Why oh rye?

March 29th, 2009

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.

Rye bottles

Over the next week I will be comparing the following nine rye whiskeys:

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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Posted in Reviews, Rye, Why oh rye?

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14 responses to “Why oh rye?”

  1. Mike S. Mike S. says:

    Oh, looking forward to this for sure!

  2. Jeremy Brooks Jeremy Brooks says:

    Now that will be a great time! I have the Black Maple Hill, the Vintage 21, and one of the TH’s in my collection. I’m looking forward to reading your review so I will be inspired to go collect some more.

  3. SeanMike SeanMike says:

    Awesome dude! Still – isn’t the Rittenhouse 21 already 90 proof?

  4. Tiare Tiare says:

    Interesting! i look forward to reading. Not one of these are sold in my country so i look forward to read your taste notes because when i can finally order one from abroad i want to have a clue of what i buy as you must pay the double price with the shipping.I also look forward to these posts as i know your picturs will be stunning!

  5. tatsu tatsu says:

    Definitely excited to hear your take on this. I’m only familiar with a few of those and can’t bring myself to buy others until I know what I’m getting myself into.

  6. Christian Christian says:

    very cool jay ;-) and nice collection of rye whiskeys.

  7. Matthew Matthew says:

    Normally, I think you are very nice person, and you write a great blog. But today, as I stare at your Bitter Truth and Red Hook ryes, I hate you with a uncontrollable passion.

    You lucky bastard.

  8. NW NW says:

    Not that am trying to rain on your parade, I do like most this line up quite a bit, but I beleve your range is not quite as big as you think it is.

    Bitter Truth, Red Hook, the Vintage’s and the Black Maple Hill’s are all sister barrels from Willette/KBD. Sure there is the natural varience from barrel to barrel (most are single barrels or very small vattings) but chances are they were all made in the still from the same mash bill with the same yeast.

    It maybe more interesting to sub-catorgize them as a set to see how different barrels behave over time.

  9. Gonçalo Gonçalo says:

    … jay oh jealousy …

  10. Jay Jay says:

    SeanMike – Rittenhouse 21 is actually 100 proof, and I’m bringing them all down to 80 (the highest one neat is 90 proof – the Sazerac 18)

    Tiare – Having brought several of these online myself from the States, believe me I know what you mean about shipping!

    Neyah – I’m aware several of the bottlings come from the source, and it’s something I will definitely be covering as the comparison progresses. I think it will be really interesting to see what differences there are.

  11. AK AK says:

    Oh man, this is awesome – this is going to be a great guide to the Special Occasion bottles.

  12. Mark Mark says:

    One, enter me in the posting contest.
    Two, how about posting the price you paid for the ryes? In my neck of the woods we have about six or so brands of Rye available ranging from about $15 (US) a bottle to north of $100 (US).

    My own price point is about $35 (US). I tried every brand available (in my price range) and I think that, for the money, the best is the Sazarac 6-yr and Rip Van Winkle 13-year – both about $30 – $35 per bottle. Given a choice I would select RVW 13-yr as the best for the money.

    Jim Bean and Old Overholt are not worth the price even at the pittance charged per bottle (less than $20).

    Wild Turkey puts out two versions – one under the standard brand name and one under the Michters branding. Michter’s is superior, I think, with a more complex flavour profile than the standard Wild Turkey.

    A few months back I did a little taste test myself between them all – straight, with a small ice cube and in a Manhattan. I can post my opinions if anyone’s interested.

  13. NW NW says:


    I am fairly certain the Michter’s bottlings come from Willette/KBD as well.
    Wild Turkey’s second label is Russel’s Reserve (Rye and Bourbon) and they are huge values.

    I doubt these will make it to the UK anytime soon, which a bit of a shame as the Russel’s Rye at 6 years mixes as well as many older bottles.

  14. Webweites #3 - Cocktails Old Fashioned says:

    [...] Why oh rye? – Rye Comparison @ OhGosh! [...]

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