You don't need to be a bourbon fan for very long before you hear about the Heaven Hill fire. And for good reason, it took one of the biggest producers of Bourbon and almost knocked them out of the space. The fire destroyed warehouses and even the distillery. If you've seen it, you know that the footage is heartbreaking to watch. But the stories, the stories are just the opposite. They tell the uplifting tale of competitors coming together to help. Sure, it's possible that there may have been money involved. But in any other business, how many competitors would be willing to help out even with selling inventory or renting time on machines, etc. Most of them would be happier to help out by picking up the customer base instead.
One of the legacies of the Heaven Hill fire is that for many years Brown-Forman was the contract producer of Heaven Hill's Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye. We know this because of one of the benefits of buying bottled-in-bond whiskey. You need to have the actual distillery on the label. You'll find it listed as D.S.P. (Distilled Spirits Plant) a couple of letters and a number. In the case of Rittenhouse, up until recently it said D.S.P KY 354. Brown-Forman. Within the last year or so, the label changed and it now says D.S.P. KY 1, the Bernheim distillery owned by Heaven Hill.
Since the source of the whiskey has switched, and I had recently finished a bottle of the old and opened a bottle of the new, I figured it was time to do a blind head-to-head comparison.
Rittenhouse (D.S.P. KY 354) vs. Rittenhouse (D.S.P. KY 1)
Purchase info: 354 at Blue Max, Burnsville, MN. 1 at Cellars Wine and Spirits, Eagan, MN
Details: each 50% ABV, 354 produced at Brown-Forman distillery, Louisville, KY, 1 produced at Bernheim distillery, Louisville, KY.
Nose: Big hit of alcohol initially. After that settles down it’s muted. Sweet toffee, cinnamon and ginger predominate. Grassy. Rye Bread.
Mouth: Cinnamon, brown sugar, oak tannins, cayenne, citrus and rye bread
Finish: long and warm. As the warmth fades it is replaced by a lingering sweetness.
Thoughts: Meh. This is hot, as is to be expected from a 100 proof whiskey, but the flavor and nose seem sort of muted. Especially when compared to Rye B. Hopefully A is the old one…
Nose: Savory. Cilantro, wet rock, caramel and bubblegum.
Mouth: Sweet caramel/toffee, savory grassiness, slight smokiness.
Finish: Medium finish. Sweet. Cinnamon and other baking spices linger.
Thoughts: This is a rye that mimics a bourbon. As it is assumed to be a barely legal rye, that is to be expected. It’s full flavored and round in the mouth. Sweet. Not too hot even with water. I like it. It's certainly the nicer of the two.
So it turns out that rye A was the new Heaven Hill produced Rittenhouse and that Rye B was the Brown-Forman version. As such, I plan to see if I can find an old bottle of the BF version still hanging around somewhere. It’s a whiskey that has a nice enough mouthfeel that it is suitable for drinking neat. Though in past reviews of it, I’ve recommended saving it for cocktails so there is that.
The Heaven Hill version tastes more of the rye than the Brown-Forman version, but it is hot. Very hot. It’s a rye that I’ve been happy enough with in cocktails, but wouldn’t want in a glencairn again.
One thing that I did realize after this head to head is that Brown-Forman can make a decent rye. It kinda makes me excited to see what the upcoming Woodford Rye will be like even though it will probably be an entirely different mashbill.
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