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  • Writer's picturePeter Miles

Three Virginian Rye Whiskeys.

Rye was the original America Whisky and has, in recent years, reemerged to offer an alternative to the domination of the market by Bourbon. In order to be called 'rye' the whisky has to be produced from grain containing 51%+ rye and matured in fresh oak casks. Beyond that pretty much anything goes.

A significant % of the rye distillate in the USA is produced by MGP of Indiana, and then sold as an ingredient for blended whiskies such as Seagrams and as a rye spirit for maturation at other large distillers and then sold under many 'craft-like' sounding names including Bulliet (Diageo) and Redemption (Deutsch Family). To be fair, MGP is pretty good at making this stuff, most of which has a 95% rye content, and some smaller start up distillers have also used this as a base for their own product.

More recently increasing numbers of craft distilleries have added rye mash and distillation processes to create their own rye whisky and in some cases have made it their flagship product.

This tasting looks at three Virginian rye's, from Catoctin Creek, Copper Fox and Reservoir distilleries.

A. Reservoir Rye

Founded in 2008 by Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino and established in the Scott's Addition neighborhood of Richmond, Reservoir produces three 100% single grain whiskies from corn, wheat and rye at 50% ABV using 'alligator' charred 1/4 sized oak barrels to increase the speed of maturation and these seem to offer excellent mellowing properties without excessive tannin pick up. They also offer blends of these whiskies under the brand name of Hunter and Scott.

Basics: 100% Rye, ABV = 50%, Batch 17: Bottle 7 (2018, 375 ml bottle), NAS, $79/750ml

Color: Mahogany: 1.6 (Whisky Magazine Scale)

Nose: Immediate and powerful, with strong spices laid down on a background of cereal notes. Dried and citric fruits kick in with nuts and hints of dark chocolate.

Taste: Rich with a beautiful mouth feel. No tricks here. A straight forward, classic rye spice and pepper profile with some fruit sweetness, mellowed by very clean balanced oak tones.

Finish: Medium, with some heat.

Verdict: If you are a true rye fan, this whiskey is for you. You are going to want to get more than just one bottle of this new 'reference standard' for quality crafted rye.

B. Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whiskey Distillers Edition 92 proof.

Founded in 2009 by Becky and Scott Harris, Catoctin Distillery in Loudoun County produces a wide range of distilled products including Rye Whisky, Gin and Brandy. The flagship product is the renowned and much awarded 'Roundstone' series of ryes.

Basics: 100% Rye, ABV = 46%, Single Barrel. Batch# 19B3. NAS. $53/750ml.

Color: Burnished: 1.1 (Whisky Magazine scale)

Nose: For a 100% rye it is surprisingly light at first with some floral notes (?) but then builds up with sweet baking aromas on top of the classic rye spices and nuts. Nice development.

Taste: Smooth and relaxed. A solid rye flavor with spices flowing easily over the tongue, some fruit, caramel and confectionery comes through and just the right amount of sharpness to keep you engaged.

Finish: Long, lingering and very pleasant.

Verdict: This one is for the back porch on a summer day. Good sipping. Come on over.

C. Copper Fox Original Rye: Port Style Barrel Finish.

Started in 2005, Copper Fox runs two distilleries in the state, one in Sperryville and another in Williamsburg. As mentioned in previous blogs, this distillery uses the most traditional production methods and locally sourced ingredients. Perhaps the most unique aspect is the use of fruit woods, both in the kilning and added as chips to the barrels.

Basics: 2/3 rye + 1/3 barley, ABV = 50%, Batch: Square Root of -7. (Imaginary batch numbers....funny guys), NAS, $89/750ml

Color: Burnished: 1.1 (Whisky Magazine scale).

Nose: Spices, nuts, polished wood and leather, dried fruits

Taste: This is a complex whisky, just check out the label! It explores what can be done by applying advanced wood finishing to an already strong tasting and sharp whisky style such as rye. Slightly oily, the pepper and spice flavors are upfront with dried fruits (apricots perhaps?) while in the background there is a fine balance between dry wood elements and the sweeter influence of the port barrel finish.

Finish: Satisfying, with a medium/long duration.

Verdict: Savor this one after dinner. This is a rye for the single malt scotch crowd.

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