In Part I of this taste test, I explained that we assembled for the purpose of the rye whiskey taste test two rye whiskeys with Iowa connections (Windmill Rye Whiskey and Templeton Rye) and three other rye whiskeys: Redemption Rye, Russell’s Reserve, and Jim Beam’s (ri)1 Rye Whiskey. Because the Russell’s Reserve bottle had been chilled, it was removed from the competition as it would not only be possible to identify that whiskey, but a colder rye whiskey can offer a very different taste profile. It turned out that Templeton Rye won round one fairly easily. That meant that we still needed to match it against the Russell’s Rye in order to really be fair. After a few days had passed we set up to run the taste test once again.
As with the earlier round this taste test involved numbering each glass and having a third party take note of which drink was matched with each number, and pouring each sample into a Glencairn snifter glass. The first glass was a mix of both rye whiskeys so that no one whiskey would set the palate. My notes are marked with “D.O.” and Our Man in Omaha’s notes are marked with “M.O.” After the notes were compiled we chose our favorite and had our assistant reveal the identities of each whiskey.
Here is a run-down of each of the two final contenders:
Owner: Templeton Rye Spirits, Inc.
Templeton Rye Whiskey, called “The Good Stuff,” is bottled in Templeton, Iowa but distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Part of the publicity for this whiskey includes a lot of references to a prohibition-era recipe and stories that Al Capone considered it one of his favorite drinks. The mash bill is not known, but is estimated by some pundits as having at least 95% rye. The distillery that makes this rye lists its standard rye mash bill as 95% rye and 5% malt. Templeton Rye has a devoted following all around the country and especially here in Iowa. If I am in a different state and talking to a bartender or liquor salesperson they never fail to remark about the insane popularity of Templeton Rye when I tell them I am from Iowa.
Russell’s Reserve 6 year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Wild Turkey Distillery
Owner: Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, Ky
Aged for 6 years.
Official information about this rye by the distiller is hard to find. A “lost page” on their website indicates that Reserve Rye is aged a minimum of six years and is a “collaboration between Jimmy & Eddie Russell, bringing over 80 years of experience to this small batch rye whiskey.” That is it. I’m guessing that they are having trouble marketing anything other than bourbon given that the Wild Turkey name means bourbon to most folks. The important thing to take note of is that this is a high proof whiskey aged for 6 years by the Wild Turkey boys.
Templeton Rye: (Glass 1):
D.O.:Apricot scent. Woody oak notes light and sweet with a mild spice. Burn on the back side.
M.O.: Sweet, slighly oaky nose. Not much acid or alcohol. On tasting, a quick and sweet flavor. Spicy on the sides of the tongue, with no burn on the back side.
Russell’s 6 year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (Glass 2)
D.O.: Slight cinnamon scent. Sharper spice, with a slight burn. More alcohol but very tasty.
M.O.: Edgy nose. Smokey. Much punchier and very spicy. Burns on the back side.
AND THE SECOND ROUND WINNER IS: Russell’s Reserve. After we finished our notes, we voted on which rye was our favorite. The unanimous vote was glass 2, the Russell’s Reserve. Both were very, very, good. It was just that the Russell’s Reserve seemed to have more of everything. More spices and more of a nose. It also had more alcohol, which is interesting given that the 90 proof alcohol content did not overpower the taste. So, there you have it.
Before the Iowa boys get all up in arms about Templeton Rye losing my little taste test, keep several things in mind. First, when it comes to any whiskey, additional age in the barrel is, to a point, going to make a more interesting whiskey. Second, it really depends on what you are looking for in a rye. I drink my rye in cocktails, so a more potent rye is going to help make a the cocktail more interesting. If you like your rye straight or on the rocks (heaven forbid either choice in my book), then go for a lower alcohol, smoother and less spicy drink. Third, there are a lot of other rye whiskeys out there that were not even included in this taste test. I don’t have an unlimited budget so I can’t taste all of them, but as Brett noted in the comments to Part I (Brett is a Chicago-area bartender), there is Knob Creek Rye (100 proof and no age statement), Jim Beam Rye Whiskey (yellow label and Brett’s recommendation) Old Overholt Rye Whiskey (basically the same thing as Jim Beam’s yellow label), Sazarac Rye and Heaven Hills’ Rittenhouse Rye area also out there. Drop a comment if you want.