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Templeton Rye Whiskey Review

Many noted whiskey writers and historians (Chuck Cowdery for example) have been “out in front” taking on certain claims from various distilleries and craft whiskey operations across the country. And in some cases, even the industry giants aren’t left out as targets.

The main reason for this is that the “truth” on many whiskey brand labels is “bent” a little. And while some of the minutia that gets tossed around is a bit silly in my opinion, I think we all know how the “marketing guys” can quickly turn a mole hill into a mountain. That’s how some guy minimally associated with a particular distillery centuries ago suddenly “invented bourbon” or whatever the claim may be.

It is also worth noting with so many bourbon and American Whiskey brands on the market and only a handful of large production distilleries, much of the stuff you see on the shelves is made by only a few distilleries. This is not necessarily the case for some of the new upstart craft (or whatever you want to call them today) distilleries, but in the bourbon aisle alone most of the stuff is made by about 7-8 distilleries.

And why is that important? Well, the subject of this review has been the subject of much media drama around it’s story and the production of its product. Templeton Rye is a Templeton, Iowa based distillery. We can comfortably call it a distillery because the operation that exists in Templeton is now distilling, just not the the whiskey in their flagship Templeton Rye bottle. The distillery that is producing it is Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. LDI produces whiskey for a number of very popular brands like High West, Redemption, Bulleit, and many others. Earlier this year I wrote about LDI as a part of a post I did on Four Roses.

The Templeton Rye Story
Templeton President, Scott Bush, lives in Chicago, IL but has family ties in Iowa. Bush grew up hearing stories from family members about a rye whiskey his great-grandfather was associated with. The whiskey was allegedly produced in Templeton, Iowa during prohibition. The company’s website, and Bush himself, also claim that the whiskey, like a viral video, made its way all over the country during that period. It eventually found it’s way east where Templeton claims it became Al Capone’s whiskey of choice. Soon after it was nicknamed “The Good Stuff” by those that knew it well.

Bush decided he wanted to bring whiskey production back to Templeton, Iowa. He set out to find folks that had a connection with the prohibition-era product. Soon he partnered up with Meryl Kherkoff, whose father helped make the whiskey during that time. Bush claims that Kherkoff provided him with the recipe. Rather than create it on their own, Templeton decided to contract the whiskey making to LDI.

Templeton confirms that the whiskey is greater than 90% rye grain with the remainder being malted barley. Interestingly LDI has a stock rye whiskey mashbill that is 95% rye. This is the juice that Bulleit, Redemption, and many others use in their products. It’s likely to me that Templeton Rye Whiskey is 95% rye based on this but that is only an assumption on my part. For the record, other stories have emerged on this subject where claims were made the original prohibition-era whiskey had a higher percentage of corn. If true that would further dispute the claim that the recipe today is the same.

Whether or not the above history of the product is true I don’t think we’ll ever be able to confirm. The story is certainly fun though. I bring up the fact that it’s unconfirmed firstly because it isn’t conformed. Secondly, and most importantly not to slight Templeton, but rather to challenge you to not get roped into the branding and marketing of certain products. In most cases, provided it’s not illegal, whiskey marketers can claim whatever the hell they want to. And they do.

The good news for consumers is there are new distilleries starting up every day that are learning that it’s not okay to fool us. That’s no way to build brand loyalty. Many existing distilleries are learning this fact also, but maybe not as soon as some would like. We all have to understand that some of this stuff is hard to prove.

When that’s the case I let the juice in the bottle do the talking. This latest review is from a sample of Templeton’s most recent release.

Templeton Rye Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $40
Templeton Rye’s nose is a balance of sweet and spicy flavors with aromas of caramelized banana, vanilla, cinnamon candy (red hots), bracing rye, and wintergreen. Oak is subtle and not overly pronounced. On the palate, a honey-sweet entry moves quickly to dry rye grain, chili flake, and black pepper. The sweet core of this whiskey keeps it from ever getting too fiery on the tongue. In fact it’s quite mellow (more than likely due to the low proof). I would love to see this maybe closer to 90-95 proof because I feel it might give it a bit more spark. Regardless, there’s a lot of great flavor here. The finish is crisp mint, honey, cinnamon spice, and dries up quickly. Whatever you think about the story or the recipe or the fact they don’t distill it, Templeton is bottling a very good rye whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.4 Very Good/Excellent)

38 Comments

  1. MAL says:

    I was intrigued when I saw this at my local store last year. Priced closer to $50 in Michigan. The price and the lack of an age statement kept me away.

