar, sweet cedar, oak, sherry.
Palate: Salted caramel, chocolate, dark chocolate with sea salt, buttery, creamy, vanilla, honey, rum raisin, raisins, roasted figs, plum, orange zest, sarsaparilla, coffee, sweetened wheat, toasty, spicy herb, Italian oregano, nutmeg, spice, baking spices, white pepper, black pepper, smoky, charred oak, new oak, rich, zesty.
Finish: Toffee, chocolate, brown sugar, sweet corn, plum, fig jam, rye, wheat, nutty, nutmeg, spice, spicy, peppery, smoky, high ABV, clean, bold, Old Fashioned cocktail preferred, nice, surprisingly smooth, delicious.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey



North American Steamship Single Malt Rye Whiskey
(Quincy Street Distillery, IL)  Aged 4 yrs.
Bottled-in-Bond.  100° prf

Nose: Toffee, hot chocolate, cocoa, mocha, nougat, crème brûlée, sugar cane, maple syrup, honey, clover honey, stewed apples, apple, green apple, fresh lemon, anisette, mint, dried herbs, dough, rye, grain, toast, cashew, roasted nuts, nutty, leather, smoky, oak, toasted oak, char 4.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, creamy, dark chocolate, mocha, honey, dried fruit, plum, rose, orange peel, orange, citrus, citrus pith, vanilla cake, warm baked goods, buttered toast, sweet grain, wheat, rye, almond, nuttiness, peppermint tea, fennel, sage, clove, cinnamon, spice, baking spices, black pepper, spicy, sandalwood, cork, oak, rustic, balanced.
Finish: Nutty, buttery, grain notes, nutmeg, cinnamon, balanced warm spices, spices, black pepper, smoky, well balanced, zingy, smooth, perfect.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



North American Steamship Single Malt Rye Whiskey



Ragged Branch Virginia Straight Rye Whiskey
( Ragged Branch Distillery, VA)  100° prf

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, maple, honey, caramelized apples, fig, dates, raisin, dried fruit, sweet cereal grains, toast, walnuts, straw, hay, herbal, menthol, cardamom, leather, earth, smoky, sweet wood, oak.
Palate: Chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate mint, cocoa, burned sugar, creamy, vanilla, dried fig, ripe banana, stewed cherries, graham cracker, rye toast, rye flour, wheat, grain, cereal grains, toast, straw, roasted nuts, walnuts, nutty, coffee, black pepper, spicy, leather, tobacco leaves, oak, charred oak, zesty.
Finish: Cocoa, vanilla, molasses, sugar cane, honey, raisins, bread, toast, coffee, spices, black pepper, dusty, earthy, smoky, good balance, complex, soft, smooth, rum-like, elegant.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Ragged Branch Virginia Straight Rye Whiskey



Echo Straight Rye Whiskey
(Echo Spirits Distilling, OH)   Aged 2 yrs.  93° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, butterscotch, cocoa, nougat, maple syrup, vanilla, cream, dried fruit, stewed raisin, banana, cookie dough, dough, toast, grain, nutty, nutmeg, cinnamon, lemongrass, mint, beeswax, oiled leather, cedar, pine, oak, new oak, sherry, brandy.
Palate: Toffee, sticky toffee pudding, salted caramel, dark chocolate, nougat, sugar cane, creamy, sweet cream, vanilla, honey, orange blossom honey, raisins, dried fruit, cherry, ripe banana, pistachio ice cream, ginger, grain notes, toast, rye, walnut, clove, spice, peppery, herbs, earth, cedar, oak, rich.
Finish: Lingering mocha, coffee, creamy, vanilla, honey, grain, creamy spice, sweet spice, nutmeg, slowly builds to a spicy crescendo, woody, zesty, smooth, mellow.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Echo Straight Rye Whiskey



