The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club

Rye is a grain closely related to barley and wheat. Whilst uncommon in the UK, rye has the ability to thrive under poor soil conditions and cold temperatures, and is widely grown in Northern and Central Europe. Brewing with Rye can be tricky. Apparently the high beta-glucan content greatly increases wort viscosity and a hence slow runoff and sparge time can be expected. Who knew? Since brewing is the first stage in distillation, rye is usually mixed with other grains prior to being used in whiskey production. The mashbill describes this mix, and has a large influence on the taste of the whiskey. Corn tends to impart a sweeter flavour, wheat adds smoothness and rye imparts spicy and fruity tastes. Rye is more expensive than corn and harder to work with, so corn has become the most common ingredient in American whiskey. In the US, any whisky that has a mashbill of at least 51% rye can be called a Rye whisky. If it is aged in oak for at least two years, it can be called a straight rye. Don't confuse American rye whiskey with Candian rye whisky. Confusingly, the Canadians allow any whisky to be called rye, even if it has no rye in it at all! Historically, rye whisky was most commonly made in the North Eastern states of Pennsylvania and Maryland. This industry was all but wiped out by prohibition. However, in recent years rye whiskey has had a renaissance and more and more ryes are coming onto the market. We love bourbon, but the spiciness of rye adds a whole new dimension to American whisky. In this tasting pack we present five of our favorite American straight rye whiskies for you to enjoy.

Pikesville Straight Rye

Pikesville is a town in Maryland northwest of Baltimore. Prior to prohibition, Pikesville was home to dozens of rye distilleries. The Pikesville brand was one of the few to survive, but in the seventies Majestic, the last Maryland distiller, closed and the Pikesville brand was bought out and moved to Kentucky, where it is made today. The 3 year old supreme straight rye still has the classic old-school Maryland taste profile. It is still widely drank in Maryland, and it was the whiskey of choice for the dockers in series two of the Baltimore show “The Wire”.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Sweet and sour; oranges and lemons; almonds; floral; redcurrants on vanilla shortcake.
Palate: Immediately light, creamy and biscuity, then a slight pithy spiciness which builds to a buttery orange peel bitterness at the death.

Retails for around £25

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High West Double Rye

Founded in 2007, High West "distillery and saloon" became the first (legal) distillery to produce in Utah since 1870. Prior to this, Utah had a tradition of distilling "Valley Tan", of which Mark Twain wrote "it was the exclusive to Mormon refresher; Tradition says it is made of imported fire and brimstone." High West have continued this tradition of experimentation with a wide range of novel whiskies. The double rye is a blend of two straight rye whiskies. One is a 95% rye 2 year old, the other a 53% 16 year old. The result is a spicy rye that is also smooth and mellow.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Get past the slightly spirity and junipery nose, and there is a citrussy and nutty element lurking in the depth, finishing with a lemony icing sugar note.
Palate: More juniper and sour fruits. Mouth coatingly but lightly spiced, becoming quite lemony and slightly metallic. Lemon peel and quite coconutty at the finish.

Retails for around £45

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Jim Beam Rye

The 4 year old Jim Beam Rye is America’s top selling rye whiskey and one of whisky writer Jim Murray’s favorites. Better known for their bourbon, Beam’s have been making whiskey in Kentucky since 1795. Now Beam global are international players, owning distilleries such as Laphroaig in Scotland and Cooley in Ireland.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Sawdust and red apples; floral; sweet licorice; brandy snaps; wood spice and mint.
Palate: Light at first, then increasing sweet wood and spice. Softens to a long and light licoricey finish with a savoury hint.

Retails for around £25

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Rittenhouse Straight Rye

Founded in 1933, Continental Distillery named this whiskey after Rittenhouse Square in Pennsylvania. The distillery went out of business in 1979, but the brand was resurrected by Kentucky distillery Heaven Hill. Traditionally, Pennsylvania ryes have a sweeter and spicier taste profile than the Maryland versions, and the Rittenhouse is one of the few remaining examples available of the style.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Quite vegetal and sweet at first; pears in syrup; fruit salad chews; very shy spice; A wisp of smoke.
Palate: Green banana and marzipan. Coconut. Spicy but given quite bitter towards the end.

Retails for around £25

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High West Rendezvous

Our second rye from High West, the Rendevous name was chosen to celebrate the traditional annual gathering of Utah mountain men to exchange pelts and drink whisky.

Like the double rye, the rendezvous is a combination of two straight rye whiskies: a 6 year old 95% rye, 10% malt barley and a 16 year old with a mashbill containing 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% malted barley. The result is a complex whiskey with depth and character.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Buttery. Ripe Sultanas. Rich ginger cake. The spice is quite shy with a sherry, rummy and sherbety note.
Palate: Minty at first then a rising hint of rye spice, ending with more light minty vanilla with toffee apples.

Retails for around £50

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