April 21, 2015

Beast Masters Club Part Two - Rye Night!

Twelve men with a continuing mission: To drink our way through the world's best whiskey, four bottles at a time.  I could tell you where and when, but then I'd have to kill you.  But I can let slip a few more of the gory details.

The Beast Masters

Professor Rickhouse, Chief Security Officer
Hometown: Greenwich, CT
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Michter's 10yr

Jew Done Drank Ma Whiskey, Treasurer
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Haggis MacTavish
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Lagavulin 16

Seamus O'Schwartz
Hometown: Lawrence, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Black Maple Hill 16 Year

El Diablo
Hometown: Thorpe Bay, UK
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Lagavulin 21 Year

Red Beard
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Black Maple Hill 23 Year

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Macallan 12 Year

The Highway Man
Hometown: Middlebury, VT
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Woodford Reserve

Captain Sour Mash
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: William Larue Weller

Neaty Peaty
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Ardbeg

Mr. S. Beast
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Rye
Favorite open bottle: Shhhh.

Tonight's Action

The first Beast Masters Club was all about super aged smoky Islay single malts.  For the sequel, we went all Americano, straight to the heart of Kentucky for RYE NIGHT!

Pieces of History

As with every Beast Masters night, we wanted to sample some pieces of whiskey history.  So we tracked down bottles that descend from some of the legendary shuttered Kentucky distilleries.

The Bottles!!

Sazerac Rye 18-Year Old
(Buffalo Trace Antique Collection)
2013 Release, 45% 90 proof

Alongside the Van Winkle hysteria, Buffalo Trace’s other annual release, The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) has become extremely sought-after and impossible to find. BTAC includes two cask strength bourbons – George T. Stagg and the wheated recipe William Larue Weller, a standard proof Eagle Rare 17-Year Old bourbon, and two ryes: Thomas H. Handy, a cask-strength 9-year old, and perhaps the most limited production of the entire collection with only 20-30 barrels per release: Sazerac Rye 18-Year Old.

All Sazerac 18-year comes from a single distillation that was completed in 1985 (presumably from the Medley Distillery). In 2003, this whiskey was deemed to be the perfect age and was removed from the barrels and inserted into a steel tank to prevent further aging. So while the 2013 release whiskey is actually 28 years old, it was only aged in wood for 18 years.

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
13 Years Old, 47.8%, 95.6 proof

The ultimate peak of bourbon/rye insanity, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye has been virtually impossible to obtain for some years, sparking backroom dealings and illicit black market communities. Rumored to be a blend of Medley and Old Bernheim ryes, the actual source remains unknown.

The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800’s with Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville, traveling around the state by horse and buggy. In May of 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. He had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were either sold with the distillery or to other distilleries.

After selling the distillery, Julian, Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. Julian junior’s son, Julian, III took over in 1981 when Julian, Jr. passed away.

Rittenhouse 23-Year Rye (50%, 100 proof)

Distilled in October 1984 at the Old Heaven Hill Distillery, and bottled in 2007, Rittenhouse 23-Year was a very limited run of 25 barrels. This was one of the last highly-aged ryes to be directly released by Heaven Hill from the remaining stocks before the fire that consumed Old Heaven Hill Distillery.
“Delightful aromas of old leather, library books, pipe tobacco, pineapple, oak resin and trail mix. Palate entry features deep flavors of brown butter, walnut butter and palm oil; midpalate is luscious and resiny with integrated flavors of black pepper, oak and dried fruits. Finish is long, honeyed and treacle-like. Not for the faint of heart. 95 points.” Wine Enthusiast
That the Rittenhouse Very Rare collection ever came to be was a result of serendipity. The original lot of 95 barrels was intended for a private-label customer of Heaven Hill. The company was aging the whiskey for the customer, which failed to call for it until it was far beyond the intended age. When the rye neared the unusual age of 21 years, Heaven Hill approached the whiskey's owner and offered to buy it back. In 2007, it released the Rittenhouse Very Rare 23-Year-Old Straight Rye Whisky. Parker Beam, the Heaven Hill master distiller, says that the whiskey was able to age so long because of its location on the first floor of Rickhouse 00, where the temperatures are lower than on higher floors.