King's Family Distillery Ryeconic
Twice Barreled Straight Rye Whiskey

( IN/TN)  Aged at least 4 yrs.  110° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, cane sugar, dark chocolate, nougat, vanilla, honey, banana, apple, grapey, rum cake, toasted cinnamon raisin bread, honey roasted peanuts, pecans, cocoa, coffee, rye bread, grain, mint, nutmeg, cinnamon, spice, chili peppers, dusty, earth, woody, oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, chocolate, mocha, molasses, brown sugar, buttery, vanilla, honey, fruit cake, dried fruit, dried figs, coconut, ripe banana, apricot, orange, citrus, cherry, grain, toast, walnuts, nutmeg, spices, smoky, green oak, oak, cedar, gradual heat, nicely sweet, well balanced.
Finish: Caramel, vanilla, sweet vanilla, mocha, cherry, orange zest, herbs, mint, rye, toast, grain, nutty, nutmeg, spice, fresh wood, smoky, high ABV, complex, smooth, nice, mellow, zingy, zesty, firecracker, delicious, delish.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



King's Family Distillery Ryeconic Twice Barreled Straight Rye Whiskey



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS


Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
(Kentucky Peerless Distilling, KY)  109.8° prf

Nose: Toffee, cocoa, brown sugar, maple, buttery, vanilla, honey, raisin, prunes, dried apricots, sweet cherry, bananas foster, peach, orange peel, green apple, rose water, floral, mince pie, grain, nuts, cloves, baking spice, suede, smoky wood, oak, sherry.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, truffle, chocolate, creamy, vanilla, sweet vanilla, honey, dried apple, banana bread, sweet grains, grain, rye, caramel toasted almonds, nutty, sweet nuttiness, straw, cloves, cinnamon, sweet spices, pepper, peppery, herbaceous, sea salt, tobacco, smoky, woody, oak, sherry, nicely balanced, rich, zesty, silky, smooth.
Finish: Caramel, chocolate, sweet vanilla, maple syrup, mint, spice, spicy, earth, smoky, camp fire, fresh wood, oaky, perfectly balanced, Rob Roy cocktail preferred, smooth, cozy, nice & mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey



Belfour Rye Whiskey
(Belfour Spirits, KY)  94° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, chocolate, cocoa, brown sugar, vanilla, honey, raisins, plums, clementine, light citrus, grain, toast, rye flour, rye, black tea, coffee, hazelnuts, roasted nuts, salted popcorn, clove, baking spices, jalapeño pepper, spicy, smoke, oak, cedar, sherry.
Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, cocoa, buttery, cream, vanilla, honey, rum raisin, plum, Asian plum, stewed cherry, overripe banana, green apple, ginger, rose, potpourri, black tea, peppermint tea sweet grains, rye flour, cinnamon baked goods, nutty, clove, nutmeg, oregano, tobacco, soy sauce, hint of smoke, sherry casks, woody, oak, smooth.
Finish: Cocoa, raisins, dried fruit, marmalade, brown sugar, butter, lingering coffee, nutmeg, eucalyptus, soft earthy tones, delicate, smooth, zesty, approachable, yummy, perfect.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Belfour Rye Whiskey



Detroit City Distillery Homegrown Rye Reserve
(MI)  Aged 1 yr.  94° prf

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, dark chocolate, brown sugar, root beer, cherry, vanilla, rising batter, honey, sweet nuts, grain, flour, rye flour, rye, toast, nutmeg, baking spices, herbal, fresh mint, minty, jalapeño, black pepper, bamboo, green wood, woody, oak, cedar.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, butterscotch, toffee, creamy, dark chocolate, mocha, vanilla, sugarcane, cherry cola, stewed cherry, dried fruit, sweet fig, baked apple, ginger, orange peel, banana peel, dough, grain, toast, rye, malt, sweet nuttiness, beer nuts, clove, peppery, tobacco, leather, herbs, oak, creamy mouthfeel, smooth.
Finish: Caramel, subtle chocolate, cocoa, grain, nutty, citrus frosting, nice citrus, anise, spicy, less pepper, woody, well balanced, well made, complex, zesty, rich, velvety, pleasant.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Detroit City Distillery Homegrown Rye Reserve



Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey
(Old Fashioned Copper Distillery, KY)  Bottled-in-Bond.  100° prf