  2. MAL, I believe it’s less than 5 years old and older than 2 years old. There’s conflicting information as to how old it is exactly.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. sam k says:

    Jason, have you had a chance to compare this with other LDI 95 percenters? I’m curious (like yourself) to see if you think there’s any obvious differences.

    As with many fringe brands, we can’t get Templeton here in the People’s Republic of Pennsylvania for my own comparison purposes.

  4. Jeffrey Woolley says:

    Jason, thanks for another very professional and detailed review. I have to admit I have resisted most non-Tennessee/Kentucky American whiskies. We have some players here in WA (Dry Fly, Woodinville Whiskey Co., Mischief, etc.), but most of them are overpriced and underwhelming, at least for my money and palate. Without rising to Mr. Cowdery’s pious rage over “potemkin distillers”, I still get my hackles up when companies that market rather than make whiskey obscure the provenance of their spirits. I am excited, however, more and more whiskeys are coming to market. If only the companies would be forthright with us about what they are selling us. In other news, can you believe what has happened to Sam Houston? In exchange for what was once a mighty 10 year we get a cardboard coffin for cheap booze.

  5. sam k says:

    Hey, Templeton’s in Iowa, right? Iowa’s not a place that’s noted for rye production, since there’s corn as far as the eye can see. Any ideas why rye even entered the picture there?

    Why not an illicit bourbon (or corn whiskey) in corn country?

    And Jeffrey…what are you referring to regarding Sam Houston?

  6. Sam, yep it’s in Iowa. I can’t imagine the whiskey they pushed out during prohibition was a high rye like it is today. Corn is cheaper and as you mention, probably plentiful. Canadian Rye whiskey in most cases has a minority of rye grain in the mashbill. Unlike American Rye Whiskey it doesn’t have to be 51%. I’m guessing this was more likely what they were bootlegging.

    I believe Jeffrey refers to the purchase of the Sam Houston brand/label and the fact it’s no longer a 10 year old product, but now practically swill. I haven’t had it in years and years so I cannot personally attest to the quality but that’s what I’ve heard.

    Sam, as for the comparing with other LDI Juice, I’ve compared them to practically all of them. If we lined up Bulleit Rye, Redemption Rye, Templeton, etc. you would definitely be able to taste the similarities. Bulleit and Templeton are older than Redemption. Also Double Rye!, which is just a super Straight Rye Blend from High West uses a 2 year old version of the LDI rye blended with an older rye. The 2 year old plays off that so well and underscores how sometimes young whiskey is just what some older juice needs to perk things up.

    The hallmark of this LDI juice is a very green green freshness in the younger stuff. There’s evergreen, juniper (gin like), cinnamon candy, and honey at the core. Age ramps up oak flavors, vanilla, caramel, lessens some of that green freshness, etc. Templeton’s nose is a bit less green than the others interesting, but could be a batch difference here and there.

    That’s a long winded way to say that the family resemblance is quite clear.

  7. Jeffrey, thanks for the comment. I certainly understand why you might have some difficulty pulling the trigger on some of this stuff. I concur with you. A great lot of it is just marginal stuff. I got a boatload of samples in of stuff that’s just average at best. Chuck’s ire at the “potemkins” used to really get me ruffled up I suppose because in some cases they were putting out good stuff. But then I realized that your average consumer that might not be aware has a greater chance of getting roped in on some of the truth bending. The man is very very knowledgable in this space and someone has to keep them honest. He’s good at it.

    Companies are learning that is for sure. It’s good for all of us consumers. Shoot us straight, give us a good product at an honest price, and you’ll be surprised at the results.

