I’ve started to become more selective when it comes to rye. The first few ryes I tasted were new and different enough that just being a rye gave them a certain amount of good will. If High West had been the first rye I tried, I might have felt a little happier with it.
I had high hopes for High West. To quote the label, “Marriage of two straight rye whiskies that combines the feisty properties of a high rye 2-year-old and the saddle smooth richness of a 16-year-old.” Sounds wonderful, right?
Unfortunately, ideas that seem wonderful in prospect often fail of that promise in retrospect. So it is with High West Double Rye. This whiskey, despite its marketing-driven prose, seems more like a bourbon (or corn-based) spirit than a rye. It has a nose and flavor of vanilla and caramel, rather than the spice and subtle fire of a good rye.
It quickly recedes to the background in a Manhattan, leaving the stage far too early for a command performance. Perhaps bourbon drinkers will find High West to be a way to ease into drinking rye. For my part, it’s always been easier to jump into the deep end than to tip-toe gradually from the shallow.
High West isn’t a bad whisky, and shouldn’t be spurned if the occasion presents itself. But there are better bottles to be had, and better experiences to be savored.
At last, I have found my rye. My desert island Manhattan is now picked out. This is the bottle I would take on a long voyage; into the space capsule; in my suspended animation chamber. Along with companion bottles of Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth and Angostura bitters, of course.
Templeton Rye is produced by a small Iowa distiller and purports to be a Prohibition-era recipe that was the favorite of Al Capone. With such a great product and rich history, it’s surprising that we have lived so long without being able to obtain Templeton (or at least, obtain it legally) but we should be thankful that we can get it now.
The color in the bottle is a medium amber, like the color of old copper. Lighter in the glass, with a golden glow and the scent of spicy rye bread. The next time you have rye, take a moment to sniff it; the resemblance to a loaf of rye is unsurprising but still powerful.
The initial flavor is dry, bold, and spicy, transitioning to a rich, almost sour flavor, but with an undertone of sweetness. The finish is still dry and spicy and lingers just long enough to sustain you to the next sip. If you’ve become accustomed to bourbon’s sweetness, you will find the Templeton a challenging contrast.
As a cocktail base, Templeton Rye is outstanding. In an Old Fashioned the flavor is rich and dominant; in a Manhattan it is nothing short of perfection — complex yet balanced, a great reminder of why this cocktail has endured more than a century.
Buy a bottle of Templeton, stir up a Manhattan (don’t forget the bitters!), and enjoy a classic that will live forever.
Report Card Quality Grade: A Value Grade: A Final Grade: A
Buffalo Trace Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Final Grade: A- Price: $24 (750ml)
Reviewed by Bob Montgomery
A glance at the shelves of my local liquor store reveals that bourbon has become the Merlot of the whiskey world, charging ahead of its more stately cousins from Scotland and Ireland and showing its back to the generic Canadians on the bottom shelf. There seems to be three times as many bottles of bourbon as any other kind of whiskey, with a bewildering number of brands and ages to choose from.
Elbowing to the front to stand next to Maker’s in the center of the array is Buffalo Trace. It has a deep amber color in the bottle, and upon opening it immediately fills the room with scents of vanilla and molasses. In the glass, the vanilla is even more powerful, with perhaps a whiff of mint as well.
The initial taste impression is of sweet corn and honey, with a little fruit and mint as it develops. Despite its rye content, it didn’t seem to have any of the typical spice notes of a rye whiskey. This is a thick, rich spirit that hangs around for quite a while in the mouth. What starts as a pleasant warmth soon matures into a mild burn, but nothing too fiery. Definitely sippable, although a splash of water would not be amiss. It makes a decent Manhattan, but, for my part, once you’ve had a Manhattan with good rye, the bourbon version just doesn’t compare.
Buffalo Trace is a solid whiskey for the price, mellow enough to sip but complex enough to linger over. Fans of heavier whiskeys, in particular, should pick up a bottle. An excellent value on an American original.
