A little while back we had a meeting at the SCWC where we grabbed 8 premium level rye whiskeys and poured them blind for the club members. This meeting was a thought experiment – a sensory experiment. Something to challenge pre-conceptions and beliefs about the whiskey we love to drink. Since I helped organize it, and so knew what was in the line-up, I took it as a personal challenge to see if I could pick out the whiskeys I drink a decent amount of and how I’d rate them once the labels were removed.
For the blinding we had a non-whiskey drinking volunteer (thanks Rumi) who poured equal amounts of each whiskey into the beakers in the image above and then color coded them to match back to the bottles she poured from. While she was getting everything poured and color coded behind a make-shift screen we poured an unidentified palate warmer for the other members.
That palate warmer had to be something that was a rye, but was soft and unassuming at the same time and wouldn’t overwhelm the senses. The Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye fit that bill nicely. Once the beakers were ready they were sent around the room and everyone poured a bit into their glasses. Once everyone had a bit of each whiskey in their glasses the tasting began – here’s how it netted out.
Blue: Jack Daniels Single Barrel Rye 47%
- Nose: Cherries, vanilla, orange cream, toffee, graham, oak, spice and grain.
- Palate: Vanilla cherry coke, oak, corn, toffee, honey graham, oak and menthol.
- Finish: Long -> Menthol, peanuts, vanilla, strawberry short cake and spice.
- Overall: B (83-86) I would not have guessed that this was a rye if I didn’t know. It’s sweet, not fully balanced, but not bad. In a weird way I kinda like it.
White: Russell’s Reserve Rye Single Barrel: 52%
- Nose: Oak, dark fruit, smarties, baking spice, pepper and leather.
- Palate: Rye, oak, vanilla, butterscotch, spice and toffee.
- Finish: Medium -> Spice, wood, oak, citrus and toffee
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Tasty little rye. Not overly complex with limited depth, but I still enjoy it. It’s not something I want to drink every night, but would be happy to find it in there often.
Red: Smooth Ambler (MGP) 7 years: 49.5%
- Nose: Dill, cherries, oak, cinnamon heavy spice, vanilla, butterscotch and waxy licorice.
- Palate: Oak, spice, dried dark fruit, dill, citrus, vanilla, dark sweets and waxy licorice.
- Finish: Long -> Dilly spice, caramel, vanilla, oak and mint.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Balanced, full and expressive. This is a great rye whisky.
Orange: FEW Single Barrel: 58.6%
- Nose: Herbal spice, bergamote, citrus, pine, toffee and dark sweets.
- Palate: Herbal spice, oak, bergamote, citrus, pine, toffee and dark sweets.
- Finish: Long -> Herbal, oak, pine and dark sweets.
- Overall: A (93-97) Yeah I knew this was the FEW the second I smelled it. It’s incredibly distinct… and I love it!
Yellow: Pikesville Rye: 55%
- Nose: Rye spice, oak, caramel, vanilla, citrus, dark sweets, red licorice and fruit.
- Palate: Rye spice, caramel, nuts, pepper, wood, licorice, herbal, citrus, earth, leather, fruit.
- Finish: Long -> Spice, wood, toffee, citrus and cocoa.
- Overall: A (93-97) I knew this was Pikesville the moment I smelled it one. It’s so freaking good and has a distinctly oaky backbone.
Green: E.H. Taylor Bottled In Bond Rye: 50%
- Nose: Oak, powdered sugar, toffee, toasted grain, vanilla taffy, root beer popsicles, spice.
- Palate: Vanilla, toasted grain, caramel, spice, honey graham, corn, flat grape soda.
- Finish: Medium -> Spice, caramel, corn and menthol fades to flat grape soda.
- Overall: B (83-86) It’s an ok rye, but nothing special or exceptional. Overall character is a bit light and it tastes more like a fruity bourbon than a rye.
Purple: Knob Creek Rye: 50%
- Nose: Caramel, rye spice, citrus, sour cherry candy, oak, clove, rainy dark fruit, vanilla, cocoa and mint.
- Palate: Rye spice, red fruit, citrus peels, oak, peanuts, cinnamon, pepper, leather, mint and nutmeg.
- Finish: Long -> Spice, caramel, oak and vanilla.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) A well balanced round rye whiskey with a punch. Good stuff.
Black: Highspire Rye: 40%
- Nose: Grain, fruity, spice, vanilla and saw dust-like wood.
- Palate: Saw dust-like wood, vanilla, spice and grain.
- Finish: Short -> saw dust-like wood, grain and vanilla frosting.
- Overall: C (73-76) This seems to have gotten more raw since I first reviewed it and, like you might have guessed, stood out like a sore thumb amongst all of the well aged ryes on the table.
So how’d I net out? Well I was easily able to pick out the Smooth Ambler, Pikesville, FEW and Highspire and blind I picked the Pikesville as my favorite of the night… though that was kinda cheating because I knew it right away. I was honestly a bit shocked and dismayed that I didn’t peg the Russell’s right out the gate… guess I need to drink more of it. 🙂
Going around the room everyone seemed to have at least one surprise about something they liked or didn’t like and all-in-all everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. If you have a group of whiskey loving friends I highly recommend doing something like this yourself. Get a volunteer to blind the pours and challenge yourselves. You never know what you’re going to discover.
Till next time, cheers!