  8. Jeffrey Woolley says:

    Hey Sam,

    Up until recently Sam Houston was a respectable 10 year old small batch bourbon, and then the age statement disappeared, and then the owners of the brand McLain and Kyne (the operation marketing Jefferson’s) sold off the name. Now it is mere “whiskey”. Read more here: http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=15682.

    Yours,

    JDW

  9. sam k says:

    Jason, your average consumer is not reading this whiskey blog, nor any other, so the ire being referred to has no resonance anywhere but with the cognoscenti, making it relatively hollow. As Chuck himself has pointed out, the truth-bending is by no means limited to small whiskey purveyors, be they distillers or not.

  10. I’ve heard good things about this and I love the LDI Rye juice, but refuse to pull the trigger because I can get Bulleit Rye (which I love) for $19 a bottle here. I can’t imagine they are much different, or that the Templeton is over twice as good.

    As for the other LDI stuff…Double Rye! is my favorite. Bulleit Rye is my 2nd favorite and much easier to commit to given the price. The Redemption was good but too young for me.

    Ryan

  11. sam k says:

    Yeah, the Bulleit is pretty compelling, isn’t it, Ryan? Nineteen dollars?? It’s $26 here in PA.

  12. Jeffrey Woolley says:

    Thanks for the response, Jason. This is definitely a great time to be a whisk(e)y drinker. You still need to make it out here to Seattle so we can share some Parker’s 27. JDW

  13. Ryan Murphy says:

    Sam, a liquor store I went to today had the bulleit rye for $17! I bought 3. I do love the stuff. Have you had the double rye?

  14. sam k says:

    Yes, and was very pleased with it. I like ryes very much to begin with, and to have David Perkins experimenting with different blends gives me goose bumps! In fact, I’m thrilled that there are even hat many ryes available to play with.

    I remember the dark days when the only two domestic ryes were Old Overholt and Jim Beam, and it seemed like they might just up and disappear. We brought rye back from the brink in the nick of time, and to look at where it’s heading now is truly astonishing.

  15. Jeffrey, I absolutely will get that way at some point and we’ll have to have a drink for sure.

  16. Liza says:

    As a former Iowa girl, I am a sucker for this stuff. People in Iowa drive to small town liquor stores trying to snap it up! I am bummed out to hear that it’s not distilled in Templeton, I had totally bought that. I still think it’s killer in a rye & ginger, though!

    Most of the corn that grows in Iowa isn’t made for human consumption – it goes to things like ethanol and animal feed. That being said, if anyone wants to try to make a Bourbon based on Iowa corn, I’ll be first in line! ;-)

  17. Liza, thanks a lot for the comment! If it makes you feel any better I am sure the that bottling, order fufillment, and various other job duties help to employ a lot of good people in Templeton. So while it’s not distilled there today, hopefully one day it will be. Until then, I’m sure the folks in Iowa appreciate the support.

    I agree with you, it’s very good stuff. I’ll have to try it with Ginger too – one of my favorite mixing sodas with aged spirits like bourbon and rye.

    Good info on the corn as well!

  18. Sour Mash reader says:

    Great review, agree with your point about the “gift” some marketers have for finding new ways to look at a situation. Don’t think it’s limited to distilleries, certainly seems like there are plenty of vinyards/ breweries that lay it on pretty thick.

    I can’t speak for Scott Bush, but I know the folks from Templeton quite well (both prior to the days of the official templeton rye and post), and they’re a pretty straight-shooting bunch. I’m sure that if you called up Keith, he’d be happy to talk to you about the back story if you did have any questions.

    Love the blog, and glad to have an opportunity to learn more from someone with such passion for the topic.

    P.S. In case you call or write, it’s Kerkhoff, not Kherkoff.

  19. Thanks for the note on Kerkhoff! I do agree the Templeton story is a good one. I think what can kind of get folks riled up is the “old recipe” stuff. I believe LDI is giving them one of their stock recipes that is in Bulleit, Redemption, and a number of others. So that’s where I think things get a little blury. BUT, that doesn’t change the fact that Templeton Distillery is the largest employer in Templeton, puts good people to work, and is the pride of the area. All of that stuff is just great for everyone.

