I’ve been on a bit of a rye kick lately and realized that we didn’t have much in our collection, so we picked up a couple of things I’ve been wanting to try and instead of reviewing them one-by-one, I thought it might be fun to do a blind tasting since watching Kate do her bottom shelf blind tasting was so fun. We lined up the new bottles along side a couple we’ve had sitting around on the shelf for a while and went to work. One of the bottles in the mix was even the 2015 “Whiskey of the Year” as proclaimed by Jim Murray. Will it prevail? One way to find out! Here we go, A through F. Let’s do it.
Color: Golden honey
Nose: Really bright rye, pears, green apple, vanilla, and fresh wood (like a new fence). It smells sweet, like it may be young, but it’s in great balance.
Taste: This is a young one. Bright flavors with pear, vanilla, green apple, caramel, and rye spice.
Finish: Honey comes in a bit at the end and hangs out with the rye heat to leave you with a really bright, fruity, and spicy finish. Nice. Real nice.
Color: Bright honey
Nose: This nose is a bit more subtle than A, and carries more wood up in it. There is light brown sugar, some rye black pepper, and a hint of a painty ethanol thing that isn’t my favorite smell in the world.
Taste: This one nails you with a really dry and spicy punch right out of the gate. Big oak, cherry, rye, and that off flavor from the nose round things out. There is also some light nuttiness and brown sugar up in the mix which don’t really add complexity, but complicate things more than anything. Not sure about this one.
Finish: Unfortunately that paint thing sticks around along with the cherry and rye spice. Then something crazy happened and I feel like I’m left crawling through the desert looking for water as if every drop of moisture in my body was stolen from me. So dry.
Color: Straw honey
Nose: This is the lightest in color, but the one that smells the oldest of the first 3. The nose has really great balance with sweet green apple, caramel, honey, as well as a huge cherry candy vibe that is really nice.
Taste: This one has the best mouthfeel so far, rich and oily. Honey, vanilla, brown sugar, and caramel all lend to the sweetness with that cherry candy from the nose coming as well. Great oaky dryness and cinnamon (bark, not candy) come in mid-palate to balance this sucker out really well.
Finish: The sweetness fades and the oak and cinnamon overtake the finish, but it doesn’t send your whole region of the country into a drought like B and actually serves to level out the whole experience.
Color: Deep amber
Nose: Whoa, what a huge difference from C. It’s got a very savory thing going on with a huge blast of what smells almost exactly like banana nut bread to me (whiskey is crazy). There is also some light oak, vanilla, and a hint of fruit punch funk. Decent balance.
Taste: The banana and nuttiness from the nose carries into the taste but are quickly overshadowed by a weird plasticky note. I’ve gotten this note before in other things (Slaugherhouse, for example) and I’m not sure what it is. Along with the thing I don’t like, there is a jarring licorice/anise flavor that doesn’t feel like it belongs. In the background are flavors of dark chocolate and mint.
Finish: All I can taste now is black licorice and pepper. Eventually that dies off and is replaced by a vanilla sweetness and subtle rye spice.
Color: Golden honey
Nose: Similar to C with a big burst of cherry candy right off the bat. This one also seems to have the biggest rye spice hit in the aroma. Bright green apple, a little vanilla, and a little oak are in the mix. Very similar to C but with a sharper edge to it with that rye spice punch.
Taste: Right off the nose translates perfectly to the taste. Huge cherry candy, rye spice, vanilla, honey, and oak. The mouthfeel is also fantastic. The word ‘jammy’ comes to mind from the days when I was super into wine. This is the biggest, boldest sip so far, and I’m really digging it.
Finish: Everything seems to fade in unison with the balance from the nose and taste remaining and ultimately ending with a combination of honey sweetness and rye heat.
Color: Deep amber
Nose: This one seems to have the most subtle nose. There is some decent oak, cinnamon, red fruit, and overall there are some very nutty things going on in the smelly smells. Not a bad nose at all, but a little less interesting than the others.
Taste: The taste is not at all boring like the nose. Deep oak, vanilla, honey, red fruity funk, and a heaping spoonful of rye black pepper spiciness.
Finish: The rye heat overtakes the finish and leaves things a bit out of balance although some vanilla vibes do linger to help out. Ultimately I’m left with some green apple jolly rancher.
Overall: Balance and complexity win the day for me, as it should, and not necessarily reputation or cost (hopefully). That’s the beauty of this blind thing.
To put things in perspective, half of these I have had before, and half were brand new and opened for this little event. I purchased the E.H. Taylor Straight Rye, the High West Double Rye, and the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye within the last 3 days, and I’ve been very excited about them all. I’ve written full reviews of Pikesville and Willett 2-year, and had been using that Whistlepig for Old Fashioneds lately. For fun predictions sake I expect that E.H. Taylor, High West, Willett, and Pikesville will score highly, while Crown Royal and Whistlepig are going to be the wild cards for me and I’m not expecting much. Alright, time to see if I’ve made a total ass of myself!
My final ranking ended up being the following, from best to worst:
E, A, C, F, B, D
Alright, time to pull back the curtain and see who’s who!
A. Willet 2-year
B. High West Double Rye
C. Crown Royal Northern Harvest
D. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye
E. Whistlepig 10
Well fuck! I don’t really know how to feel right now. First off, I picked an NDP rye from Canada and bottled in Vermont as #1. Crazy. Also, I can’t buy it in this state, which now makes me really bummed out. The balance and complexity on this whiskey was great! Nothing against Whistlepig, but I just didn’t expect that at all. Wow.
The Willet 2-year is much less of a surprise. I knew I loved that one, and it’s fairly easy to identify but it still blew me away. Okay, I’ll give Crown Royal a lot of credit, it was very close to being in the top 2 and I would have never guessed that they would make something I would enjoy this much. Is it the best whiskey in the whole freaking world? Doubtful, but it’s tasty, that’s for sure. Pikesville is still solid but it did drop half a point here as compared to the full review I wrote.
And now for the bottom 2, and holy shit would I never have guessed that I would be writing about how High West and freaking E.H. Taylor were my least favorites in anything. The High West was not bad, I definitely liked it more than I didn’t, but the balance was all over the place and it just killed me with that harsh finish and slight paint note.
So here we are at last place, a bottle of rye I’ve wanted to buy for a looooong time, and finally decided I would drop $80 on. What the shit, Colonel? I haven’t researched any reviews on this bottle (yet) but there I’m thinking there is no way in hell that everyone else agrees with me. E.H. Taylor is somewhat universally loved as a consistent brand so I don’t know what the deal is, but there is some random molecule in this juice that sets off all kind of terrible alarms in my brain and makes me really dislike it. The disappointment I felt when Kate told me that D was E.H. Taylor is hard to explain. The feeling cut deep, and it’ll leave a scar.
Well that’s all folks. This will probably be the last whiskey thing we write in 2015, and I hope you enjoyed me making an ass out of myself, which I think I totally accomplished. All of us here at Barrels and Mash are super excited to see what 2016 will bring for us, and we hope that we can keep writing things that you will read, and keep drinking things that are delicious. Cheers everyone, and happy new years!