Nose: Toffee, cocoa, sarsaparilla, molasses, brown sugar, maple, vanilla, honey, banana, dried apricot, green apple, mint, delicate floral notes, sweet grains, toasted walnuts, cinnamon bread, cinnamon, baking spices, brine, oak.
Palate: Toffee, salted caramel, brown sugar, buttery, cocoa, vanilla, dried fruit, dried apricot, apricot, coconut, orange peel, orange, fresh green apple slices, green apple, cherry, strawberry, herbal, mint, sweet grains, nuttiness, spice, pepper, black pepper, burnt leather, green wood, oak.
Finish: Vanilla, butter, honey, ripe bananas, citrus, orange zest, cherry, cinnamon toasted walnut bread, spearmint, spicy, peppery, black pepper, leather, oak, well balanced, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey



Axe and the Oak Colorado Mountain
Incline Rye Whiskey

(Axe and the Oak Distillery, CO)  Aged min. 3 yrs.  98° prf


Nose: Caramel, toasted caramel, toffee, nougat, vanilla, custard, honey, wheat, grain, salted pretzel, cinnamon, spicy, leather, mushrooms, grassy, mossy, earth, peaty, wet cedar, new oak, oak, Armagnac, Madeira, nice.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, milk chocolate, hint of cocoa, vanilla, vanilla cookie, rising dough, honey, sweet apricot, dried apricot, raisin, dried fruit, ripe banana, green apple skin, apple peel, orange, citrus, licorice, minty, cinnamon, nutmeg, spicy, peppery, smoky, barrel smoked, toasted oak, woody, smooth.
Finish: Caramel, fruit cake, scones, prune, apple, barley sugar, floral, white pepper, black pepper, spices, warm toasty goodness, smooth, quite delicious.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Axe and the Oak Colorado Mountain Incline Rye Whiskey



King's Town Rye Whiskey
(Swamp Fox Distilling, GA)  100° prf

Nose: Salted caramel, crème brûlée, butter, dark chocolate, sugar cane, touch of maple, malted, cherry, licorice, agave, potato skins, pickled peppers, jalapeño, black pepper, leather, tobacco, funk, musty, earth, peat, burnt baked goods, burnt toast, charred wood, campfire, smoky, wood, sherry barrel.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, chocolate malt, creamy, vanilla, ginger, agave, vegetal, fresh herbs, spice, toasted dark bread, toast, roasted walnuts, crispy nuts, coffee grounds, leather, cowhide, earthy, peaty, cigar box, mesquite, charred BBQ, burnt wood, camp fire, charcoal, char, smoke, barrel smoke, woody, oak, cedar.
Finish: Butterscotch, rye, charred rye, toasty, malted, nutty, spicy, wet stone, pine sap, straw, hay, peaty, charred, smoky, heavy smoke, oak, mellow, interesting.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



King's Town Rye Whiskey



J. W. Kelly Golden Age Straight Rye Whiskey
(J.W. Kelly & Co., TN)  Aged min. 2 yrs.  94° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, cream soda, sugarcane, molasses, maple, cocoa, vanilla, honey, fig, strawberries, plums, banana, banana peel, raw lemon, ginger, apricot, ripe bananas, mint candy cane, peppermint, sweet grains, peanut brittle, cashew, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, dry hay, leather, oak.
Palate: Toffee, salted caramel, creamy, dark chocolate, peppermint patty, sugar cane, molasses, vanilla, sweet vanilla, honey, dried fruit, cherry, dark cherry, orange peel, coconut, cake batter, baklava, candied walnuts, roasted hazelnut, sweet nuttiness, popcorn notes, rye flour, rye bread, grain, anise, clove, cinnamon, spices, pepper, black pepper, leather, green wood, oak.
Finish: Vanilla, creamy vanilla, cake batter, maple syrup, honey, cherry, orange zest, soft mint, grain, nutmeg, spicy, peppery, white pepper, super clean, zesty, smooth, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



