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


  1. Do you drink your Gulden's neat or on the rocks ?

    1. Haha just squeezed it straight into our mouths of course hahaha.

    2. I recently obtained a black maple hill 18 year rye cask R70. I was curious if you've tried this and what are your thoughts on it? Cheers!!

    3. Hi Howard,

      Wow that's a total unicorn. I haven't had that specific cask # but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say it's 99% likely to be incredible. Please let us know if you crack it open and how it is. Cheers/SB

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