Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sonoma Whiskey Part I: Masterson's Rye

I grew up in lovely Sonoma, California, in the Northern California wine country. While wine is clearly the beverage of choice for my home town, there are two recent whiskeys that have come out of Sonoma (though neither was distilled anywhere near the town). Today and tomorrow, I'll be reviewing my hometown whiskeys.

If you grew up in Sonoma, Sebastiani was a name you knew. The Sebastiani Vineyard was the biggest winery in town, we saw movies at the Sebastiani Theater, our local elected officials were Sebastianis, and when old man August Sebastiani died we read in the local rag about the Dynasty style struggles between the different branches of the family to control the winery.

Now, the prominent family has entered the spirits world with their new company, 35 Maple, named for the Sonoma street address of their office. Similar to Whistlepig and the recently released Jefferson's Rye, 35 Maple's Masterson's Rye is a ten year old whiskey made in Canada from a 100% rye mash.

Masterson's Rye, 10 years old, 100% rye, Made in Canada, 45% abv ($65)

The nose on this is strongly vegetal, which is typical of these 100% rye mashbills, full of pickle juice and capers. The palate follows through with a goodly amount of spice and even some Worcestershire sauce (Hmmm, Bloody Masterson anyone?) followed by some floral/perfume/soapy notes.

It will be interesting to see if these Canadian straight ryes (mostly being released for the US market) are a new genre or Canadian Whisky or just a fluke due to a few loose barrels of the stuff being available for sale to willing bottlers. They have a unique, bold character that flies in the face of the stereotypically sweet Canadian blend and is more spicy and vegetal than Kentucky style straight rye.

Davin de Kergommeaux, over at Canadianwhisky.org calls Masterson's "the best of the Canadian straight ryes." I've only had two of the three, but in a side by side of Masterson's and WhistlePig, I found both to be pleasing. The Masterson's is bolder in the spice department, but the Whistlepig has a touch of sweetness which lends a bit more complexity, but the truth is, these are very similar whiskies. If you're a rye fan, I doubt either will disappoint. They are comparably priced, though the Whistlepig is slightly higher proof at 50% abv.

Back in Sonoma, 35 Maple has plans to continue bottling spirits, including a gin, a rum and a bourbon. Based on the quality of Masterson's, I'll be looking forward to their future bottlings.

Coming tomorrow: Sonoma Bourbon


Jason Beatty said...

For the price, I was expecting a lot more from this Masterson's whiskey. I sure hope Canadians can get this at $25 a bottle because that's the price point it is equivalent to.

SteveBM said...

@Jason - I had the same experience with Whistlepig. I read a lot of positive reviews and excitement surrounding this whiskey. My initial impression was not great. I could not get past a leathery nose/taste. Second time I got to try was much better and actually enjoyable but I don't think it's worth the $70+ price of admission.

AaronWF said...

I feel a bit burdened by my love for WhistlePig. $70 for a 10 year-old rye just doesn't seem reasonable to me, yet I can't help but really love the stuff. It has a crystal clear sweetness balancing a wormwoody finish that really hits the spot for me.

Anyway, I'm wary of enjoying another $70, 10-year old rye, so I've turned a blind eye to Masterson's. I had a bottle of the third 10-year old Canadian rye you referenced (Jefferson's, at half the price), and all it did was elevate my admiration for WhistlePig.

So yeah, despite my fondness for the WhistlePig, I can't help but feel there's something exploitative about the prices these whiskeys command.

sku said...

Both WhistlePig and Masterson's are, indeed, a bit pricey, but they are fairly unique flavor profiles and pretty tasty, though like peated Scotch, these bold 100% ryes are not for everyone.

Remember, this is an import, so $25 is pretty wishful thinking. I would think $40 would be reasonable though (about the same as you would pay for a 10 year old Laphraoig).

Ryan Murphy said...

I've tried all 3 of these Canadian Ryes and I like Whistlepig the best, with Mastersons as a close 2nd. Jeffersons didn't do it for me at all, although the price is right. I won't be buying any of the 3 again.