Class: Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, like many of it's peers, got it's start in the birth place of American rye whiskey - Pennsylvania - but is now made in Kentucky. With a history that even predates bourbon, Pennsylvania rye can claim to be the the United State's first indigenous distilled spirit, but unfortunately the style has all but died out. Many new producers, predominantly Kentucky distilleries, have since purchased the rights to these old northeastern rye brands, a few of which are Old Overholt, Pikesville, Michter's, and Rittenhouse.
While the brands have been reestablished, the style has changed, as Kentucky distilleries commonly use a lower percent of rye grain in the mash bill than the old northeastern distilleries did. Rittenhouse is one such example of this, as Pennsylvania rye distilleries commonly used upwards of 80% rye grain in their mash, but Heaven Hill makes modern day Rittenhouse rye from a mash that uses the legal minimum 51% rye. Don't let this dissuade you from exploring modern rye whiskeys though, and don't assume that more rye in the mash automatically equals a better rye whiskey. These are all simply factors that affect the type of taste, not necessarily the quality of it.
Rittenhouse Rye has long been a sort of forgotten child in the Heaven Hill whiskey portfolio. For the longest time the bourbon making powerhouse did not even have a page for it on its website. Bottles of Rittenhouse Rye could almost always be found somewhere near the bottom shelf, likely alittle dusty, for around $20. That is not the case here in 2018, where the overall surge in American whiskey popularity and craft cocktail culture has put rye whiskey in the spotlight, and producers are still trying to catch up to newfound demand. Alas, Rittenhouse Rye is now allocated (at least in my state), and retails for around $27.
- Bottled in bond (see what all this means here).
- 50% ABV (100 proof)
- No age statement (4 years old according to Heaven Hill's website).
- Mash of 51% rye/37% corn/12% malted barley.
Nose: Loads of spices, particularly clove, pepper, and cinnamon. Smells like sticking my head in a baking spice cabinet. Dry – very little sweetness comes through on the nose. Slightly smoky. Fresh baked biscuits. Oak. Formidable (but moderate) nose tickle wards me off if I get too close.
Palate: Cinnamon, clove, chai spice, pepper, pancake batter, and charred oak all come through from strongest to weakest. The spice is big and bold – This whiskey has loads of flavor! It is very concentrated around that baking spice profile. Fairly thin, drying mouthfeel.
Finish: Leftover chai tea and warm vanilla that did not show up in the nose or palate. Finally a little sweetness, which has this leaving behind a flavor reminiscent of chai tea latte.
A note about water: Water is your friend with this whiskey. Just a teaspoon or so allows some much needed sweetness to come forward - butterscotch on the aroma and cookie dough on the palate - transforming this from dry spice bomb to something more akin to a snickerdoodle cookie with extra cinnamon on top.
Score: 80/100 with water, 78/100 without.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! This whiskey is an excellent introduction to American rye whiskeys. While most young ryes in this price range are filled with harsh florals and underdeveloped grassy notes (imagine eating a pine tree), this whiskey, albeit a bit brash, displays a powerful and developed array of baking spices with just enough sweetness to keep things *reasonably* balanced. With every new rye whiskey release coming at a higher and higher price (looking at you, Kentucky Owl and Michter's), this represents tremendous value and punches above its price tag.
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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