J. W. Kelly Golden Age Straight Rye Whiskey



Belfour Straight Rye Whiskey Limited Edition
(Belfour Spirits, KY)  Aged 27 ms.  100° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, dark chocolate, mocha, brown butter, brown sugar, vanilla, honey, apple pie, orange blossom, orange zest, lemony, rye flour, grain, popcorn, roasted nuts, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, spice, pepper, briny, earth, wood, oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, dark chocolate, creamy, crème brûlée, mocha, cola nut, honey, buttery, warm butter, pancakes with butter, dried fruit, apricot, blueberry, coconut, peanut brittle, sweet spicy nuts, rye, grain, ginger, celery, vegetal, cinnamon, clove, spice, black pepper, straw, oak, smooth, crisp.
Finish: Sweet popcorn, honey, orange peel, fresh zest, vegetal, grain, almond, mint, sweet cinnamon, spice, camp fire, peaty, scotch-like, nice heat, smooth, complex, flavorful.


Gold Medal
Gold medal





Tommy Bahama Rye Whisky
(Coral Cay Distilling, WA)  Rye whisky & rum.  93° prf

Nose: Caramel, nougat, brown sugar, cocoa powder, butter, vanilla, honey, apricot, cinnamon apple, green apple, lemon, quince paste, mint, peppermint tea, grain, rye flour, roasted nuts, sweet nuttiness, clove, spice, leather, mushroom, earthy, oak.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, toffee, maple syrup, buttery, vanilla, dried cherries, stewed peaches, apricot, orange, orange peel, banana peel, ginger beer, hazelnut, nutmeg, cinnamon, spices, spicy, hot pepper, leather, woody, oak, nicely sweet, creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Toffee, candied pecans, sweet nuttiness, cocoa, maple syrup, brown sugar, peppery, black pepper, leather, subtle smoke, cedar, well balanced, zesty, velvety, smooth, mellow.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Tommy Bahama Rye Whisky



Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
(Buffalo Trace Distillery, KY)  90° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, nougat, honey, vanilla, corn, ripe banana, white strawberries, green apple, grain, rye, brazil nut, sweet nuts, rose hips, mint, cinnamon, spicy, new oak, oak.
Palate: Salted caramel, toffee, brown sugar, maple, honey, dark raisins, dried fruit, sweet banana, apricot, orange, orange marmalade, buttered apple donuts, nutty banana, walnut, cashew, nutmeg, balanced spice & cream, spice, black pepper, mint, wood, cedar, oak, nice balance, great rye flavor.
Finish: Toffee, creamy, vanilla, lingering honey, sweet banana, sweet corn, grain, pepper, hints of black pepper, cayenne, spicy, woody, dry oak, sherry.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey
(Limestone Branch Distillery, IN/KY)  Sherry cask finished.  90° prf

Nose: Toffee, brown sugar, mocha, cocoa, vanilla, honey, ripe banana, apricot, cling peaches, orange peel, grassy, mint tea leaves, grain, menthol, nutty, nutmeg, clove, allspice, soft pepper, faint leather, cigar leaf, oak, toasted oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, peanut brittle, molasses, burnt sugar, buttery, creamy, milk chocolate, vanilla fudge, vanilla, maple, honey, banana pudding, banana, coconut, orange peel, citrus, unripe strawberries, ginger, grain, almond, walnut, nutmeg, pepper, black pepper, spicy throughout, light wood, cedar box, oak, nicely balanced.
Finish: Dried apricot, ginger, orange zest, quince, clove, spicy, creamy, buttery, sweet wood, balanced, mellow, delicious.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey



High Peaks Landrace Empire Straight Rye Whiskey
(High Peaks Distilling, NY)  84° prf

