Monday, May 18, 2015

Rye Battle Royale Part II

When we left off last week, we had just participated in an epic tasting battle between Willett Bonili 24-Year 94 Proof (aka Willett 24/94) and Michter's 6J-1 10-Year Rye.  The Michter's eeked out a slim, but noticeable and unanimous victory.  It was so incredibly rich, warm, spicy, and full-flavored that we'd put it in the top 3 ryes we've ever tasted.  (Wish we had some LeNell's Red Hook Rye Barrel #1 to compare it to!!).

Just as we were wrapping up this incredibly enjoyable conclusion, our guest beasts - The Zuckman Brothers, started to break out some serious big guns.  We quickly went from two bad-ass rye legends to an entire table.  Here's how things looked:

Willett 24/94 & Michter's 6J-1
Black Maple Hill 23 Year Single Barrel Rye
Vintage 21 Year Rye
Hirsch 25 Year Rye

There were a couple of others too, a Rittenhouse 23 Year, and a Hirsch 22 Year.  There were pigs-in-blankets with Gulden's Spicy Brown mustard.  Really not a bad lineup all-in-all.  Here's what they all looked like together.

Ok so let's get down to some serious business.

First impressions:  After we got over the sheer ludicrousness of the task in front of us, we started to slowly taste through the table.  Right away we all noticed that there was something wrong with the Hirsch 22.  It must have been left out in the sun or had a bad cork or something, because this is a pretty legendary bottle and tasted straight up bad.  So we're assuming this was not a fair test of Hirsch 22 and we won't comment on it further.

We remember Black Maple Hill 23 as being the first super-aged rye that we ever tried.  We bought one in 2008 for $105.  It was so good we went back and bought another one, this time the price was $125.  Then we went back for a third, but the price had risen to $160.  Too rich for our blood, we thought back then and we didn't make the purchase.  Who would have thought that seven years later these bottles sell for $1,600 each!!  We should have bought a case at $160...

Second impressions:  We strongly suspect that the Michter's, Black Maple Hill, Willett, and Vintage 21 are all from the same source and from similar batches.  They're peas in a pod, very similar, all insanely delicious, and probably difficult to tell apart if you weren't tasting them side-by-side.  The Rittenhouse and the Hirsch, on the other hand, were obviously different recipes / sources.  They had completely different taste profiles.

Third impressions:  Within the four that we're now suspecting to be KBD-sourced juice there were some definite variations and subtleties to the taste.  The Michter's was still the unanimous favorite.  We took turns leaving the room and then blind tasting the Michter's against some of the other bottles, and it was still 100% chosen as the best, even just from the nose.  The Rittenhouse was the sweetest, and had less of the classic rye spice to it.  This pushed it higher for some and lower for others.

Ok, so for the results, here is Jared with his picks:

J-Zuck puts the Ritt up at #2!

And Brett:
B-Money Likes-A-Da-Willettz

The SmokyBeast final scoring went like this:

  1. Michter's 6J-1  (even blind this one was just so huge and awesome!)
  2. Willett 24/94 (This one is still such a truly awesome bottle)
  3. Vintage 21  (Extremely close in nose/palate to the Willett, have to put them together)
  4. Black Maple Hill 23 (Tasting this bottle after all these years was awesome, it's really amazing but just a tiny bit flat/waxy next to the others)
  5. Rittenhouse 23  (Still one of our all-time favorites, we just had to give the others preference because they're so very RYE!  If you told us the Rittenhouse was a superb bourbon we might fall for it.  Not that that's a bad thing...)
  6. Hirsch 25 (Very interesting and complex bottle here, just lacking some of the vitality and vigor of the others.  The spice gets a little lost in the wood here and it's just a bit over-oaked.)
We had two other guest judges who decided to remain anonymous due to the extremely high profile of SmokyBeast and their fear of being constantly plagued by paparazzi and written up in gossip columns.  But the results were very similar, the Michter's, Willett, and Vintage 21 were the statistical favorites in that order, with some mixture of BMH and Ritt in the next spots.  

That's all for now.  Where do you go from here??  Any requests for our next review?  Let us know if any of you have tasted these bottles and share your thoughts / tasting notes in the comments.  

