About – “Renowned for rye – America’s oldest whiskey variety – since the earliest days of our history, we take the production of Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Rye extremely seriously. Our Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Rye is made from select American rye grain that is sheared to maximize the extraction of flavor from the grain. Ideal neat or in cocktails, every bottle comes from a single barrel – a unique attribute reflecting our extraordinary commitment to offering Kentucky Straight Rye whiskey of the absolute highest quality at every level of the Michter’s range.” Michter’s is a historical brand that has risen to prominence through heavy investment in both facilities and in the people responsible for crafting their whiskey. Michter’s Single Barrel Rye is bottled at 84.8 proof and is available nationwide for around $45.
Nose – Bright citrus and green apples lead the way for a very clean a refreshing nose. Behind that there is just a touch of honey and a faint spice.
Palate – Loads of green apple carry from the first taste through the mid-palate and is joined by a sweet caramel. A touch of dill comes through on the mid-palate. This finish is short and is dominated by dry oak.
Score – B-
Verdict – The first thing to address here is the low proof. If you are someone who turns their nose towards the sky when presented with a sub 100 proof pour then walk on by because this isn’t for you. The flavors are nice and play very well together, but they don’t jump out punch you in the mouth. Because of the low proof Michter’s Single Barrel Rye also doesn’t carry a lot of heat that you usually find in rye. What they have done here is create a fantastic gateway rye for the bourbon drinker. You get the classic caramel notes of a bourbon and also the fruit and a touch of the dill that you find in many ryes. Overall this is an enjoyable pour and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates a low proof pour.
About – “The bad boy of Bourbon is bottled at a robust 103 proof, but its 6 years of aging smooth out the feathers real well. Through award-winning packaging and point-of-sale, and a unique and irreverent marketing campaign, Fighting Cock appeals to both male Gen X-ers and serious Bourbon lovers alike. The “kickin’ chicken” has been a favorite throughout the South for years.” Produced by Heaven Hill in what is clearly a bid to sway Wild Turkey drinkers, Fighting Cock carries a lot of value with its $15.99 price point.
Nose – Honey covered grain, followed by a big blast of cinnamon. The nose is very lively, kickin’ you may say. There is some vanilla once you work past the cinnamon and the spices becomes more of a rye spice. The honey sweetness takes on more of a brown sugar note as well.
Palate – Very light as it hits the palate. Just a touch of freshly milled grain as it opens accompanied by a faint honey. There is a bit of a light citrus element up front as well. Cinnamon takes over on the mid palate along with just enough oak to let you know it is there on a short finish.
Score – C+
Verdict – It is enjoyable just a tad thin. If the goal is to go head to head with Wild Turkey 101 they have fallen a bit short. In the sub $20 price point this is still a winner though.
About – “We took the same vintage blending philosophy that we used to create Small Batch, except this time the goal was to create high proof bourbon that tasted its best neat. Uncut is so rich and sweet with an unbelievably thick mouth feel, the heat and rye spice finish are a welcome addition. It’s like milk with cookies!” Like the name implies Uncut Unfiltered makes use of barrel proof bourbon sourced from MGP. The Smoke Wagon brand has been expanding its footprint into new markets and has recently made it into the Tennessee market with great fanfare. Uncut Unfiltered will set your back around $60.
Nose – Big time cinnamon spice with brown sugar behind it. As it opens up a nice pipe tobacco note moves in along with stewed apples. A great fall/winter nose here.
Palate – Cherry is the first thing that registers with rye spice hitting in a big way on the mid-palate. There is a solid oak structure holding everything together indicating a decently aged product. The pipe tobacco from the nose is back on the back end of the palate as well. The finish is long and spicy with the cherry from the front palate making a return shortly, before clove and nutmeg become dominant to end things.