Nose: Toffee, cream, nougat, dried fruit, stone fruit, banana, apricot, ginger, dry cider, wheat, grain, rye flour, floral, herbal, fennel, grassy, mint, peppermint tea, clove, baking spice, cigar leaves, leather, earth, new wood, green oak, oak, cedar.
Palate: Caramel, dark chocolate, cocoa, maple, honey, ripe banana, cherry, apricot, sweet vanilla, dough, wheat, grain, walnut, nuts, herbs, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, spicy, black pepper, mushroom, leather, sous bois, tobacco, cigar box, cedar, chestnut wood, oak, heavy oak, velvety, smooth.
Finish: Pound cake, toast, grain, roasted wheat, tropical fruit, citrus, herbal, sweet cinnamon, allspice, spicy, hay, peat, resinous, rich, super soft, smooth.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



High Peaks Landrace Empire Straight Rye Whiskey



Riverset Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey
(B.R. Distilling, TN)  Aged min. 4 yrs.  93° prf

Nose: Toffee, nougat, Laffy Taffy, cocoa, sugar cane, honey, vanilla, ginger snap cookies, blueberry cobbler, cherry, roasted apples, ripe banana peel, grain, green hay, toasted walnuts, nutty, mint, cinnamon spice, leather, oak.
Palate: Caramel, mint chocolate, honey, vanilla, bubble gum, sweet cherry, dark cherry, sweet plums, orange, orange peel, lemon peel, peppermint tea, baked goods, rye flour, sweet nuttiness, green pepper, pepper, spicy, sweet spicy, leather, cigar box, green wood, oaky, great blend, nice heat, chewy, zesty, creamy, velvety.
Finish: Toffee, caramel, ginger bread, cherry, touch of green apple, apple peel, nutty, clove, spice, pepper, oak, warm spiced rum, smooth, soft & easy, nice, mellow, great.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Riverset Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey



Timber Cruiser Rye Whiskey
(Westslope Distillery, MT)  Aged min. 6 ms.  100° prf

Nose: Toffee, cocoa, dark sugar, molasses, cream, nougat, honey, vanilla, vanilla cake mix, dried ginger, cherry, lemon, citrus, herbal, dried tea leaves, rye, grain, roasted grains, peanut, sweet nuttiness, licorice, cinnamon, clove, leather, peat, old wood barrel, oak.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, toffee, butterscotch, dark chocolate with sea salt, cocoa, cane sugar, cream soda, dried fruit, red berry, cherry, lemony, citrus, cupcakes, biscotti, sweet grain, dough, bread, rye, walnuts, nutty, anisette, spice, fresh tobacco, coffee bean, oak, orange marmalade, wheat, smooth mouthfeel.
Finish: Lingering chocolate, nougat, raisins, apple, wheat, almond, nutmeg, sandalwood, cinnamon, pepper, oak, pine, nice, easy, smooth, very tasty.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Timber Cruiser Rye Whiskey



Ole George 100% Straight Rye Whiskey
(Grand Traverse Distillery, MI)  93° prf

Nose: Cane sugar, buttery, cream, apricots, apple, lemon tea, fresh pressed mint, dill, sweet herbs, grain, toast, rye flour, rye seed, nutty, sweet nuttiness, black pepper, leather, saline, earth, wood, new oak, fresh American oak, chestnut wood.
Palate: Toffee, salted caramel, dark chocolate, vanilla, clotted cream, dark sugar, maple syrup, honey, salty apple, herbs, fennel, toasted oats, barley, rye, grain, sweet clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, leather, tobacco, acacia, earth, barrel smoke, wood, toasted oak, teak.
Finish: Cocoa, powdered sugar, honey, almond, nutty, rye, millet, cayenne, zesty spice, spicy, salty, peaty, toasted oak, zesty, complex, smooth, mellow, hot toddy, tasty.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Ole George 100% Straight Rye Whiskey



Cooperstown Select Straight Rye Whiskey
(Cooperstown Distillery, NY)  Cabernet barrel finished.  102° prf

