Class: Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Price: $20 - 25 U.S. Retail
Old Overholt has been around for a long time. And I mean a long time. Like so many modern Kentucky rye whiskeys (such as Rittenhouse, Michter's, and Pikesville), Old Overholt was initially a rye whiskey produced in the New England area during the period between the late 18th century and Prohibition when Pennsylvania and Maryland rye dominated the American whiskey scene.
Old Overholt was originally a Monongahela rye conceived in 1810 when Abraham Overholt took over his family's small distillery in West Overton, PN. The distillery (eventually named the Broad Ford Distillery) and brand grew to become very successful during the 19th century, and were nationally known by the turn of the century. Like most distilleries, Prohibition made a big blow to Broad Ford, but it was able to obtain a license to sell *medicinal* whiskey during Prohibition rather than completely shut down. However, Prohibition would put an end to the original family ownership of the distillery and Old Overholt brand, as they were sold to a New York grocer in 1926 who resold them to the National Distillers Products company in 1932.
As the popularity of rye whiskey in particular declined during and following World War 2, Old Overholt sales declined as well. The Broad Ford Distillery closed its doors in the 50's, but National Distillers continued to distill for Old Overholt in other Pennsylvania distilleries under their ownership, which continued to close one by one throughout the rye decline of the 20th century. (The old Michter's Distillery - the last Pennsylvania distillery to close - shuttered in 1990). In 1987, the brand was sold to Jim Beam, who moved production to its Kentucky distillery, and to the present day has produced a more bourbon-like (higher amount of corn and lower amount of rye grain) rye whiskey sold on every bottom shelf in America at around 3 years old and the legal minimum 80 proof.
Finally, in late 2017 Beam-Suntory announced that a new bottled in bond Old Overholt would be released. Rising to the standards of the Bottled in Bond Act, this new beefed up Overholt is at least (read: pretty much right at) 4 years old, and bottled at 50% ABV rather than the anemic legal minimum.
- Distilled, aged, and bottled by Beam-Suntory at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY
- At least 4 years old
- Around 51% rye in its mash
- Bottled at 50% ABV
Nose: Right on top lies a big dollup of signature Jim Beam peanut brittle, alongside spiced toffee, orange liqueur, and something floral and perfume-like. Nice and full aroma with no harsh ethanol tickle. As it settles, a subtle fresh pine cone note develops and the floral notes assert themselves a bit more, but the aroma still retains its spicy nuttiness.
Palate: Grilled corn and bitter sour mash greet the tongue upon entry before the dram opens to further reveal charred oak, roasted peanuts, brown sugar, boozy cherry, and cinnamon red hots. The mouthfeel is thin and watery, and the flavor is bold but somewhat dry and harsh.
Finish: Considerably sweeter than the palate. Sticky toffee, peanut brittle, and vanilla. Gets sour and herbal as it lingers (raw oak, wet grass).
A note about water: Just a bit of water (I added 1/2 tsp) really improves the dram from start to finish, sweetening the palate with brown sugar and spiced toffee and removing the sourness. I HIGHLY recommend adding a little water to this one.
Score (with the water):
- Nose - 79
- Palate - 73
- Finish - 73
- Overall - 74/100
Buying Recommendation: Worth buying a pour. I was ready to write this one off as a mediocre rye with a solid aroma but thin and flat taste before I added the water. But truth be told, I didn't buy a bottle of this (outside of the intention to review it) with the intention to make it a sipper I often turned to. With the water, this is a solid sipping rye, and for $20 and at a hefty 100 proof, I'll also be experimenting often with it to see how it stands up to my current house rye, Knob Creek Small Batch Rye, as a cheaper option for mixing cocktails. Give this a try - either at a bar or shell out a $20 for a full bottle. At the very least, you'll have a quality mixer, but you may find yourself with a new favorite budget-friendly sipping rye.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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