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Review: Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey

Angel’s Envy Bourbon has no doubt been quite a success story. The company set themselves apart with a sourced (not distilled by Angel’s Envy but procured) bourbon finished in port barrels. This easy drinking, fruity bourbon has won over a lot of folks, including me. I rated it a 9.3, which is an extremely high rating on my site. What I appreciated most about Angel’s Envy Bourbon is the company took a pretty standard, “good” bourbon whiskey and made it FAR better than the sum of its parts through this finishing (a second aging) process.

So what does the company do for the next major release?

Angel’s Envy has just answered that question with a new Rye Whiskey finished in Caribbean Rum casks. Offered at 100 proof, Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey begins with a sourced rye from Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, or not paying attention, you’ve likely had an MGP rye in the form of Bulleit Rye, George Dickel Rye, or many other products on the shelves. MGP has built a name for producing unique bourbon and rye whiskeys that many independent bottlers are working overtime to make less unique.

Needless to say, a whiskey geek like me certainly looks forward to trying something like this. Here are my thoughts….

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $70.00/bottle
Color: Light Amber
Nose: A trip to the islands. Brown sugar, Orange and grapefruit rind, candied pineapple, coconut cream, clove, and cinnamon with the green, fresh herbal and gin botanical spice notes ever present in MGP rye whiskeys. The rum influence is heavy handed, and I’d prefer something a bit more harmonious, but it’s intriguing and completely unique. A splash of water brought out some lemon-lime soda (WTF?).
Palate: Creamy on the palate with spiced honey, brown sugar syrup, golden raisin, cinnamon, and a sweet rye notes. The rye spice is most prevalent on the palate.
Finish: The finish lingers moderately with a big return of the rum, tropical fruit sweetness, and green rye spice.
Overall: I haven’t been more confused about a whiskey in a long time. In a world of sameness (all those other MGP ryes that taste VERY similar), it’s nice to nose and sip something different. Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey certainly qualifies as “different”. More similar to rye flavored rum from a profile perspective, I cannot say I have ever tasted a whiskey that’s picked up more aroma and flavor from a finishing process. That’s good and bad because the fresh, green rye notes fought the heavy, sweet rum influence from sniff to finish. I’d have preferred something a bit more harmonious and well integrated. One interesting little note – my lips and hands (dripped a little) smelled like I’d been drinking pina coladas all day. If you love (I mean LOVE) rum, and are looking for something totally different in the American Whiskey category – this one ticks all those buttons. I predict most will either love it or hate it, but give it a try and let me know what you think. It certainly has character (and a big price tag). Ahoy me hearties!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good)

***Sample provided for this review***

2011 Sour Mash Manifesto American Whiskey Awards

The world doesn’t need any more whiskey awards. This is probably a fact we can all agree on, but I felt compelled to acknowledge some great work in 2011. I hope you’ll allow me to add my contribution to what I believe to be the best of American Whiskey for the year.

Sour Mash Manifesto America Whiskey Awards – 2011

Distillery Of The Year: Buffalo Trace
This was actually the easiest pick of all. When it comes to whiskey, few distilleries in the world can touch Buffalo Trace’s monstrous portfolio of rye whiskeys and bourbon. If you favor value focused products, then Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon delivers in spades. If you are looking for high end whiskey offering more distinctive flavors, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bring 5 whiskeys to the table with three or four vying for best American Whiskey of the year. This year also saw the first (from what we’re told) Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon made entirely from Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon stock (they supply the Old Rip Van Winkle line as well). On top of all of that, Buffalo Trace undertook perhaps the most educational whiskey endeavor ever with the unveiling of the Single Oak Project. In spite of what I think of Single Oak as a whole, there is no doubt that it will serve to provide Buffalo Trace with invaluable information to help them continue to craft great whiskey. There are many great distilleries in America, but in my opinion none can match Buffalo Trace in 2011.

Bourbon Whiskey Of The Year: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
If you want to get hardcore bourbon enthusiasts riled up, start feeding them information about shortages of their much beloved Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon. Stitzel-Weller, closed since the early 90′s, has been the source of bourbon whiskey for the longer aged Pappy Van Winkle line. Last fall, Preston Van Winkle made it known that the Fall/Winter 2011 release of Pappy 15 was 100% Buffalo Trace wheated recipe bourbon. From that point the anticipation and frenzy reached new heights even by Pappy Van Winkle standards. Would it be as good? Did they ruin one of the most highly regarded bourbons on the planet? The short answer is “No!” The resulting bourbon lacked some of the softness and refinement of the Stizel-Weller whiskey, but made up for it with ramped up spice and bolder wood notes, which in some ways made the whiskey even more interesting. In spite of slight differences, the Pappy 15 DNA was still present, resulting in the highest rated whiskey of the year (9.7/10).