Nose: Caramel, dark chocolate, cocoa, brown sugar, buttery, vanilla, maple, honey, bananas foster, banana, cherry, sweet dill, rye, sweet corn, grain, cereal grains, pasta flour, roasted nuts, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, leather, coffee bean, leather, green wood, cedar, oak, sweet oak, toasted oak.
Palate: Dark chocolate with sea salt, peppermint patty, cocoa, brown sugar, creamy, buttery, nougat, honey, dates, baked apple, banana, cherry, dried fruit, dried apricots, orange peel, lemony, citrus, corn, grain, rye grain, rye flour, toast, pistachio, straw, potpourri, rose, cinnamon, sweet spice, spicy, pepper, leather, fresh wood, oak, balanced, soft mouthfeel.
Finish: Mocha, s’mores, creamy, honey, wheat, flour, rye grain, nutty sweetness, green apple skins, lemon, zest, spice, black pepper, wood, oak, high heat, balanced, mellow.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Cooperstown Select Straight Rye Whiskey



King's Family Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey
( IN/TN)  90° prf

Nose: Caramel, burnt caramel, dark toffee, creamy, brown sugar, sugar cane, maple, vanilla, ripe banana, hints of plum, apple cider, light citrus, lemon tea, anise, grain, peanut butter, walnuts, nutmeg, light spice, leather, oak, fresh.
Palate: Caramel, brown sugar, creamy, sweet vanilla, honey, coconut, dark raisins, caramelized banana, ripe banana, green apple, citrus, dill, cinnamon, spice, black pepper, tobacco, saline, cedar, oak. bright, creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Nougat, spiced honey, sweet spice, big spice, spicy, clove, hints of pepper, white pepper, new oak, fiery, bold, zingy, smooth, creamy.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



King's Family Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey



Storm King Distilling Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey
(CO)  Aged min. 2 yrs.  90° prf

Nose: Nougat, molasses, kirschwasser, buttery, cream, dough, sweet rye toast, wheat, grain, straw, lemon tea, walnut, licorice, mint, clove, oregano, black pepper, spicy, leather, oiled leather, suede, tobacco, cigar leaf, earthy, soil, crisp leaves, green wood, pine, cedar, zesty.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, toffee, cream, chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate mint, sugar cane, honey, dates, dried fruit, pear, green apple, cucumber, herbal, straw, toast, grain, rye, walnut, peppery, spice, tobacco, cigar box, clover, rich, malty, cedar sauna, pine, oak, balanced, flavorful.
Finish: Lingering toffee, buttery, creamy, hints of cocoa, brown sugar, treacle, molasses, honey, orange rind, nutty, bamboo, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, spicy, smoky, woody.


Silver Medal
Silver medal



Storm King Distilling Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey



BRONZE MEDAL WINNERS

John David Albert's Taos Lightning Straight Rye Whiskey
(KGB Spirits, NM)  90° prf.

Nose: Toffee, caramel, cocoa, brown sugar, buttery, vanilla, light maple, honey, apricot, ginger, citrus, lemon tea, light mint, toasted nuts, nutty, cinnamon, hints of cedar, bourbon-like.
Palate: Caramel, salted caramel, toffee, chocolate covered pretzels, buttery, creamy, vanilla, sweet vanilla, honey, spiced rum notes, dried fruit, cherry, plum, apricot, orange, herb, grain, rye flour, spicy rye, walnut, clove, baking spice, black pepper, leather, charred oak, oak, pine, cedar, silky, soft, satiny, smooth.
Finish: Creamy, vanilla, lasting honey notes, dried apricot, orange zest, green apple, spicy, peppery, black pepper, dusty, earthy, spicy wood, oaky, nice balance, soft, quite smooth.


Bronze Medal
bronze medal



John David Albert's Taos Lightning Straight Rye Whiskey



Monterey Rye Batch No. 26
( Fog’s End Distillery, CA)  90° prf

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, brown sugar, maple syrup, cocoa, hot cocoa, creamy, vanilla, cake batter, honey, candied pecans, toasted walnuts, hint of sweet nuttiness, rye flour, warm bread, toast, popcorn, buttered popcorn, dried apple, orange, smoky citrus, cherry, leather, earthy, oak.
Palate: Butterscotch, toffee, soft caramel, crème brûlée, cocoa, dark chocolate, vanilla, cake batter, raisin bread, oats, flour, toasty, peanut butter, toasted pecans, sweet nuttiness, ginger, herbs, clove, spicy, black pepper, leather, smoky, cedar box, oak, burnt oak, nice heat, creamy mouthfeel, rich, smooth.
Finish: Peppered caramel, spicy cocoa, nutty, banana brew, spice, spicy, leather, earth, camp fire, char #3, oaky, mellow, creamy, smooth, great.


