Monthly Archives: January 2009

Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof

rittenhouseryeThis is the first rye I’ve tasted for American Hooch.  Why Rittenhouse?  It’s a brand I’ve seen in many bars – a brand that’s constructed some of the finer mixed drinks I’ve tasted – so it seemed like a good place to start.

Stats:

- $15-20

- Made by Heaven Hill

- 100 proof

Presentation:

Rittenhouse Rye’s 100 proof line comes in the standard cheap-liquor bottle with the plastic cap, but its black label and well-known name makes it stand out from the crowd.  The label consists of familiar American whiskey motifs: the barrel, the flowing script, and the proud declaration of its bonded status to name a few.  There is no mistaking RR for anything else but a classic American rye.

Tasting:

Rittenhouse provides a nose full of lemon and mashmallow.  It is very sweet through all of this.  There are points when the alcohol sneaks through, but that’s probably because your nose is too close.

To the palate, RR displays the lemon certainly, but the dominant flavors are black pepper and licorice.  All this is front-loaded and dissipates quickly after the initial sensation, leaving a mild peppery finish.  That first wave of flavors, however, is suitably complex and pleasantly angular.

Over all:

I enjoyed the angularity and peppery beginning to Rittenhouse, but was let down by its quick dissipation and lacking finish.  So, I’m not sure where I come down on this one – it would make a fine mixed drink, but a lackluster sipping selection.  Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pour myself a second helping.


Jefferson’s Reserve

jeffersonsreserveJefferson’s Reserve is one of the three “Very Small Batch” offerings from McLain & Kyne (of Castle Brands).  It seems that by “Very Small Batch” they mean it’s the product of only eight to twelve barrels, but this is the only time I’ve seen the term used with the “very” modifier.

From what I’ve been able to glean from a few minuted of research, JR is (or was originally) produced at the same place as Willett’s, nearby Heaven Hill.  The pricing and name-checking of a particularly gentlemanly President demonstrate the producers’ intentions of placing this bourbon firmly in the super-premium category.

Stats:

- $45-55

- Made by McLain & Kyne

- 90.2 proof

Presentation:

Jefferson’s Reserve comes in a very simple, refined bottle, marked by its lack of a front or back paper label.  The front sports the brand name in a flowing script intended to mark the distinguished nature of the bourbon within and perhaps to conjure the former President’s spirit.  Below this is a small image of Monticello, again recalling Jefferson’s grand style of living to which we might aspire.  The only other text on the bottle is “Very Old / Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky / Very Small Batch.”

First of all note the use of “Very” to modify both “Old” and “Small” – as I mentioned earlier, “Very Small Batch” might be a brand-associative term for McLain & Kyne, but also applying it to “Old” just seem gauche in a way which Jefferson himself would never approve.  It also seems that Jefferson’s Reserve once did have a distinct age statement (15 years), but they’ve ditched that in recent years.  Likely they’re using barrels from a number of different year now to meet the flavor profile, but the average age is likely not far from 15 I would guess.

Secondly, note that they use “Whisky” instead of the more common spelling (for bourbon) “Whiskey”.  This seems to be another distinguishing mark meant to connect the bourbon to an older tradition than its competitors.  A subtle move; or as McL. & K. might put it, Very Subtle.

Tasting:

Jefferson’s Reserve has a quiet, but pleasant aroma to it.  I was able to pick out strains of raisins and dried summer grass.  This is not something that will jump out at you as soon as you open the bottle, but it comes in time.

On the palate, JR is equally quiet.  Starting with unsweet sensations of vanilla and grass, these quickly dissipate into a very clean finish, but not before a quick, sharp spark of tobacco comes and goes.

I’m surprised not to be tasting more wood, considering how old this is supposed to be.  That’s a commendable trait – often it seems that in a rush to compete with scotch, bourbons are over-aged and become too woody.

Over all:

If you’re looking for depth of flavor and complexity, Jefferson’s reserve is not for you.  If you’re looking for subtle flavors and the air of something Very Refined, have a go at it.  For this price point, make sure you’ve had a number of other bourbons first, however.  I think there are a few other options lower on the price scale that would fit into a similar tasting category.


Van Winkle Special Reserve

vanwinklesrNow that 2009 is in full swing I’m going to start breaking open the couple of bottles I received during the holiday season from thoughtful friends and family.  One of the benefits of writing a blog about American whiskey is that it creates and easy gift category that will never fail to disappoint.

It’s in this spirit that I come to my first selection from the Van Winkle line of bourbons – Van Winkle Special Reserve.  Famed for their 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle bottling, Old Rip has seven main-line varieties in all, with VWSR falling right in the middle of the range (also the only one with out the words “Pappy” or “Old” in the name).

Stats:

$35-45

- Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

- 90.4 proof

Presentation:

Van Winkle Special Reserve comes in a tall, slim bottle capped with red foil which leaves plenty of glass-room for the onlooker to admire the contents within.  This is by far the simplest labeling of the Van Winkle clan, decorated only by thin lines of black around the edge and a single red line toward the bottom.  The slightly textured paper is printed only with the basic information about the beverage: what it is, its name, its age, and its distiller.  The only seemingly extraneous information is the “Lot ‘B'” beneath the age statement.

One interesting thing to note is the special placement of the word “Kentucky” – appearing prominently above the words it modifies, “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” at the top of the label.  A quiet pride showing through the otherwise poised and gentlemanly presentation.

Thankfully, no back label beyond the government warning.

Tasting:

Van Winkle Special Reserve has a very pleasant nose.  What came to mind immediately was grenadine and dried leaves.  Certainly sweet, but impressively deep.

On the tongue VWSR is just as sweet at first, hitting the tip of the tongue with gusto.  This sensation fills out into cherries, popcorn, and some significant wood before melting in to a full-mouth slow-burning spice of a finish.  This is something to savor and draw out for as long as you can.

Over all:

This bourbon has a holistic feel to it that many others do not.  It’s hard to pull out individual bits and pieces from the entire experience.  At 90 proof, it strikes the right balance between heft and drinkability, but nothing has been sacrificed when it comes to complexity.  Nicely done.

Makes you wonder what they keep in Lot A…


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