  20. Scott says:

    Liza,

    Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery makes an Iowa bourbon made from Iowa corn. They even make it in Iowa. It seems to be getting good reviews (I like it but I’m not qualified to review any sort of whiskey) and so far it’s been easy to find in the Des Moines area. Templeton Rye has been selling for $50 a bottle and the Cedar Ridge bourbon is still at around $35. Apparently they have a single malt in the works as well.

  21. Scott, I’ll have to look for the Cedar Ridge.

  22. Nick Schaefer says:

    Rye was grown in Templeton during the depression and corn was not used because of corns other uses. My father was good friends with Cliff Romey. Cliff is a local who knows the ins and outs of Templeton.I understand its Templetons recipe and distilled in Indiana. Then its brought back to Templeton and put in aged barrels and stored here and bottled here..Does it matter that much where its distilled?

  23. Nick Schaefer says:

    IPT has a special on the bootlegged version of TR. Its great!

  24. Nick, it actually doesn’t bother me. As I mentioned in the review, I let the juice do the talking, and it’s very good stuff. However, Templeton was not initially as “transparent” in the early goings about where their juice was being made. In the last year or so they’ve been a lot more forthcoming that it is LDI. The fact that they also claim that the whiskey is “greater than 90% rye” and LDI happens to be one of THE producers of a 95% rye, leaves me puzzled. Perhaps their claim is true, but I’d venture a guess it’s 95% rye as well, in which case either Templeton’s recipe was 95% as well or it’s just LDI juice and they claim it’s their storied recipe.

    Back to your original point – if the juice is good, then it’s good. Regardless of the story. I also believe they’ve learned a lot about the fact that consumers are smart and they’ve done better about being more forthcoming.

    Thanks for the comment.

  25. dan says:

    My son brought a bottle of Templeton Rye home from a visit to Iowa & told the story of the local production etc . . . found it entertaining, but was more interested in the flavor. Having drank mostly single malt Scots, preferably Craggenmore or Glen Morangie, for the past 40 years I’ve developed an aversion to corn based spirits & was a bit careful in the first sip, neat, . . . we did a good job on the bottle after that. Lovely bouquet, body, flavor, finish. i’ve never had anything but Overholt & Beam before & think they are fine mixers, but this Rye could easily turn me, at the right price point. Guess it’s time to go over to Total Wine & try out those your bloggers are recommending.

    Thanks all for the thoughtful and entertaining information.

  26. Alec says:

    the age statement is a minimum of 4 years … there’s a lot more info here on their method: http://templetonrye.com/wp-content/themes/Templeton-Rye/docs/Website-FactSheet-Download.pdf

  27. Jason says:

    Jason, thank you for the review. It is always pleasant to read a critical review that stimulates good dialogue.

    Just to add a few comments myself for others involved in the discussion… It seems there are many who have not tried Templeton yet and are basing opinions based on reviews (no offense Jason as I do appreciate reviews). I am sure most those commenting on this page enjoy whiskey more often than the common consumer so encourage you to buy a bottle (or split the cost of a bottle with a friend or two and enjoy together) and have a taste then formulate your own opinion about how the whiskey tastes on your palate.

    The other comment, is as you mentioned Jason, Templeton does partner with LDI to distill their whiskey which is a common practice within the industry. The real artisan is not only in the recipe but what takes place with the aging and bottling process. Unfortunately the state of IA has been stereotyped, generally speaking, as a corn growing farm state. Yes, there is a lot of corn and farming in Iowa, however during the prohibition era rye was a popular crop in that part of Iowa. I know this because our family farm, not far from Templeton, use to grow rye during that period then on again off again for many years afterwards.

    Everyone enjoys a good story but I would also agree more emphasis should be made on the taste of the whiskey itself. But would just a description of the taste without the story appeal enough to a buyer to purchase a $40 bottle over a $20 bottle or for that matter why not a $100+ bottle over a $40?

