Sunday, July 31, 2011

Exam-o-dram - High West 12 year Rye

As a lover of whiskey that would also include Rye. As I mentioned here in the pages of this blog, I have a penchant for wheated bourbons like Old Weller Antique (the age stated one), Pappy Van Winkle and Stitzel Weller Old Fitzgerald Bonded. There are times though that I like a good rye whiskey. There are two predominant rye offerings; American and Canadian. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm focused on good 'ole American Rye.

For American rye the mashbill must be at least 51% rye. The remaining percentage will be corn and malted barley and distilled to not more than 160pf and put into a new charred oak barrel at not more than 125pf. To be called Straight Rye, it must be aged at least two years. Prior to prohibition, rye whiskey was abundant in the Northeast U.S. as there were distilleries in Pennsylvania and Maryland but after Prohibition, those distillery disappeared. Today, rye whiskey is made by the large distillers that includes Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and various micro distilleries scattered throughout the U.S. Another large producer of rye whiskey that's far off the radar and one you've probably never heard of is Lawrenceburg Distillery Indiana (LDI) who also produces many other spirits such as bourbon, gin and grain neutral spirits (GNS).

Rye whiskey for many years was the dominant whiskey consumed in the U.S. but then dropped off significantly over time but more recently it's been making a comeback and as a result, we've seen many new labels showing up on the shelves. One such producer is High West Distillery based out of Park City Utah which is where the High West 12 Year Rye comes from. High West offers other whiskies and what's exciting is the variation and quality of the whiskey being distributed.

The 12 Year Rye was tasted blind by 13 participants and they were asked to rate the whiskey based on a 100 point scale and provide tasting comments. My feedback on this particular whiskey is as follows:

Color: Moderate golden hue, medium depth
Nose: More floral profile on this one. Mild yet appealing
Entry: Nice combination of sweet/spice. Reasonably balanced showing a bit of age. Spice kicks in about mid palate. Mouthfeel a little on the thin side.
Finish: Moderately long with spice dominating most of the way and then subsiding giving way to a little sweet rye flavor.
Rating: Compelling and appealing. I like this one. This one gets a 87.

The group ratings were:

95-100 A Classic Whiskey - 1

90-94 Excellent Whiskey - 2

85-89 Very Good, Above Average Whiskey - 7

80-84 Average Whiskey - 4

There were no scores below 80

Additional group comments included:

"A well-balanced rye, probably 5-8yo. The original spirit is still hanging on with the barrel notes add to the experience. Needs a bit more depth though"

"both sweet and bitter, a good combo finish...falls off a little at the end"

"The mint is in check on this one and this strikes me as a good rye, but the taste just falls flat for me and really knocks this one down"

"Hmm… rye and menthol. There is some spice, but it is hidden behind the menthol touches. Not bad juice, just not something I would reach for"

"Nice transition to a long, dry finish. Begs for another sip"

This rye may not be found in many markets but I would at least call your local liquor store or ABC manager and ask them about availability. Bottle is 750ml and priced about $35.


  1. I love the High West products. I have a question about an unrelated topic. You seem to be knowledgeable about out of production/dusties, etc. I recently purchased a bottle of Old Fitz. on ebay. It's from the early 90s and the seller claims it's Stitzel Weller stock. I don't doubt the claim but was confused about one aspect. I know that Bernheim stocks are said to have made it into some DSP 16 bottlings. My seller says that Bernheim would never have made it into Old Fitz as it's DSP 16, but he also says that there was some Bernheim that did make it's way into some DSP 16 bottlings. I'm confused. How does he know that no Bernheim made it's way into my particular bottle of Old Fitz? Doe you understand my question?

  2. First, I've never heard of Bernheim (DSP-KY1) making into Old Fitz BIB (DSP-KY16) bottles. The DSP numbers have to do with the Still itself. UD operated DSP16 up until around 1992. If the DSP number on your Old Fitz BIB bottles indicates 16, then it's off that still. For the purposes of the true definition of what's Stitzel Weller, then you would have to own a bottle that was distilled 1972 or prior. That's true SW stock. After that, Norton Simon purchased SW and it was re-named Old Fitzgerald. The same still and for the most part, the same recipe was used. Some time later, United Distillers purchased Old Fitzgerald and operated up until 1992. If your bottle says DSP16 and is from the early '90's, that would be UD stock from the same still and the same recipe (which is disputed by some). Most folks attribute SW to DSP16 no matter the timeline, which I have done on many occasions. Bottom line, the seller wouldn't know if Bernheim made it into your particular bottle and I seriously doubt that happened anyway.