Barrel-proof ryes

April 20th, 2009

This is part of a series of posts comparing rye whiskeys. For further details and links to other reviews in the series visit Why oh rye? Nine premium rye whiskeys put to the test.

The final two bottles in the Why oh rye? comparison are two barrel-proof ryes that are an incredible 24 years old, which means they were distilled and barrelled before I was born. That’s quite some time to spend in a barrel. Is such ageing worthwhile, or does so much time in the barrel just produce whiskeys that taste of oak?

LeNell's Red Hook rye bottle

Red Hook Rye (Barrel #4)

68% ABV

Brooklyn-based booze retailer LeNell Smoothers started bottling Red Hook Rye in 2006, and since then has produced four barrels worth of non-chill-filtered, barrel strength whiskey. I had heard much about this rye, so when I was in New York last year and paid a visit to LeNell’s it was impossible to resist picking up a bottle, despite the hefty price tag and the risk of breakage while bringing it back over the Atlantic. Sadly owing to a major shortage of aged rye brought on by its rise in popularity over the past few years, barrel #4 was likely the last bottling of super-aged Red Hook Rye for a while.

The nose of the Red Hook Rye is full of fruit and sourness, and remarkably mild considering the whiskeys strength. The sourness continues in the mouth, along with some oak and hints of fruit, citrus and vanilla. There is a slight pepper note, and some restrained other spices, and with water added you even get a mild sweetness coming out. The finish has a little heat and some lingering spice and sweet notes.

A really beautiful whiskey, it completely defies the fact that it is one of the oldest ryes in the comparison with its bright, complex nature, yet displays a balance that only age can bring whiskey. A real winner, I only wish I had picked up a few more bottles so I didn’t have to guard my stash so carefully.

The Bitter Truth 24 year old bottle

The Bitter Truth 24 year old

69.2% ABV

Producers of some of the finest cocktail bitters available today, The Bitter Truth last year began expanding their product range with a sloe gin and rye whiskey. The Bitter Truth Kentucky Rye Whiskey is bottled at a barrel-strength 69.2% ABV and is 24 years old.

On the nose the TBT rye provides a decent dose of wood and leather, with a mild underlying sourness and a medium heat. In the mouth you get a hefty dose of wood which is followed by some sourness and then a mild sweet fruitiness. The finish is long with a lingering sourness, some leather and mild citrus notes, and a medium heat.

Considering both this and the Red Hook Rye come from the same warehouse, and are the same age, it is amazing to see how different the two can be. Unfortunately with The Bitter Truth Rye I can’t help but feel, like the Rittenhouse 21 year old, that it’s spent just a little bit too long in the barrel. It has just a little bit too much wood for my liking, but I am looking forward to trying it in an Old Fashioned when it’s brightened up with some bitters.

Note: While this bottle was purchased with my own money Stephan and Alex, the owners of The Bitter Truth, are friends and while I would like to think of myself as impartial I felt it important to mention in the interests of full disclosure.


Now you’ve read the tasting notes, check back later this week to find out how the above ryes, and the rest of the Why oh rye? whiskeys, fare in mixed drinks, and which ryes are my favourite overall.

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Posted in Reviews, Rye, Why oh rye?

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5 responses to “Barrel-proof ryes”

  1. Mr Manhattan Mr Manhattan says:

    Do you happen to know from whom the TBT rye was purchased?

  2. Jay Jay says:

    Mr Manhattan, I purchased my bottle directly from The Bitter Truth website.

  3. Mr Manhattan Mr Manhattan says:

    @Jay: no, I meant from which distillery here in the US did the folks at TBT purchase their barrel of rye. ;-)

  4. Jay Jay says:

    Ah, hehe! I believe it is from the Kentucky Bourbon Distillery, the same place the Vintage ryes and Red Hook rye comes from.

  5. Mr Manhattan Mr Manhattan says:

    Thanks. That’s what I was curious about.

    Living here in the US, the TBT rye is of course a bit of a curiosity if only because owning a bottle would be rather expensive and very similar bottles of 23 y/o KBD-lineage rye are readily available, as you pointed out.

    TBT lists this on their web site for 189 € which at today’s rate would be $251 – w/o shipping or duty. A bottle of Vintage 23 is $109 at BevMo.

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