Rossville Union Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

I'm generally not a proof-chaser. 100 proof is about my limit for whiskey before I stop trying to drink it neat and start adding water or a small piece of ice to it. I like my whiskey to be comforting, and I don't find that burning my tongue on alcohol is all that comforting. 

That isn't to say that I dislike high proof whiskeys. I usually like them quite a bit. I just also usually dilute them a little. Notice the use of the word usually there? That's because every once in a while a whiskey hides it's proof a bit. It's got some bite and burn to it, but not enough to make you want to dilute it too much. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I like to drink whiskey neat when I can so that's good. But if it drinks like a whiskey 20 proof points lower...that could make for a rough next morning if you aren't careful.

Rossville Union Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: $69.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 56.3% ABV. A blend of the MGP 95% rye and the MGP 51% Rye mashbills aged 5-6 years (according to their PR firm). Made from a batch of 83 barrels.

Nose: Spearmint, pipe tobacco, oak. 

Mouth: Spicy with nutmeg, clove, and honey sweetness. Spearmint as it moves back. 

Finish: Long and warm. Spearmint, citrus, and pipe tobacco. 

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: I like this. I really like this. When neat, this is an exceedingly drinkable whiskey for a 112° proof. There is burn, but I've had the same in whiskeys of a lower proof. How does this compare to the 94° proof version? About how you'd expect. The 94° proof expression is more approachable than the Barrel Proof. They both have a similar backbone to them. I find that the influence of the 95% rye is a bit more pronounced in the 112° proof. But that's ok. I'm a big fan of those flavors, so that doesn't bother me in the least. If you are a fan of MGP ryes, I highly recommend giving this one a shot.


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Rossville Union Master Crafted Rye Whiskey

We all know that MGP makes a good chunk of the rye whiskey on the market. And I don't know about you, but I've always loved that 95% Rye, no matter who is bottling it. 

When it was first announced that MGP was buying the Remus brand and bringing it in-house, I wondered how they planned on negotiating the fact that they were basically competing with their clients. But when I tasted it, I knew. They were going to put out a solid product that didn't have the "middle-man markup" in the price. Which made me curious if they were going to try a rye. 

Like I said above, the MGP style 95% rye was the first rye I fell in love with. Not the first that I'd had, but the first that I'd loved. And I was excited when I learned they were going to start producing multiple styles of rye whiskey a few years ago. These days in addition to their famous 95% rye/5% barley mash whiskey, they also produce a 51% rye/49% barley whiskey (named 49% barley in their product list) and a 51% rye/45% corn/4% barley one (named 51% rye in the product list). 

So how will they stand out from a market full of MGP rye that isn't being bottled by them? Easy. Combine more than one of their ryes, call it Rossville Union, and sell that. So what is Rossville Union Rye? It is a blend (mingling) of the 95% rye and the 51% rye mashbills that have been aged for 5-6 years. Sounds interesting to me, let's give it a shot. 

Rossville Union Master Crafted Rye Whiskey

Purchase Info: $39.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN.

Details: 47% ABV. A blend of the MGP 95% rye and the MGP 51% Rye mashbills aged 5-6 years (according to their PR firm).

Nose: Bubblegum, spearmint, pencil shavings, and fleeting hints of dill. 

Mouth: Good rye spice. Baking spice, spearmint, and a light white sugar sweetness.

Finish: Medium length and warm. Lingering notes of spearmint and baking spices. 

Thoughts: Well, they did it. This is both similar to and very different from the 95% Rye that everyone else and their uncle bottles. I like it a lot. It has a good mouthfeel and decent spice. But not too much spice. Very approachable. I'd buy another bottle. 


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Bulleit Rye: Revisited

It has been two thousand, one hundred, thirty-seven days since I last published a review of Bulleit Rye. It was so long ago that I was still writing posts about the new additions to my whiskey stash (often without reviews). It was my sixth ever official post (fifteenth overall) and only the third instance of the hand-drawn review symbols that have become a mainstay of the site ever since. It was also the first review to earn a "love" rating. Back then I had this to say about it: 

"For the price of this whiskey, there is no reason for it to not always be on your shelf. It works great in cocktails and I love to drink it neat. Inexpensive, tasty and versatile."

So almost 6 years ago, I thought that this was the bee's knees. The best rye I'd had. And even at that early date, I'd had quite a few different ryes. Something about that 95% rye mash bill made me very happy. Even now, I tend to prefer the MGP Indiana-style rye over all others. Kentucky Ryes are just spicy bourbon. Canadian 100% ryes can be good, but these days it feels like they are either under-proofed or overpriced. I haven't had enough of the "Rye Mash with Malted Rye" style 100% Rye to make a firm judgment, but the ones I've had so far have been more interesting than good.