Willett 25-Year Rye (50%, 100 proof)

Only available for a brief time at the Willett Distillery in Bardstown, KY, the Willett 25-Year Rye is one of a kind. It’s some of the last remaining stock of the Old Bernheim Distillery, historic juice that can never be replicated.

Tasting Notes

The Sazerac 18 was a great opener with incredible smoothness greeting vanilla, mint, leather, and oak.  It went down so easy and opened up the palate for some serious rye drinking.  It was quickly overshadowed by the higher proof bottles, but wow so drinkable and a great way to start the evening.

The Van Winkle really took things up a notch.  The spice goes on for miles, it's very ALIVE and doesn't have any signs of over woodiness or over-age.   It's just bursting with spice and also comes forward with some banana and molasses flavors.  What a winner!  No wonder this stuff is kept in an NSA bunker and only released one bottle at a time!

The Rittenhouse - now we're really getting into some interesting territory.  It's a rock-star no doubt.  Better than the Winkle?  The group was totally divided.  The majority of folks thought that it tasted more bourbon-y and less straight rye.  Could this be reflected in the recipe? Maybe a higher corn content?  Unfortunately we couldn't find mashbills for these bottles.  (Anyone out there have more info??)  The Ritt had more chocolate / nougat, where the Winkle was more spice/mint forward.  Just about an even split on the winner here.  

The Willett - The really incredible thing about the Willett is the mouth feel.  Some of the reactions "It's like drinking melted butter"  "Like oak syrup".  It's definitely got an herbal and bitter note at the end of the finish.  Is that a bad thing?  Some would say past its prime.  Personally I love this bottle.  The Willett was definitely the right way to end the tasting as the huge wood and incredibly thick mouth feel make it hard to go back and taste the lighter stuff afterwards.

And The Winner Is?

There was some consensus and a lot of disagreement.  Most thought that the Saz18, while delicious, couldn't really hang with the other three.  The Willett got third place in most of the votes (though I tied it with the VW as my favorite).  And almost a 50/50 split between the Van Winkle and the Rittenhouse.

It was an interesting night.  Many in the group reflected that the ryes were less different from each other than the Islay malts we'd tasted in the previous session.  And this makes perfect sense.  Some of those malts were sherry cask, some weren't, and they had vastly different proofs and levels of peat. This is a theory we've touched on before.  Scotch can have many different ideals (soft and gentle, sweet and punch, smoky, spicy) whereas rye is all pretty much shooting for the same ideal goal.

Then What?

What do you do after drinking four incredible ryes?  Why eat Dinosaur BBQ and drink Sierra Nevada of course!  What the hell else could you do!  :)  



  1. So jelly.

    I have tried VWFRR next to Ritt 21 and Hirsch 22 and it was like picking your favorite kid between the Ritt and VW. That palate smack on the Ritt and the raw, almost wasabi like punch on the VW. Amazing stuff. Funny how the Hirsh was the red headed step child (for me at least).

    Still haven't had any older Willett rye. Always been highly sceptical. Recent GC bottles are $350 now?? The humanity....

    Also didn't realize Ritt 23 was bottled in '07. Certainly makes me wonder if there are distributors holding on to some cause I bought one last year for retail. Definitely had not been sitting for 6-7 years.

    1. Wow that's some find on the Ritt23 at retail! Good for you. Haha let us know if you're around NYC and we should line up a tasting.

  2. I have had 3 out of the 4 listed with the Rittenhouse being the only one not tasted. The Willett 25 yr was my favorite , I loved the mouth feel and the herbal notes . Went through 2 bottles of the W25 , I am glad I bunkered 2 more. All were barrel 1780

    1. Nice! Yeah we've got a couple in the bunker as well. They still seem to have some supply at the gift shop, but who knows how long that will last... Interesting that you also preferred it to the VW! A lot of people are put off buy the super woody / herbal finish, but personally I love it. Thanks for the comment!