Bronze Medal
bronze medal



Monterey Rye Batch No. 26



Altered State Barleywine Cask Rye Whiskey
(Altered State Distillery, PA)  86° prf
Secondary barreled for 4 ms. in used barleywine barrels
from local craft breweries.

Nose: Toffee, butterscotch, cream, butter cream, vanilla, sugar cane, dark cherry, mango, green apple, apple notes, orange peel, honeysuckle, peppermint tea, potpourri, grain, almonds, nutty, spicy rye, ginger spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, leather, green wood, oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, dusty cocoa, buttery, vanilla, honey, orange marmalade, orange peel, dried fruit, cherry, dark cherry, tropical fruit, apple, green apple, mint, sweet rye, almond, warm cinnamon toast, cinnamon, cardamom, peppery, black pepper, leather, peaty notes, very soft, extra smooth.
Finish: Soft vanilla, molasses, dried fruit, ripe banana, cooked apples, herbs, toast, woody, oaky, toasted oak, balanced, smooth, beautiful sipper, enjoyable.


Bronze Medal
bronze medal



Altered State Barleywine Cask Rye Whiskey



Yellow Rose Rye Whiskey
(Yellow Rose Distilling, TX)  Aged min. 1 yr.  80° prf

Nose: Caramel, toffee, molasses, sugarcane, vanilla, honey, raisins, green apple skin, cereal, toasted almond, nutty, herbal, mint, anise, clove, cinnamon, spice, peppery, briny, woody, oak.
Palate: Caramel, chocolate, honey, dates, roasted figs, ginger, Granny Smith apple, green apple, citrus, lemon tea, toasty, roasted walnuts, nutty, spearmint, minty, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, black pepper, spicy throughout, wood, oak, cedar box, smooth.
Finish: Lingering honey, orange zest, citrus, green apple skins, peppermint, rye flour, café au lait, toasty, leather, woody, zesty, nice spicy finish.


Bronze Medal
bronze medal



Yellow Rose Rye Whiskey

 



The Rye Whiskey Revival

 

Historically, rye whiskey was the favored grain of the East Coast. George Washington even had the largest rye whiskey distillery in early America on his Virginia estate. By the 1780s, around 5,000 log still houses were operating in Pennsylvania and Maryland producing the whiskey that came to be known as “rye”. Mostly by German immigrants that had been using rye in the production of schnapps and vodka back in northern Europe.

Two different styles of rye whiskey developed during the colonial era: Pennsylvania or Monongahela-style, and Maryland-style rye. Since the bulk transportation of large amounts of grain was not practical during this era, the distillers made whiskey from the grain grown on their farm or from grains grown nearby. Corn was not generally native north of the southern edge of Pennsylvania; so the distillers made rye whiskey with no corn in it. Monongahela Rye was known for its ultra-high rye content and its full-bodied and spicy nature. Distillers operating in the southern part of America made Maryland style rye, a mixture of rye with some corn. The rye content in Maryland style rye tended to be about 65%, and it was notably sweeter and more mellow than its northern cousin.

Since the still was essentially a piece of farm equipment, it should be no surprise that by the late 1700’s, there were literally thousands of small grain distilleries each in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. It is estimated that there were between 14,000 and 20,000 distilleries operating in the United States between 1810 and 1840. Rye was the most prevalent grain in colonial America. It was considerably more hardy than barley, and much easier to grow. Corn, or maize, was native to America, but only south of the Mason-Dixon line, and most of the population was to the north.

While the center of population in the United States remained east of the Appalachian Mountains, rye whiskey flourished. Shipping routes in the east favored rye whiskey over its cousin from Kentucky. The only major shipping routes for bourbon were down the river to New Orleans or overland through the mountains. As such, rye whiskey was the main style of whiskey consumed in the United States from the end of the Civil War until prohibition.

