Friday, March 22, 2013

Jefferson's 10 Year-Old Rye Whiskey Review

The Third President of Canada?
Today we have a review of a rare beast in the American market:  an affordable rye with a bit of age on it. Nearly everything else in current production is 6 years old or younger or else carries no age statement. Though we will likely have a resurgence (and, I hope, a glut) of older rye offerings once the current stocks mature, for now the pickings are slim. However, there remains a great, white, northern hope: Canada.

But this has an image of Thomas Jefferson on  it and is produced by a Kentucky company. Read the fine print: IMPORTED BY CASTLE BRANDS, PRODUCED IN CANADA.

Now wait. I know what you are thinking. Canadian "rye" sucks. Mostly you are correct. This is for a number of reasons:

  • Many colloquially refer to Canadian as "rye" even though it often contains a majority of other grains and so often bears little resemblance to an American straight rye.
  • Most Canadian that is imported to the States is "blended" whiskey, with as little as 20% of what we could call whiskey (in their industry "flavoring whiskey"), and the balance made of "grain neutral spirits," which makes the stuff essentially whiskey-flavored vodka.
  • Having produced the dubious whiskey-flavored vodka, Canadian is typically diluted down all the way to 80 proof, as apparently the taxation becomes ruinous above that point.
Pretty dismal. And it's mostly our fault. For years the major market for this stuff was south of the border where palates asked for "smooth" and easy to drink spirits that were usually mixed with soft drinks. But we don't judge American whiskey on blended crap, nor do we dismiss all of Scotch after trying some Johnny Walker Red. What would it taste like to try the unadulterated "flavoring whiskey," maybe at a respectable proof? Apparently, Wiser's, Alberta Premium and Forty Creek are putting forth fine efforts in this area, though only the latter is officially available in the US (again at 80 proof). But oddly enough, hope is not lost, as a number of American bottlers have released Canadian rye, though it is not always easy to tell where the juice is coming from. The best hint is the small number of 100% rye whiskeys currently on the market. Other than microdistillers (including the excellent Old Potrero), this stuff is all Canadian. They include:
    • Whistlepig 10 year-old Straight Rye Whiskey, 100 proof (now available around $60; 11yr/111 proof for $111). Bottled by Whistlepig Farms (VT)
    • Masterson's 10 year-old Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 proof (now available around $60). Bottled by 35 Maple Street (CA)
    • Jefferson's 10 year-old Straight Rye Whiskey, 94 proof (available in the $30-40 range). Bottled by McLain and Kyne (Ky)
    • Pendleton 1910 12 year-old Candadian Rye Whiskey, 80 proof (available around $35). Bottled by Hood River Distillers (OR)

    All of these likely come from Alberta Distillers, though none of them disclose the actual source. Alberta is said to be the only possible source for 10 year-old 100% rye. The Pendleton is the odd man out as it is older, lower proof and is not labeled as "straight" rye, which gives me concerns about used cooperage or perhaps the addition of flavorings or grain whiskey (which are legal in Canada), so we will defer discussion for now.

    Of the "straight" offerings, I have had the WP in a bar and am about to review the Jefferson's. As these likely all come from the same place, the Masterson's, at the lower proof and equal price to WP, is a bit of a hard sell unless there is some interesting barrel selection going on. Will still have to try it at some point.

    So, on to the review:
    Jefferson's 10 Year-Old Rye Whiskey, 94 proof (I paid $32.99)

    Color: Bright copper, very clear (no mention of filtration either way)

    Nose: Warm rye bread, vanilla custard, apples/cider, small amounts of alcohol/volatile chemicals, fresh grain and leather. This is really a lovely nose. Reminiscent of the Saz 18, or what I think it might smell like at this age. Combines the young, bright rye notes of the popular LDI ryes, with the older, darker flavored aged ryes I'm always going on about, though the latter are subtle.

    Palate: Very spicy attack with well-controlled alcohol and a candied ginger note. Baking spices, vanilla and caramel follow, along with rye bread and leathery notes. Also a hint of butter. Sweetness is more in line with a bourbon (higher) than most ryes. Weight is medium and overall this gives the (pleasant) impression of chasing candied ginger with cinnamon toast made with rye bread.

    Finish: Largely echoes the palate with warming burn then a clean and cool sensation. The ginger and spice linger a bit, as does the sweetness.

    Well. We definitely have a winner here. It is not nearly as far evolved in its aging process as the prestige 18+ ryes out there, but this whiskey has many similar qualities, and combines them with the pleasant characteristics of more youthful ryes in a very successful way. In truth, I'm not sure I would have guessed that this was even 10 years old, though, and I assume the climate in Alberta is a good reason for that.

