|Old enough to drink themselves.|
I think the things that I find so exciting about these older ryes are the unusual intensity of the nose these guys tend to have, and their combination of spice and dryness. These things are very hard to find in bourbon (though wheaters do age really nicely). The nose, I find, is what develops most in the extra-aged expressions. The other notable characteristic that seems drastically to increase with aging is the presence of tannins (the same chemicals responsible for the mouth-drying quality of red wine), which many find off-putting. My favorite wines are the relatively tannic Baroli and Barbareschi of Piedmont, though, so this does not bother me a bit; I actually kind of like it.
Vintage 21 Rye Whiskey (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) 47%ABV ($120 if you can find it)
Nose: Attic, church pews, incense, dark rye toast, toffee, raisins
Palate: Chewy, with well integrated alcohol. Toast, vanilla, intense spices, caramel and lots of wood. Brooding.
Finish: Very long, warming and drying. About 1 minute in , apples and grape skins come through, finally
Overall: This is much better than I remember a prior tasting in a bar, which I though was too dry and woody. This is still a very woody drink, but I think it has the fruit and spice to balance the wood assault that makes for an overall very intense, interesting experience. Those who find their wood/tannin tolerance lower than mine would likely prefer the Saz 18 which is at this point easier to find and cheaper, but I like this a bit better. 93/100
Rittenhouse 21 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey (Heaven Hill) 50%ABV ($150)
Nose: More ethereal with notes of rye bread, red fruits and caramel, in addition to incense, antique shop wood and old books. More alcoholic as well.
Palate: Big mouthfeel with buttered rye toast, cinnamon and cloves, very faint pickle, also lots of wood. Bright overall.
Finish: Shorter than the V21, not as drying. Apples and their skins, vanilla, faint incense. Ends with slight grapeseed bitterness.
Overall: The nose on this is just fantastic and is by far the high point of this whiskey. I could smell this stuff for days. The palate and finish are much better than when I first opened the bottle (at that point the palate was quite thin and boring), but they are still a bit of a let-down after the promises of the nose. This is still excellent whiskey, but not quite as good as the V21, and I don't think I'd spend the rather high price on it (better to get Saz, Michter's 10 or any other old rye you can find). That said, I am still looking forward to opening the 23 at some point and will of course report back. 91/100
These are both excellent rye whiskeys, but they sort of illustrate what I think is a great sadness of the recent boom in bourbon and rye: look at how expensive these are. A few years ago, people were complaining that the V21 wasn't worth $40 because you could get VWFRR for that price! Now, there are just so few options for a good aged rye without impoverishing yourself. Luckily, the majors have all increased their rye production, so maybe when attention moves on to the next phase of "clear drinks are now cool again," we can have a rye glut, but until then, make sure to share these bottles with friends.