Cheers!  /SB

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rye Battle Royale - Willett 24/94 vs Michter's 6J-1

When the Zuckman brothers arrived bearing matching bulletproof briefcases handcuffed to their wrists, we knew there would be trouble.  You see the Zuckmans - Brett the elder and young buck Jared, are notorious in certain circles for their very specific set of skills.  These include sniping estate sales, swooping in on auctions, and adhering themselves to the rear grills of Van Winkle delivery trucks to track down "unicorn" whiskey bottles.  If there's a Hirsch wax top slowly sinking in the Hudson river, you can bet that Jared is twenty feet below in a wetsuit honing in on that sucker with side-scan radar and Brett is rolling up from starboard in one of those crab boats from Deadliest Catch.

The Zuckman Brothers (artistic rendering)

"Holy Shit!"

...was how eloquently hubby put it when he turned the bottle around and looked at the label.  He'd just seen a ghost.  Or as close to a ghost as there is in the whiskey business.

Let's take a step back.  If you're a loyal reader, you're familiar with our penchant for (read: obsession with) Michter's 10-Year Rye.  The ryes released under this label from 2007 to 2011 were incredibly special, rumored to have been bottled for Michter's by Julian Van Winkle.  The barrel numbers like "7B-2" and "8K-1" referred to the year of release (2007) and the batch.  We found that the farther back you go, the more amazing the bottle tastes.  The 7B-2 was some of the best rye we'd ever tasted and held it's weight back to back with some of our absolute favorites like Willett 25 Year.  We'd heard rumors that there were even earlier releases of Michter's 10 Year Rye, from before 2007, but had never seen one in the flesh...  until now.

Ninja Battle

So, in the presence of such a legend, what kind of warrior could we unleash in our corner?  Luckily we'd saved the last inch of our Willett 24/94 (the victor in our recent "big willett tasting").  This beauty, from the epic 1984 distillation, has been at the top of our rye list for some time.

Let The Battle Begin!

Nose to nose:

Willett 24/94:  Just from the first sip it's everything we remember it being.  Rich, vanilla, spice, leather, super alive.  Little explosions of too many things to note but to give it another shot: palm fronds, bananas, saddle leather, brandied cherries, Cohiba cigars (real Cubans of course, not that DR crap), more vanilla, like slicing open fresh vanilla beans.  Like filling a bathtub with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and soaking in it.

Michter's 6J-1:  "Holy shit..." is uttered again.  It's not quite as bright as the Willett, but if it's possible it's even richer.  All those things above, minus some of the bananas, plus a big ole dab of molasses bbq sauce.  If the other one made us want to fill up a bathtub with it and soak for hours, this one makes us want to rent a houseboat and live in there, just circumnavigating the basin of the glencairn glass over and over as we drift into old age.

Taste to taste:

Willett: Ok malt whisky was our first love.  Lagavulin, Talisker, those smoky peaty beauties that live in your nostrils for decades after you finish the glass.  But right now, if we're talking desert island decisions, we'd have to put down scotch and bring a case of this stuff.  It's just pulls you in so hard.  The spice, the mouthfeel, it's super warm and mellow, not a trace of burn, but at the same time so completely alive with none of the over-woodedness or sour oak that some super aged American whiskies have.  And the finish: just perfect.  Crisp with spice floating across the nose and throat and a layer of honey and black licorice that slowly recedes back from the tip of the tongue.

Michters:  And again, we barely would have thought it possible, but it's all those things and just a little more.  An oily thickness on the tongue with less honey and more viscosity.  It's a few shades darker and you can taste that color.  Just a drop thicker, warmer, more subtle, maybe a tad more towards bourbon in the way that the richness builds up into a heat.  Not an alcohol heat, but a sensory heat of flavors all coming together right at the top of your throat.  The Michter's is the victor in this battle, if only by a hair, but it was unanimous.  We all agreed there was just something decidedly Kardashian about DAT MICHTER'S that just slaughtered it.  We'd still rob you blind if you were walking down the street with a Willett 24/94, but for the Michter's we'd add some kind of deadly weapon.


"Damn, Zuckman's, that was a pretty epic throw down.  Guess we'll catch you on the flip side."

"You think we're done?" asks Brett.

"We're just getting warmed up," adds Jared.  And some new bottles come out of those briefcases.

Oh man a Vintage 21!  This is another Willett / Kentucky Bourbon Distillers bottling from the mid-2000's that's now a total collector's item.  And then...

A Hirsch 25 rye!  This one's been on our short list as we've never tried it before.  Getting massively excited.  But wait, is that...  Yes, yes I think it is...

A Black Maple Hill 23!  Another KBD bottle this time for Black Maple Hill, the insanely coveted BMH23 now sells on the black market for upwards of $1,600.

Well now it's an all out Rye Wrestlemania!  (Ryestlemania??)  This is too much to handle right now.  Tune in next week for the results.