Rye Whiskey Of The Year: Sazerac 18 Year
2011 was a big year for rye. The craft and micro distillers have been on the rye bandwagon for a while now, but some of the big boys and independent bottlers got in on the act as well. A common trend for the year were sourced rye whiskeys from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). LDI’s 95% rye mashbill could be found in various ages, and bottled under names like Bulleit, Templeton, and Redemption to name a few. While quite good, many of these whiskeys tasted similar, leaving an opportunity for a new release rye whiskey to stand out from the crowd. Enter Buffalo Trace with their home run release of the 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey. Each year this whiskey proves to be one of the better ryes, but the 2011 version had added depth and complexity. Few whiskeys can match the balance of dryness and sweetness as well as capturing both the vibrancy of rye with the stateliness of older whiskey. Not to mention that it’s one of the best noses in whiskey – period. Without a doubt one of the best Rye Whiskeys I had this year.

Craft Whiskey Of The Year: St. George Spirits Single Malt, Lot 10
Situated in a former Naval aircraft carrier along the San Francisco Bay sits one of the coolest distilleries in the country. St. George Spirits has been making whiskey longer than most craft or micro distilleries, but their approach and attitude is still fresh and vibrant. Well known for creating fantastic gins, absinthe, and liquers, the pride and joy of the distillery is the Single Malt Whiskey. Actually I just made that part up. They’d probably tell you their pride and joy is something else that they make, but to me it should be their pride and joy – it’s phenomenal. The Single Malt is made from a Sierra Nevada Beer, crafted especially for the distillery using a number of different barley malts (chocolate malt makes it’s presence felt). The resulting whiskey is unlike any other being made today – fruity and full of deep, rich, smoky notes from the beer. With more than 15 years of whiskey making under their belt, I can’t wait to see where St. George takes this delicious Single Malt Whiskey.

Value Whiskey Of The Year: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Bottled In Bond
I consider whiskey a “for the people” product – something to be enjoyed by all. As a result, value is very important to me. Don’t get me wrong I love the high end stuff and can’t wait to try them each year. But I get really excited when I get my hands on a whiskey at a great price that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor and character. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (Bottled in Bond), which is distilled by Brown Forman for Heaven Hill, is undoubtedly one such whiskey. At 100 proof, this rye whiskey packs a wallop with great depth and balance. Unlike some of the newer rye whiskey offerings consisting of 90+% rye grain, Rittenhouse is less rye-forward. I categorize it as a “bourbon drinker’s rye” – a bit richer and fuller bodied. At between $19-$24 depending on your area, Rittenhouse is a must find for the value seeker. I keep a bottle on hand at all times, and consider it a foundation whiskey for any great bar. NOTE: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond is now being distilled at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery.

As we all know, taste is very subjective. The above represent whiskeys and a distillery that I believe to be worthy of distinction relative to their peers. What about you? What gets your vote for whiskey of the year?

Review: Masterson’s Rye Whiskey

Masterson’s Rye is one of the latest rye whiskeys sourced from Canada. It’s a 100% rye, which is tough as hell to distill. The distiller that makes this juice is said to be the same that produced Whistlepig and Jeffereson’s Rye. The family resemblance among them is very apparent, but each of these whiskeys differ in the flavor delivery department.

Masterson’s is sourced and then bottled by 35 Maple Street, a new spirits company based out of Sonoma, CA. The operation is a division of The Other Guys, a wine company with an ever growing portfolio of wine brands. Started by siblings, Mia and August Sebastiani (of the Sebastiani wine family), 35 Maple Street has plans to produce a gin, and have also put out a small batch bourbon recently (review coming soon).

Masterson’s was named after Bat Masterson, who was an old west lawman. August Sebastiani says he was fascinated by the Wild West and thought the name was fitting for their first whiskey. I suppose the name is meant to conjure up images of the frontier and gun slingers, but that’s all about the marketers. How does it taste?

Masterson’s Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 proof), $70

Color: Deep Golden

Nose: Bright and floral rye grain, juniper, crushed green herbs (cilantro, dill, and spearmint), a touch of menthol and then the woody spice notes from clove and nutmeg. A bit of sour apple fruitiness tries to break through late in the nose, but the spice and grain chokes it out. This is not a particularly sweet nose. It’s laden with crisp and clean spices.

Palate: Again – crisp and sharp as a razor blade. Brittle burned caramel provides restrained sweetness, quickly shattered by the onslaught of spices – mint, chili flake, vanilla, anise, and pine. The influence of the barrel adds dryness, accentuating the prickle and heat halfway through the sip. Spicy and beautiful stuff, but a shade one sided and requiring a bit more sweetness to balance things out.

Finish: Long waves of dry, spicy rye grain, some heat, and bitterness.

Overall: Masterson’s rye is an excellent rye whiskey busting with character. It’s bright and well spiced on the nose and palate. However, it falls short of its sibling, Whistlepig, which manages to bring similar layers of spice (albeit restrained slightly), but does so with more balance, sweetness, and depth of flavor. At virtually the same price, my pick would be Whistlepig, but Masterson’s may be more appropriate for you if you like your rye’s spicier, drier, and crisper.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: Sazerac Rye Whiskey (6 year old)

In the last week I did a review and accompanying video of the 2011 18 year old Sazerac Rye Whiskey. I thought a quick look at its little brother, a 6 year old, might be an interesting comparison.

