People often ask me what my favourite spirit is – a question which, like asking my favourite bar or favourite film, I find almost impossible to answer. Picking just one out of so many possibilities seems so terribly limiting, and whenever I do settle on just one I invariably change my mind within a few minutes. I would be useless on desert island discs, or indeed the unlikely-to-be-made booze equivalent.
With that said, I do have a particular fondness for gin and rye, two very different spirits that between them form the base of the vast majority of my favourite cocktails. Amazingly, just two years ago I had never even tried rye – here in England American whiskeys beyond Jack Daniel’s and a few Bourbons like Woodford Reserve and Bulleit are very scarce, and most people think of Canadian Club when you mention rye. Since moving to London and buying my first bottle of Rittenhouse Bonded though, I have totally fallen for Bourbon’s older, tougher brother.
Despite its rarity here I have – thanks to a few great shops, internet shopping and a few trips to the US – slowly built up a collection of some really delicious examples of rye whiskey. After recently adding the brand new The Bitter Truth rye to my alcohol cabinet I realised while I’ve enjoyed them all individually in Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and on their own, I’ve never sat down and compared them directly against each other.
That’s right! It’s time for another Oh Gosh! comparison series…
Why oh rye? Premium ryes put to the test.
Over the next week I will be comparing the following nine rye whiskeys:
- Black Maple Hill 23 year old
- Red Hook Rye (Barrel #4)
- Rittenhouse 21 year old
- Sazerac 18 year old
- The Bitter Truth 24 year old
- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (2006 bottling)
- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (2008 bottling)
- Vintage 21 year old
- Vintage 23 year old
I’ve chosen to concentrate on the more heavily aged, “premium” ryes (Thomas H. Handy is the exception here, being around six years old) as these are the ones I most enjoy sipping on their own or enjoying in an Old Fashioned on special occasions. However a roundup of the cheaper ryes that are more appropriate for everyday mixing will follow later next month.
The nine ryes will be tasted together in three rounds – neat, with ice and also watered down to 80 proof, a stage which should help even things out between whiskeys varying between just 90 proof and a whacking great 138.4 proof. I have also been trying them all, rather more subjectively, in a mixture of Old Fashioneds and Manhattans over the past few weeks in an attempt, which the first few paragraphs of this post make clear is utterly futile, to find my favourite rye for indulgent cocktails.
Check back tomorrow for the first reviews of the comparison, looking at Black Maple Hill 23 year old and Rittenhouse 21 year old.
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