    Regards, Jason

  28. Jason – very thought provoking comment – thank you for that. I agree ultimately with your final point in that what matters is in the bottle. And one thing we cannot confirm is whether or not the mashbill used to make Templeton is actually theirs or one of the former LDI stock Rye mashbills which is as “over 90% rye”. I’m betting it’s that but that’s still just a guess. What I do know is that Templeton employs a good number of folks in their town and that’s fabulous. They make a very good Rye that is distinctive, and they were one of the first to really capitalize on the rye surge.

  29. Brian says:

    If you ever get the chance, Templeton makes a bootleg version of their rye. I have heard it’s around $100/bottle and well worth it, but extremely hard to get.

  30. Thanks Brian – perhaps I’ll get to try it some time.

  31. Greg says:

    I enjoy prime whiskey (and beer!) and I vaguely knew of Templeton. Being from Ohio it is not available here. While attending a family wedding in Pennsylvania, an out of state friend of my brother brought with him a bottle of Templeton. It has been literally decades since I pulled a cork out of a whiskey bottle! Oh my gosh, the flavor and smoothness was almost overwhelming. When I got home back to Ohio, I checked online to acquire a bottle. I called up a seller in Illinois to see if they could ship me one. To my dismay, it is not allowed. Oh well.

  32. logan says:

    Greg being a bartender and avid drinker in Ohio I know you can ship. If you are looking to ship a bottle to OH go to drinkupny.com

  33. Paul Dixon says:

    Thank you for the review. I very much enjoyed it. Right now I am drinking a Willett Rye 5 year old. The Willett Rye’s have been some of my favorite whiskey’s to date, rye or otherwise. I notice they are distilled in Indiana. I am not sure if that has any baring for Templeton or not. Though they are exceptional.

    Saying that, I just recently had Templeton Rye as well at a bar, and thought it equally exceptional. I am going to see if I can find a bottle for myself. Again thanks for the insightful review.

  34. David says:

    Living in Omaha, I have access to both Templeton and Bulleit. They do not taste the same. The Templeton is smoother on the palate, and tastes better the way I tend to drink it, which is cut with a little bit of water, over ice. I prefer the Templeton to drink, but for the money, I prefer Wild Turkey Rye. At 20 dollars a bottle, its cheaper and more readily available than Templeton. It also tastes better than Bulleit in my opinion. You have to cut it with a little more water, but a 101 proof, what do you expect. I also like Rye 1, which is I think a Jim Beam premium version. But the Wild Turkey is still the best value.

  35. PW says:

    re: iowa bourbon, cedar ridge distillery is producing what it calls “iowa bourbon,” and it is quite good. though i’m more of a single-malt scotch man myself, so you may take that with a grain of salt. templeton is quite sweet and fruity to my palate and it goes down quite nicely. but it’s definitely on the weaker/mellower side. again, your mileage may vary…

  36. TommyMac says:

    I am but a simple man and some of the descriptions of spirits begin to sound like words randomly strung together. I think the snobbery of anti-snobbery is as much a sin as the original snobbery ( was that at all clear?) so I’m not criticizing. I just judge by what I like and is it a good value? Buy the whiskey; not the story.

    I tried the Templeton Small Batch Rye today and it is a very nice drink. A whiskey isn’t worth buying if you can’t drink it neat, and Templeton passes with all flags flying. I’ll definitely make a spot in my liquor cabinet for it.

  37. Rail says:

    Templeton is good stuff but I’ve had “real” Templeton over 20 years ago and it is a higher corn content. Was damn good too. The fact that I don’t really care for Bourbons tells me that the other Templeton recipes were a high rye to corn ratio as well. It would be nice if they get the distilling moved to Templeton as well as bottling. Templeton has good rail and highway access, and the town has citizens who know how to make good whiskey. Might go over there tomorrow and see whats going on.

  38. Brian O says:

    I got a bottle of Templeton for 26 bucks!!! I love Iowa. Sam’s Club sells it for a good price.

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