Sazerac Rye Whiskey (6 year), 45% abv (90 Proof), $30.00

Color: Light Amber/Deep Gold

Nose:  Fruity and fresh with youthful exuberance. Cinnamon candy, sweet mint, vanilla bean, honeysuckle, and clove wrapped around a honeyed apple heart.

Palate: Very much in line with the fragrance on the nose. Crisp orchard fruit, vanilla infused honey, sweet mint and clove. The oak gets the hell out of the way. Wait, is that a bit of fleeting corn leading us to the finish?

Finish: Caramel and honey taming the emerging, warm baking spices. Never too hot though – just dries up cleanly. A bit of toasted wood bitterness as well.

Overall: This is a great example of a well made, classic rye flavor profile. For those that consider rye too hot or strong – this might be a great intro for you. It’s nicely balanced with fruit, sweetness and spice, but not “hot” in the least. It’s also a good price point in my opinion. Admittedly it’s not particularly complex, and tasted even a bit younger than 6 years, but it’s a very good sipping rye.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey

Sazerac 18 year old Rye Whiskey is one of five Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskeys released each fall. It is usually the more composed, elegant, and stately representative of the lineup’s two ryes. The much younger Thomas H. Handy Rye, which is offered at barrel strength and around 6 years of age, is the second in the release. (As an aside, I’ve often wondered why the Handy fits into a release called the “Antique Collection”, but it’s outstanding whiskey!)

Does the 2011 Sazerac 18 live up to its billing as one of the best rye whiskey releases of the year?

Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00

Color: Deep amber

Nose:  The rye is floral and sweet with a darker side. Vanilla taffy, soft mint, sweet orange rind, a bit of cinnamon stick, caramelized banana, and maple syrup against old leather. The rye’s edges have been rounded beautifully by wood and time, but still have some vibrant zip.

Palate: Only moderately sweet, which is a different impression than the nose indicated. Brittle toffee and orange marmalade try to anchor the vanilla, crisp mint, and cinnamon. Chicory coffee, pepper, moderately spicy rye, and some light woody grip adds interest.

Finish: Bolder wood notes and chicory bitterness are mellowed with lingering fruit (citrus rind, berry) and rock candy.

Overall: One of the best available Rye Whiskeys each year, but this year is exceptional indeed. The nose alone is one of the finest in whiskey. A slightly higher proof might help to add more body. Outside of that, it is simply brilliant rye.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye

The Willett Brand is owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, LLC (KBD), a Bardstown, Kentucky Independent Bottler. The company is responsible for a number of well known bourbon and rye whiskeys – Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, and of course the Willett label to name a few. In spite of having the word “distillers” in its name, KBD does not currently distill whiskey. Instead, the operation relies on partnerships with established distilleries to produce its whiskeys.

As an aside, KBD has been working for years to get the former Willett distillery up and running (in Bardstown, KY). In a discussion I had this past fall with Drew Kulsveen, the man behind most of the company’s whiskeys, KBD is making significant progress in getting the distillery operational. Kulsveen estimates the distillery will be producing whiskey at some point in 2012. Until that time, Kulsveen takes a hands on approach to selecting barrels for KBD’s many products.

The subject of this review is KBD’s Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye. What we know is this product is made by Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. For more information on LDI, please check out my reviews on Bulleit Rye, Redemption Rye, Templeton Rye, and a number of the High West whiskeys. LDI is responsible for distilling each of those products.

Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye Whiskey, 55% abv (110 Proof) $35.00

Color: Medium Amber

Nose:  Razor sharp rye, granulated ginger, pine sap, licorice, and fresh, juicy oak at the fore. Rock candy and vanilla share the stage, but in the background.

Palate: Concentrated, brittle caramel sweetness fades to crisp, dry peppermint, evergreen, and clove at mid-palate. Lots of deep, dark barrel notes anchor the brighter flavors of this whiskey, adding depth and complexity.

Finish: The finish is huge – spiced with rye, clove, and mint as well as bold notes of the oak.

Overall: The hallmark of LDI’s rye whiskey, particularly their 95% rye, is that bracing rye nose and palate, with brittle caramel, juniper, and fresh green notes (evergreen, pine, and herbs). Willett 3 year Single Barrel Rye certainly demonstrates the family resemblance, but is also different from the rest in the way it delivers aroma and flavor. I consider this a good thing because most of the independently bottled LDI juice tastes so very similar. Releasing this at 110 proof was a wise move first and foremost. The result is a deeper sweetness, complexity, barrel/toasted notes. From a textural point of view, the Willett Rye is more viscous as well. I’d go so far as to consider this one of the best young whiskeys (under 4 years old) made. Quite a distinctive pour for $35.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)