Score – B
Verdict – It has all of the hallmarks of the properly aged MGP products that have enjoyed. The thing that Smoke Wagon has done through blending is accenting the smoke and spice to go along with those fruit notes. Smoke Wagon is definitely riding the hype train so availability and pricing may vary depending on your area. At retail pricing Uncut Unfiltered is a definite buy for me, and something I will likely keep on had going forwards.
About – “Whiskey takes time. We started this journey in 2014, barreling our first product in 2016. In 2020, we feel it’s ready to share. Each batch of our Restoration Rye Whiskey is blended using a series of pods. Each pod is created by grouping barrels to create a specific sensory profile.” If you go on to the Castle and Key website you will find detailed notes for the for the pods used in each batch. Today I am reviewing batch 1 which is comprised of whiskey from 12 different pods. Restoration Rye is the first whiskey to be released under the name Castle & Key since the rebirth of distillery. If you are interested in the history of this famous distillery you can find much more information on their website. This rye is aged for 3 years, bottled at 103 proof and carries a retail price of around $41.99.
Nose – The nose starts of very sweet with freshly sliced green apples. The typical rye spearmint is hanging out behind that, but is fairly light. There is some spice on the nose in the form of black pepper that leaves a small sting in the nostrils. Lastly there is a subtle vanilla behind everything and a faint note of freshly milled grain.
Palate – Bright and sweet. Like the nose apple is the first note that I pick up with grain coming behind that. After that things start to go a bit green. Again like the nose spearmint is subtly present on the mid palate. The spice that was black pepper on the nose is now green peppercorn and the backend has a vegetal note before more green that leads to a finish that is on the short side of medium.
Score – C
Verdict – The flavor profile here is promising it just needs more time to develop. I will say that I think Castle & Key is heading in the right direction with their distillate and we will see good whiskey being released from them fairly soon. I will also say that the packaging on this release is top notch. The bottle is gorgeous, the bottle topper is very ornate, and the neck band and metal plate near the bottom with the release year are nice touches as well.
2020 Bourbon of the Year – Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch 120
Every batch of Elijah Craig offers something slightly different up, and for me A120 offered up the best bourbon of 2020. It satisfies the traditional bourbon profile with caramel and brown sugar sweetness that is balanced out by bitter oak tannin. It is a bourbon that draws you in more and more as you continue to drink it. It started out 4th in my Bourbon of the Year Blind (video here) before moving all the way to the top spot to claim my Bourbon of the Year award. Read my full written review here.
2020 Craft Bourbon of the Year – Still Austin Straight Bourbon
This one came out of nowhere for me. The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful label, and that is only a precursor to what is inside the bottle. A beautiful creamy mouthfeel that serves up apricots and nutmeg before leading into a spicy cinnamon finish. This two year old bourbon punches well above it’s age and more balance that many bourbons with much higher age statements. Still Austin has worked some kind of sorcery with this product, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in the future. Read my full written review of Still Austin Straight Bourbon here.
2020 Rye of the Year – Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Rye
If you have followed e this year this one should come as no surprise to you. I have been singing the praises of this whiskey since the first time I cracked the bottle. It scored one of my highest scores of the year (read review here), and won my blind battle (video here). It isn’t every day that I find myself reaching for a bottle of Crown Royal, but they really knocked it out of the park with this one. The descriptor that comes to mind with this whiskey is juicy fruit. It just has a beautiful splash of fruit flavor as soon as it hits the tongue. The lower proof may turn some people off, but Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Rye is my 2020 Rye of the Year.
2020 Small Distribution Rye of the Year – Pursuit Series Episode 29
This is another rye whiskey that took my by surprise. Coming from an undisclosed distillery in Tennessee and being aged 4 years, there was no way to be prepared for what this rye brought to the table. The thing that sticks in my memory here is the lime that shines through on the finish. It is great to pick up a note that doesn’t usually come through in rye profiles. Kudos to Kenny and Ryan at Pursuit Spirits for searching out great barrels of whiskey from sources that others just aren’t pulling from. 2020 was a great year for the brand, and with the upcoming release of Pursuit United 2021 looks to be an even bigger year for the brand. Read the full review of Episode 29 here.