Evan Williams Cherry Reserve Liqueur/Whiskey Final Grade: B+ Price: $15 (750ml)
One of the most popular new sectors of the spirits business is a somewhat unusual one. Building on the popularity of the ubiquitous flavored vodkas, several distillers have started introducing flavored whiskeys.
According to the production information, Evan Williams Cherry Reserve combines aged bourbon with "natural cherry flavor." The distiller can't legally call this bourbon, so you won't find that word anywhere on the bottle. But that's what it is, albeit with the addition of cherry and some other stuff as well, like caramel coloring. Presumably sugar, too, considering how sweet it is.
On the nose, it's all sweet cherries. Very nice if you like cherries — and I love them. So I enjoyed the aroma very much. The cherries come across strong in the taste as well, along with a little nutty bitterness and a modest alcohol kick. There's a hint of almonds, which made me think of Amaretto.
It's nice stuff. Sweet — you'll notice I keep mentioning that — but with a pleasing flavor. The cherry is more authentic than you usually find in spirits like this. It thankfully avoids that cough syrup taste that plagues a lot of the competitors.
This liqueur is 35% alcohol, making it almost as strong as standard spirits, which are generally 40%. So be careful. Even with the high alcohol content (for a liqueur), it still goes down pretty easily and could sneak up on you.
After drinking it on the rocks, which I liked, I tried Cherry Reserve with Diet Coke. That was too sweet and cloying, however. (It would probably be really bad with regular Coke.) So I tried out one of the recipes on the Evan Williams website to see how the spirit would taste in a cocktail.
1 1/2 oz Evan Williams Cherry Reserve 1/2 oz Dry White Rum 1/2 oz Triple Sec 2 oz Pineapple Juice 1 oz Orange Juice
Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into a Collins glass with ice.
A tasty, pseudo-Tiki cocktail. Sweet for sure, but I liked it. (If I were to make it again, I'd probably eliminate the OJ and replace it with 1/2 oz of Lime Juice to see if that balances it out a little better.) If you like fruity drinks, it's worth giving a try. Just don't have more than one, or the sugar will kill you.
Evan Williams Cherry Reserve is a spirit that will find most of its audience among younger drinkers, and others who enjoy things on the sweet side. It is not a sophisticated spirit, so those looking for complexity should look elsewhere.
It does, however, present a nice opportunity to introduce bourbon (in an "enhanced" form, of course) to those drinkers who aren't yet fans of whiskey's charms. I have not yet had the opportunity to taste Evan Williams' regular bourbon, but I look forward to doing so.
No category of spirit has benefitted more from the cocktail revolution than rye. This whiskey, which formed the backbone of pre-Prohibition drinking, had become nearly extinct by the 1980s. Today rye is to be found in every bar worthy of the name, and no fewer than 40 different ryes are now being distilled in the US. It is almost indispensible in the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail.
Redemption Rye is a recent entrant in this growing market. Sporting a distinctive bottle and a generous 92 proof, Redemption is made from 95% premium rye and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels. It's distilled in Indiana and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Redemption also produces a High-Rye Bourbon.
Two years is on the young end for any whiskey, although rye tends to be bottled younger than Scotch, for example. Some of that brash character is evident in Redemption, but there are also some signs of a developing maturity as well. It would be very interesting to see what would happen with a few more years in the barrel.
What we have today is still quite smooth, a bit sweet on the palate with some spice notes (think Christmas spices like ginger or clove.) As a sipping whiskey, it is a little hot at 92 proof and benefits from a splash of water or a few cubes of ice. I think its true potential is best realized as a mixing whiskey — it makes a fine Manhattan. At around $27 a bottle, it’s a very good value and well worth adding to your whiskey arsenal.
Quality Grade: B+ Value Grade: B+ Final Grade: B+
Bob Montgomery is the older, occasionally wiser brother of the Professor. He's a gifted cook and an old hand when it comes to whiskeys.