Monday, March 21, 2011

My Rye Whiskey Epiphany.

I promised you some follow-up to my posts about the new Bulleit Rye. If you want to read those previous posts first just scroll down. They are all recent.

Under ‘old business,’ there was one unanswered question when last we broached this matter, “my question about the Bulleit Rye label’s use of the word 'mash' in 'Straight 95% Rye Mash Whiskey,' in which I wondered if that is an alternative form of the designation 'distilled from rye mash,' which permits used barrels. Point blank, is Bulleit Rye aged 100 percent in new charred oak barrels or are used barrels used? I'm still waiting for an answer to that one.”

I received that answer from my official Diageo contact and the answer is, no, used barrels are not used. Bulleit Rye is 100 percent aged in new, charred oak barrels. They even gave me the specific char level, the highest, #4.

Note for CVI Brands and other producers. If you want to squelch ‘speculation,’ provide direct answers to direct questions.

And just to be clear about another potential point of confusion, Bulleit Rye is made at Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Bulleit Bourbon is made at Four Roses, which is in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. This is pure coincidence. The Indiana Lawrenceburg is near Cincinnati, the Kentucky one is near Lexington, about 120 miles away.

Diageo – which owns the Bulleit brand – does not own either distillery, although if they’re interested the Indiana one is for sale. Four Roses, which is owned by Kirin Brewery, has a long term contract to sell bourbon to Diageo for Bulleit, a holdover from when both the distillery and the Bulleit brand were owned by Seagram’s. LDI is a former Seagram’s property too.

I have now tasted Bulleit Rye and also, as it happens, Redemption Rye, which is another bottling of the LDI 95 percent rye juice.

In tasting both of these products I had an epiphany.

Whiskey is usually evaluated neat or with a little water. That’s how most whiskey-drinkers drink whiskey and so that is the traditional whiskey-tasting paradigm. The whiskey is expected to stand on its own as a drink in its own right.

But does it have to be that way?

I’ve mentioned before, for example, that this LDI 95 percent rye recipe was created many years ago by Seagram’s to be a flavoring ingredient in blends like Seagram’s 7. What else can you do with a whiskey designed to be an ingredient? Use it in cocktails. For that, both of these ryes shine. Unbalanced? Not a problem. Balance it in the glass with other ingredients. Use it for the sharp, intense, and distinctive vegetal flavors it brings, and use other ingredients to give your drink the body and dimension the whiskey alone lacks.

If you don’t like cocktails, mix it with a bourbon like High West did (Bourye).

The main difference between Redemption Rye and Bulleit Rye is age. Redemption is just north of two years, while Bulleit is just north of four. Redemption has slightly more alcohol too, 46 percent compared to 45 percent for Bulleit.

Neither rye tastes especially white-doggy, but even Bulleit could do with a little more age to be a good straight sipper like Rittenhouse BIB or Baby Saz. Maybe it can never be that. Maybe it doesn't matter. Where Bulleit and Redemption should get love is from bartenders.

My epiphany wasn’t wholly spontaneous. Both Bulleit and Redemption address bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts in their promotional materials.

Both of these ryes have a big rye grain flavor, as close to rye bread as you are likely to get. There is plenty of heat, spice, mint and sod. Yes, sod. And fresh lawn-clippings. Mint toothpaste too. And all of it is great big and in-your-face.

Bulleit Rye is a Diageo product and its packaging resembles that of Bulleit Bourbon, except with different embossing on the glass and a green label. Redemption Rye is owned by Dynamic Beverages and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, by Bardstown Barrel Selections, a new independent bottling house run by Dave Schmier and Michael Kanbar. Schmier is the young entrepreneur behind Dynamic Beverages and Kanbar is the young entrepreneur behind Strong Spirits.

The Redemption line also includes a bourbon that happens to have the same high-rye mash bill as Bulleit Bourbon, except this is the version distilled and aged at LDI. Like the rye, the Redemption Bourbon is a little more than two years old and designed to work better in cocktails than it does in a glass by itself. Both Redemption products use the same simple but elegant bottle, which is topped by a sensible screw cap instead of a pretentious cork. Bravo for that. The price is also attractive, $26.99 for the bourbon and $27.99 for the rye at Binny’s here in Chicago, about the same retail price as Bulleit.

I guess if you’re going to copy somebody why not copy the biggest and most successful company in the business?


erik.ellestad said...

It would be kind of interesting to do a blind tasting of the various LDI ryes currently on the market and see where they fall out, especially in relation to price.

Unknown said...

Great write up.

Just curious, other than an Old Fashioned, which other cocktails call for rye that you would recommend for this pairing?

My ladyfriend is a mixologist and the proprietor of underground speakeasy in Denver. I'd love to give her some suggestions.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I don't really have any specific ideas but I bet that if you give her a bottle of either of these ryes, she will.

Unknown said...

The Indiana bourbons "W.H. Harrison" and the "W.H. Harrison, Governor's Reserve" are both distilled at the Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The Governor's Reserve is a high rye and bottled at 115 proof and is around 2 to 3 years old. I wonder if it isn't apart of that corn, barly, and 30% rye mash just like the Bulleit Bourbon and Redemtion Bourbon.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The specifications are eerily similar, aren't they?