2020 Outside of the Box Rye of the Year – New Riff Backsetter Rye
This release is outside of the box, but a trend that we will probably start seeing more of as American whiskey continues to expand and experiment in new ways. This one missed the mark for a lot of people, but I really enjoyed the dimension the smoke from the peat rounded out the bright fruity notes in the New Riff rye (full review here). New Riff has great flagship products and continues to push the envelope with their New Riff Whiskey Club releases. They seem destined to be mentioned with the Buffalo Traces and Wild Turkeys of the world in the coming years.
About – Pursuit series is the private label created by Ryan Cecil and Kenny Coleman of the Bourbon Pursuit Podcast. From their website “For us, it was searching for rare whiskey and seeking out the people and stories behind every great bottle. After years of interviews, we learned that memories aren’t created by what’s inside the bottle, but by those who enjoy it together. This inspired us to write our own story. Our pursuit led us to hand select every barrel and bottle it completely untouched. Every barrel chosen is unique, developing its own narrative that becomes an episode in the series. This pursuit is for you. The whiskey geek, enthusiast, aficionado, or whatever you want to call yourself because, after all, we are you.” Sticking with the podcast them, each single barrel release is given an episode number and “show notes” are listed on the front label to give you an idea of the flavor profile. This particular release is a straight rye whiskey from an undisclosed distillery in Tennessee. As with all Pursuit Series releases this rye whiskey is uncut and unfiltered. Episode 29 is aged for 4 years and bottled at 110.1 proof. This release was available at Seelbach’s for $65, but has since sold out.
Nose – Opens up with a light touch of grain that is followed by a floral honeysuckle sweetness. The rye spice is evident on the deep inhale. As it opens up a bit of spearmint becomes to come through.
Palate – Bright at first and quickly hit with the rye spice. Spearmint is in the background trying to fight through, but stays subdued. Cinnamon and figs come through on the mid palate moving into the finish. The medium finish starts with a blast of lime that fades into raw grain that the nose started with.
Score – B
Verdict – The citrus note on the finish is what really sticks with me here. It reminds me of the lemon notes in Traverse City North Coast Rye (review here). That is a note I only seem to get from these “lesser” aged ryes. It seems that those flavors are overtaken by oak in the aging process. Kenny and Ryan have done a great job with the Pursuit Series brand. I have really enjoyed the single barrel releases that I have tried, and am looking forward to their new Pursuit United blend.
About – This yearly release from High West takes their flagship Rendezvous Rye and finishes it in both Port and French Oak Barrels. The Port is used to round of the fruity notes of the rye and the French Oak is used to accentuate the spice. Billed as the perfect Christmas whiskey, A Midwinter Night’s Dram is bottled at 98.6 proof and costs around $120, but is allocated so it could be considerably more depending on the store.
Nose – Nice and bright with stone fruit leading the charge and spearmint moves in swiftly behind that. A subtle baking spice moves in as it opens up along with vanilla and brown sugar.
Palate – Cinnamon graham crackers are the dominant note. Creamy vanilla custard, spearmint, and rye spice move in on the mid palate. Plum comes in on the backend rounding everything out. The finish is on the longer side of medium, starting with that sweet plum before shifting back to that cinnamon graham cracker accompanied by oak tannins that balance out the sweetness and a bit of leather as the finish continues.
Score – A-
Verdict – I am in agreeance on this being a perfect Christmas whiskey. It has all of the decadence you would expect from a whiskey with that billing. The Rendezvous Rye that servers as the base of A Midwinter Night’s Dram has gone through some changes over the years that have attributed directly to this product as well. After starting to incorporate their own distillate the quality dropped a bit, but it has since headed back in the right direction. If you love rye and love Christmas like I do this is a must keep on hand whiskey.