Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gift Guide 2015 - Rye!

What a year for rye whiskey - Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was named whiskey of the year (for 2016) by Jim Murray of The Whiskey Bible, more and more distilleries are releasing amazing rye marks (I'm looking at you Russell's Reserve Rye Single Barrel), and experimental products like Alberta Rye Dark Batch are introducing new flavors to the American market - Rye and Sherry - together, forever.

One thing is clear, Rye is no longer an "old-school" spirit.  It is bold, sweet, flavor forward, and without a doubt, forward thinking.  The secret is out, and here are some of my favorites I tasted this year.
1.  When I traveled to Canada earlier this year, I tasted Canadian Club 100% Rye and was blown away.  I brought back a bottle through customs and the customs agent flat out laughed at the fact that I was bringing Canadian Club into the grand old U S of A, but really the joke was on him.  This stuff is delicious - its made from a single grain rye, aged for 7 years, and for $25 is a steal.  Expect notes of black cherry, brûléed orange, maple pie, black pepper and toasted oak.  Sadly, it's only available in Canada, so I recommend that you start begging your Canadian friends to bring it back for you.

2.  Next up is a bottle I've been obsessing over for a long time - Alberta Rye Dark Batch, known as Dark Horse in Canada, a whisky that won a Double Gold Medal at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  This whisky is a blend of 12 year old Rye, 6 year old rye, Bourbon and Sherry utilizing Canada's 9.09% rule, making a wonderfully fruity spirit great for sipping and even better for mixing.  It makes a magnificent Toronto Cocktail, and for the price it's easy to have it stocked in your home bar all the time.  $35

3.   High West Distillery has been making some really great Rye whiskeys for years including the Rendezvous Rye and the Double Rye, but their Midwinter's Night's Dram is a limited edition release that is something really special.  It starts with the 6 year old Rendezvous Rye and a 16 year old Rye, which are then blended and finished in French oak barrels previously used to age Port.  This full bodied whiskey has bold flavors of vanilla, plums, raisins, cinnamon, and baking spices.  This is a perfect rye for the holiday season, or any winter's night..if you can find it.  $80  

4. At the 2014 Canadian Whisky Awards hosted in Victoria Canada, the award for Excellence Innovation (as well as a Gold Medal) went to Masterson's 10-Year-Old Rye, a whisky that has since been close to impossible to find.  It's made with 100% Rye grown entirely in the Pacific Northwest.  Masterson's mills and mashes their grains, and then ferments the grains with dry yeast, creating a completely unique flavor profile for the whisky which is floral, woodsy, sweet, with a pleasant spiciness and a touch of cinnamon.  Get it where you can find it!  $80

5.  I'm a bit biased with this one, but I love Russells Reserve (I'm still waiting for my invitation to be officially adopted by the Russell family).  But I obsess over anything pulled by Jimmy Russell and released as a Single Barrel, and it is no different with the newly released (and freshly re-branded) Russells Reserve Single Barrel Rye.   I first tasted this release at Tales of the Cocktail and was completely blown away, it has a silky mouth feel, with fruity flavors of brûléed orange and apricot jam, with baking spices, subtle mint, and a warming spicy finish.  Must. Guzzle.  $70

6.   New York Distilling Rock and Rye is another discovery from this year's Tales of Cocktail, a lovely "bottled cocktail" of sorts, wonderfully drinkable for the laziest of cocktail connoisseurs.  It is a mix of rye whiskey, rock candy, sour cherries, citrus, and cinnamon that is spicy and sweet, and will have you coming back for more.  $32

7.  Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye has been kicking up quite a bit of dust in the last couple of months after being named Whiskey of the Year by Jim Murray.  The rumbles came loud and clear through the spirits world....wha?!?  But those of us who had tasted the stuff knew why - because it's amazing whisky!  It's bold in all the right ways, spicy with flavors of sweet apples, caramel, baking spices, and a lovely creaminess that makes it perfect for sipping.  $50

8.  Few Rye Whiskey is another exciting craft release, of a relatively younger rye of 4 years.  It's spicy, with creamy flavors of butterscotch, toasted straw, cinnamon, honey, eucalyptus, tarragon, apples, and cinnamon.  $74

9.  Wild Turkey Forgiven is a blend of six year old Bourbon and four year old Rye whiskey, originally a mistake made by a Wild Turkey employee in the distillery.  Fortunately for said Wild Turkey employee, Eddie Russell tasted the accidental blend and liked it so much he wanted to bring it to the market, and we can all thank him for that.  Forgiven is spicy and sweet, with rye flavor and the sweet baking spices from the bourbon.  It's great for cocktails and for sipping, an exciting addition to any liquor cabinet.  $56

10.   Another new Rye released in 2015 is the Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey, aged for a minimum of four years, and has a floral and apple forward nose.  On the palate it is spicy, with flavors of vanilla, apple, toasted straw, gingerbread, baking spices, dried cherry, and toasted almonds.  For Woodford fans the Rye will be a welcome addition, a lovely whiskey that is enjoyable for any occasion.  $50

11.  Another of my favorite Rye Whiskeys I've tasted as of late is Ryemageddon American Rye Whiskey by Corsair Distillery out of Nashville.  The whiskey is made from locally sourced malted rye grain and 20% un-malted chocolate rye grain, copper pot distilled in small batches, and then aged for just one year in 15 gallon American Oak barrels.  The final result is spicy, with flavors of chocolate, baking spices, orange marmalade, vanilla, and loads of black pepper.  It's a big whiskey that has lead the charge in the Rye Renaissance, and continues to be an exciting and forward thinking bottle of whiskey!  $64

Want more? 

Check out Davin de Kerommeaux's book Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert.

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