These guys are all a bit confusing. None of them actually tells us straightforwardly where they were made or by whom. The Michter's is probably 18 years old, despite the 10yo label, and the VWFRR is likely about the same. After some tasting and lots of obsessing on StraightBourbon (who I'd love to join, but am having some trouble with the ISP email only requirement...) as well as Bourbon Enthusiast (another great resource), I have come up with the following provisional theory of provenance (please feel free to correct or discuss further!):
|I've actually no idea about the Michter's|
The Saz 18, by comparison, seemed very fresh and had far less barrel influence, making it seem younger. What it lacked in barrel-y smooth goodness it made up for in sweetness, rye spice, mint and focus. The Hirsch could almost have been any extra-old whiskey, but the Saz was unmistakably rye. At half the price of the Hirsch (if you can find it at list price...) this is an incredible whiskey. Had it again at Michael's Genuine in Miami a few days later and found that it even paired well with food. If the Hirsch is a big, slutty delicious California Cab, the Saz is a focused, brightly acidic Burgundy. Would kill a man to try the barrel proof version, but there is apparently so little Saz 18 that we will never see it.
Based on the Venn above, it should be no surprise that the VWFRR was intermediate. This thing is a freaking unicorn. I've found 3 bottles since I started buying whiskey. All the hype of Van Winkle, all the hype of rye, and tiny, tiny production. Labeled as 13 years old, it is, as mentioned, likely far older and is purported (at least for the last few years) to be a vatting of Medley and CoK. Honestly, I was hoping that the VW13 would be as close as possible to the Hirsch 13, which is the finest rye whiskey I have ever tasted. It was close, but I don't think the vatting did it justice. That said, it is probably in my top 3 rye whiskeys. We tried vatting the Saz 18 with the Hirsch 22 (just a small amount) and found the mixture delicious, but not identical to the VWFRR.
As I said, I do not have detailed notes for these, but I think they are all excellent and worth seeking out as, though expensive, they represent the end of a rye era. Whatever the age statements of these ryes, and whatever their actual barrel ages, much of this stuff is actually far older, having been "tanked" in stainless steel vats where they do not age further and from where they are periodically doled out to us. As such, they are essentially Dodos. We shall not see their like again.
Of course there has been much made lately of the rye renaissance, and we are all happy for more rye, but it will be 2015 at earliest before we see a new 13 year-old rye whiskey. I hope the years to come will bring more and equally good mature ryes, but they will not be the same. These guys are all really expensive, but they are getting scarce and not getting any cheaper. To try a bit of distilling history, I would refer Philadelphia area folks to leave the bottles in stores to me and head over to Southwark (with whom I have no relation), who have far and away the most amazing selection of rye I've seen in any bar in the country.
Next up: Michter's 10 Single Barrel Rye