    In any case, I find this a good deal more interesting than the Whistlepig (which was sweeter and higher proof, but more one dimensional; still a fine desert whiskey), and at $33 this is just an insanely good deal for rye whiskey. I'm going to bunker a few more of these guys and laugh every time someone brags about their $100 rye "from Vermont."

    For more info on the increasingly interesting Canadian Whisky market, see:


    1. It also makes excellent Manhattans

      1. Tastes like it would! I really need to restock on Vermouth...

      2. Make sure to get some of those Luxardo Cherries -- makes all the difference

      3. Got 'em. And they definitely do.

      4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I've had mixed experiences with ryes: some good, some astoundingly terrible. Then I tried Whistle Pig. General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics were reconciled. All my birthdays came at once. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
      Well, the *taste* was perfect. The price was beyond my wallet's capacity and I was compelled to ration it like the last canteen of water in a trek across the Sahara.

      Having said that, I cannot overemphasize my utter surprise when reading this review and sampling my first bottle of Jefferson Rye. The night I bought it, I thought it was very good. For $32, it was freakin' amazing!
      The second night, it was completely different. I'm still not sure whether it was the foods I'd eaten earlier, the temperature of the whiskey or what, but it had *none* of the lip-tingling street-fight-in-a-bottle bite of a pure rye whiskey.

      My main point in writing is to ask if anyone else has had such a night-and-day experience from one bottle.

    3. My "kids" gifted me a bottle for Fathers' Day. They also gave me a bottle of Templeton Rye [very good}. Yesterday the Jefferson was great! Today it was just as good, maybe better. I believe you are correct in your assumption that foods affect our palate, additionally, the time of day/temperature, our "state of mind", and so many other variables almost guarantee that any libation won't taste exactly the same twice.

      1. Happy Father's Day! Also, I think whiskies vary with how much they are affected by oxidation. Though this wasn't an issue with the speed I finished the Jefferson's...

    4. Up until eight months or so ago, I was a complete rye virgin... never had a drop. I was at a Christmas party and the gentleman at the bar with me ordered a brandy old fashioned "sweet". It sounded good to me at the time, so I ordered one as well. Then I saw that there was a bottle of Jim Beam rye, and asked that he use that for my old fashioned. What a difference it made! I liked it a lot. A few weeks later I was in a bar and noticed a bottle of Templeman's. I have some friends in Iowa that RAVE about it, so I gave it a try (straight up, no ice). Meh... nothing to write home about.

      There is a fine liquor store in town that I will frequent on occasion, and on my next trip there I purchased a bottle of Jefferson's. Whoa!!! Now THIS I LIKE!! I have had two bottles since then, and have also tried a few others.

      The less expensive DICKELS was okay drinking it straight, but nowhere as nice as the Jefferson's, which is now my "benchmark" for rye whisky. As a mixer though it's just fine. Next I tried BULLEIT, which again I though was good but not great. Currently I'm working my way through a bottle of RYE ONE, which is more to my liking than the Dickel or Bulleit, but probably not as tasty to me as Jefferson's. It is smoother I guess, with some good flavor but with less of the unique "bite" that comes with the rye.

      The hunt continues!

    5. Bob, I'm not sure which Bulleit you tried, but I really liked the Bulleit 95 Small Batch rye - green label. I also liked the Jefferson's 10-year and the Rittenhouse 100. I'm primarily a single-malt woman, myself, but enjoyed these three ryes very much.

    6. I LOVE Bulleit Rye. Bulleit is my go-to rye presently. Sazerac 6 (regular one) is my favorite. Dickel was OK. Dickel and Bulleit are both LDI but Dickel gets charcoal mellowing. Bought a very Limited Collingwood 21YR Rye a couple days ago. Not impressed. Picked up a Thomas H. Handy last night but haven't opened it. I've read it is the exact same thing as Saz6 but not watered down. I consider myself a rye fan but have been very put off lately to learn how many of these are distilled/aged by the same people and how many are Canadian. So many are LDI or AP (Alberta Premium). Rittenhouse is probably the one I really need to try but I'm not putting out that much money. At least not right now. I've been eying Masterson's but am still leary. Jefferson's aligns themselves with some good product historically, so at this price point I'm inclined to put it up against Saz6. Thanks for the review.

    7. Just looked and Jefferson's Rye is on sale locally for $28.99. Gonna pick up a bottle of that and a bottle of Saz6 real soon. Thanks again for the review. W/o it I likely would've never considered the Jeff Rye.

    8. I have an old 1969 Vintage bottle and Box of Alberta Springs Rye Sipping Whisky and am having a hard time breaking the seal. Not really a Rye Whisky person, but not sure how to find someone that would have more appreciation for this, and maybe trade for a Nice Single Malt Scotch. Any ideas..??