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17 Oct 2022 | Jeremy Dugan


Since becoming the spirits buyer at The Wine Country in 2015 I have tasted a lot of different whiskies, heck even before becoming a buyer, living in Kentucky I tasted a lot of whiskies. And while I have always noticed distinctive flavor profiles in bourbon, that hasn't always been the case for rye. In bourbons distillers may have a high-rye mash bill, add a little more wheat or more malted barley. Each of those differences in mash bills make the bourbon taste totally different. But in rye the majority of the labels out there were using the same mash bill and same farmers for their rye. Sure depending on where it was aged and temperatures the barrels were exposed to would give the spirit a little different profile, if the whiskey was finished off in a specialty barrel (ex-wine cask, ex-sherry, etc.) you would get hints of flavors but the majority of what you were tasting was the spice of the rye. But over the last 3 years or so I have noticed a big change in the rye world. 

Earlier this year I was tasting a rye made by Stellum Spirits. What I really enjoyed about the whiskey was the uniqueness of the profile. Then I thought about other rye whiskies I had recently tasted that also had expressive tastes that were unlike any of the rye whiskies I had tasted in the past. As I started thinking about these whiskies and how I have gotten more and more whiskey drinking customers asking about rye it dawned on me that we are in a new area of rye whiskey drinking. So I have dubbed 2022 The Year of the Rye. If you're interested in getting into rye or are looking for a new rye to give a try, here are 5 of my top picks for expressive and distinct rye whiskies. 

Stellum cask strength straight rye  $59.99 per bottle

The majority of this rye whiskey comes from Indiana with a mash bill that is 95% rye. There is also rye whiskey from Kentucky and Tennessee that has more malted barley in their mash bill which is added to the blend. Candied fennel and spearmint upfront create a refreshing profile. Soft notes of caramel lead to toasted vanilla which add richness and depth to the experience. More of the mint characteristics some out on finish.

Town Branch straight rye $50.99 per bottle

This low rye, high malted barley mash bill rye takes you on a bit of a journey. Vibrant caraway with bold fennel upfront bring warming spice characteristics. Hints of spearmint add a freshness while pairing with the baking spices that cut through the bigger mouthfeel. The mint comes back on the finish and lingers on the palate.

Redwood Empire Emerald Giant $34.99 per bottle

Drink and help the planet! For each bottle sold, Redwood Empire works with Trees for the Future and plants a tree! Emerald Giant's Mash bill is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. Named after the fastest growing redwood in the world, this is a floral and expressive rye. Bold rye and anise flavors up front lead to rich notes of toffee, shortbread cookies and vanilla. The fennel from before becomes "candied" on the finish and works along with creamy vanilla flavors. In May our Happy Hour with Jeremy featured Redwood Empire and their Master Distiller Jeff Duckhorn. During the tasting Jeff mentioned he was a big rye whiskey fan. So no surprise Jeff would put together a whiskey that is so expressive.

Balcones Pot distilled straight rye $39.99 per bottle

For regular readers this isn't a new whiskey but that does not take away from the fact that the flavor profile is one of the most distinctive rye whiskies I have ever had. We also did a Happy Hour with Jeremy featuring Balcones where we were joined my Alex Elrod the brand education manager for the company.  Distilled in a Pot Still, this is a combination of Elbon Rye, Crystal, Chocolate and Roasted rye. The 4 rye varieties together create a flavor profile that taste like Mole in the bottle! Bold dark chocolate, cinnamon and pepper up front give this whiskey robust characteristics. Floral rye adds a lightness before more dark chocolate and malted chocolate coats the palate. This really does taste like a Mole dish, just rich and spicy, floral and robust. One of the most unique rye whiskies I have had.

Laws Whiskey House San Luis Valley straight rye $60.99 per bottle

Getting Rye from Cody Family Farm in Southern Colorado, Laws has made a unique rye that stands out like most their expressions do. Light coating mouthfeel with vibrant rye notes up front. The rye leads into more floral black tea like flavors that then become rich notes of coco. Savorier characteristics: tobacco leaf, pepper and spearmint give the Whiskey a "pop" and continue the savory profile Laws has created. The spearmint and pepper flavors linger. in 2021 we did a Happy Hour with Jeremy with guests Crystal and Casey who run the Laws Whiskey House tasting room in Colorado. 

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