Saturday, November 24, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

There are a number of super-aged rye whiskeys either on the market today or on the market in recent years, including the various releases of Sazerac 18 as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Rittenhouse 21 and 23 year old rye from Heaven Hill, Black Maple Hill 16 year old (I think), Hirsch 10 year old, and Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 year old. Where are all of these old ryes coming from? The plethora of bottlings suggests that there was a lot of rye distillation going on in Kentucky in the 1980s, but this isn't really the case. More rye is being produced today than twenty years ago, and today's rye production is a mere thimbleful in an ocean of Bourbon. There are lots of bottlings of old rye, but those bottlings don't contain much total volume. And what volume they do contain often has the same ultimate source: according to American whiskey expert extrordinaire Chuck Cowdery, several of the super-aged ryes listed above were distilled for the Cream of Kentucky brand (now defunct, but still owned by Buffalo Trace and possibly up for revival sometime soon) in the 1980s at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville (currently owned by Heaven Hill). I know that the Van Winkle Family Reserve rye has had other sources as well (or maybe just another source), but it wouldn't surprise me at all if it were the same juice as is in the 18 year old Sazerac rye that I've had. They taste very similar to me.

My currently-open bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve rye is almost empty, but not to worry: I was recently able to pick up another bottle of it to replace this one. This one continues to impress -- lots of spicy cinnamon bread pudding on the nose, with a definite rye kick on the palate. It's an excellent whiskey, and one worth its relatively high price.

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