A few weeks ago I wrote about the specialty bottlings from the Party Source liquor store in Kentucky which are now available through on-line shipping (to certain states). I'll be sampling a variety of these over the coming weeks, and the first to go is the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Rye 'n Barrel.
There are different kinds of great whiskeys. There are those that are subtle at first taste but that evolve on your tongue and in the bottle, and your relationship to them matures to the point where you see their greatness. There are others that bite you at first but that calm with a bit of water, which reveals their complex wonder. And then there is the rarest category, those whiskeys that from beginning to end, from first sniff to last breath of the finish exude power and beauty. The Party Source's Rye 'n Barrel is one of the latter.
The Party Source spirits program is run by whiskey writer and enthusiast Jay Erisman, who has been working in the industry since 1997. The Rye 'n Barrel is his baby, and as far as I know, the only rye whiskey finished in a wine cask. It was Erisman who came up with the idea as part of his quest to find a whiskey that "explodes old boundaries and expectations."
Erisman acquired a five and one half year old rye whiskey from Buffalo Trace (that is slightly younger than the standard Sazerac Rye aka Baby Saz)and aged the rye in botrytized dessert wine (i.e. Sauternes style) casks from Napa Valley's Dolce Winery for close to three months. The entire, fascinating story of the bottling, including how the whiskey evolved in the barrel, can be found on the Party Source website. The whiskey that resulted, as described in the notes below, has an interplay of sweet and spice that is unusual in rye. Erisman told me that this "sweet-spicy thing" along with the combination of sweetness in a typically dry whiskey, is what he was looking for when he dreamed up this experiment.
The Party Source Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Rye 'n Barrel is bottled at cask strength (61.2% alcohol) and non-chill filtered. The price is a very reasonable $60 for a 375 ml bottle of this whiskey available exclusively at The Party Source.
The first whiff is a clean, clear rye, much like the standard Sazerac, which yields to just a touch of fruit mixed in to the rye spice. The flavor is what grabs you right away. There is plenty of rye, but with a sweet, fruity note from the dessert wine, very unlike the sweetness you traditionally get from the corn in rye whiskey. Each sip is a mouthful of contrasting flavors - spicy and sweet, dry and fruity, whiskey and wine in perfect balance. The party continues into the finish. It's hard to believe that the few months this whiskey spent in the wine casks is enough to have such a pronounced influence on its character, but it can't be denied.
Kudos to Erisman on this one. This is really remarkable stuff and one of the best whiskeys I've tried this year. Get some!