It is safe to say that over the years, this has been the most common rye to hit my shelves. I use it in cocktails, I drink it neat, and I use it in blending experiments (which only makes sense since it was originally developed as a component of a blended whiskey). But one thing I haven't done for almost 6 years is sit down and do a thoughtful tasting of it. I'm curious how my palate has shifted in the intervening years.

Bulleit Rye

Purchase Info: $24.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: MGP distilled. 95% Rye Mash. 45% ABV.

Nose: Mint, cherry, and pipe tobacco. 

Mouth: Spicy with mint, dill, cherry, and pipe tobacco.

Finish:  Medium length with lingering spice, mint, and cherry. 

 Image: A smiley face.

Thoughts: This is the first Revisited whiskey that I have downgraded the rating on. It's not that I like it any less than I did six years ago, I've just raised the bar for those that I "love." It's interesting how little the notes on this whiskey have changed for me. I still get cherry and pipe tobacco. A combination, it is safe to say, I have never gotten on another whiskey. Yet I got it here almost 6 years apart. That is a testament to the prowess of both MGP and Diageo. I really like this one. And honestly, I'll repeat my message from six years ago, tortured grammar and all: "For the price of this whiskey, there is no reason for it to not always be on your shelf."


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Other people's brackets

So one of the things I did this year to shake things up was to introduce more judges to this project. In the past, it has been just my wife and I and if we disagreed, I'd overrule her due to the fact that I do all the writing. Now I was not able to get everyone together in time to get started on these so I was unable to use their input in the initial rounds. 

And now that I think about that, I think this is a good thing. This is a blog that is run by my wife and I and it reflects our palates. Plus, as you will see, everyone so far has chosen a different winner. But, there are a few commonalities in the results that I think you will find interesting. So let's begin.

This is the bracket of my friend Dave. He was the inspiration for this experiment because he asked if he could be a part of it. He knows almost nothing about whiskey that I haven't taught him but he is an enthusiastic amateur. I did the pouring for Dave's bracket. So one interesting thing that I think you will see is that Old Overholt was Dave's winner. I've described Old Overholt as one of the gentlest rye whiskeys that I'd found. And I think that it makes sense that an inexperienced whiskey drinker would like a whiskey that wasn't overly hot and aggressive. In fact, you'll notice that most of the whiskeys that made it to his last four were fairly nonaggressive whiskeys. A corn whiskey beat a rye, a low proof beat a high proof on a couple of occasions, and then there is Old Forester where he had a hard time choosing between the two.

This is the bracket of one of my dog sitting clients, Jeff. Jeff is a guy who likes whiskey but mostly sticks to the brands he knows. Jeff administered his own test which is why everything is labeled with a letter instead of a name, all the seeds are in the same location though. In this case, Old Grand-Dad beat Old Overholt, Two Stars beat Hirsch Corn, Ezra Brooks Rye beat Mellow Corn and Old Forester beat Four Roses. I haven't finished my bracket yet, but so far mine matches this one. And if you were to ask me how I thought my bracket might finish out, I can see similarities between his and mine. I'm a bit shocked that Two Stars beat out Old Grand-Dad, but hey Barton/Sazerac makes some pretty good juice. Oh, and for Jeff, Old Forester won. 

This is my wife's bracket. She and I disagreed on whether Mellow Corn should beat Ezra Brooks Rye so I had her finish her bracket based on her scenario. Once again I administered the contest for her. As you will see, there are some similarities between the previous three, Everyone likes Two Stars more than the Hirsch Corn whiskey and Everyone liked Old Forester better than Four Roses. In fact, Old Forester was in the championship for every one of these three. It sort of makes me wonder if my bracket will follow suit? I guess we will see next Tuesday.

Now, this last one is from Pat, one of my wife's coworkers. Pat also administered his own test. And Pat went a different way than anyone else. Unbeknownst to Pat, he seems to be a fan of rye whiskey. And he found this fascinating since he hadn't had very much rye before. From what I understand, he is going to be remedying that in the future. Even so, I can see the Ezra Brooks Rye winning this. It is a good and flavorful whiskey that even at two years old, brings a lot of flavor to the party. 

So I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. I liked seeing the trends among people. All of us liked Old Forester over Four Roses, which I didn't expect from me much less anyone else. It was split evenly between those who preferred Mellow Corn and those who preferred Ezra Brooks Rye. Only one person thought that the Hirsch Corn was better than Two Stars. And yet even with that, they all chose a different winner. I'm very curious now to know which one will win on my bracket. 


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