Back in the 1880’s, saloons were all the rage. There were thousands of them in the old American west. Much of the liquor sold were pretty mean homemade concoctions called rotgut or Firewater, (sometimes made with raw alcohol, burnt sugar and a little chewing tobacco), but the majority of saloons “imported” rye whiskeys from the Eastern states for their regular customers. Rye was not sold in "shots". It was sold in a small glass which normally held a gill (4 ounces) and cost a nickel. This price could be much higher in cities or for big name brand liquors. For example, a good quality bottle of rye whiskey in a nice hotel might be as much as 2 dollars. Rye was usually served straight, but the distinctive flavor made it a perfect mixer during the early years of the cocktail. Three of the most popular classic cocktails were originally created for rye whiskey — the Old-Fashioned, the Manhattan & the Sazerac.

Before the Prohibition, there were over 50 brands of rye. When Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920, many enterprising residents of small towns across America chose to become outlaws – They produced thousands of kegs per month, supplying Al Capone and other gangs who in turn filled the demand of speakeasies throughout Chicago, New York and all the way west to San Francisco.

By the time Prohibition ended, most American whiskey distilleries had ceased production. The few that existed were put at a massive competitive disadvantage to imported aged spirits. Boatloads of well-aged Scotch and Irish whiskies were waiting offshore in the northeast, truckloads of aged Canadian Whiskey were waiting to cross the border from Canada and ships full of mature rum were waiting in the Caribbean. The astute American distiller quickly realized that when getting back into the business, they would not be able to compete on quality, so they would have to compete on price.

The bourbon distilleries in Kentucky were better situated to build large facilities to garner economy of scale. There was plenty of land and a very well-developed rail system. Conversely, most of the rye distilleries in the east were on small farm plots with poor infrastructure and were not well funded. Additionally, the first farm subsidy bill supported corn but not rye. As a result, it was cheaper to make bourbon than it was to make rye. Sadly, almost none of the Monongahela rye distilleries were able to come back when prohibition ended. It is more difficult to process high percent rye than high corn, so the decision to focus heavily on bourbon was easy to make.

From the end of Prohibition until 2006, rye whiskey was in steady decline. With a few exceptions, the independent rye whiskey brands either died off completely or were bought up by the larger bourbon distilleries. The bourbon distilleries would switch to rye whiskey distilling for one or two days per year as they continued to meet the ever-declining demand. No marketing money was being spent in support of the rye whiskey brands, and it appeared that they were collectively headed toward a long downward spiral until they died off completely. By 2006, there were only about 150,000 total cases of rye whiskey sold in the United States, compared with 14.7 million cases of bourbon.

Specialty rye was reborn in 2006. For the first time in 87 years, modern pioneers across the country dusted off old family records, recreating great grandpa's handed-down recipes and started producing rye whiskies deeply rooted in tradition. A decade ago in this country there were only six brands of rye. Now you can find over 400 brands, and rye whiskey has once again become one of the most popular go-to craft spirits. North American farmers are now seeing their largest rye crop in years as whiskey sales soar.

Rye has riden the rise in popularity of American whiskeys, growing in volume sales by 536% since 2009. According to the Distilled Spirits Council (Discus), sales volumes for rye whiskey rose by more than 1,000 percent between 2009 and 2018. And rye continues to be an important component of the overall American whiskey category. In 2019, sales increased 14.7% or $30 million, reaching $235 million.

Rye whiskey is made from fermented mashed grain that is at least 51% rye grain by law, sometimes with barley, corn and other grains blended in. Many of the newer, small-batch brands use 100% rye. Ryes must be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof), and aged in new, charred oak barrels, used one-time only. Ryes labeled as "straight" must be aged for at least two years.

Rye whiskies are typically dry, peppery, and grainy, with complex flavors bursting with fruit, walnuts, and spice. This distinctly bold assertive character is embraced by a dedicated and continuously growing following of discerning whiskey fans.

 

 

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