Monday, May 13, 2013

Rathskeller Rye and Old Bernheim


The old Bernheim Distillery in Louisville was not one of the more treasured distilleries of its time.  Operated by the Schenley company after prohibition, it was the home to IW Harper and Old Charter bourbons until it was torn down in 1991 to make way for the new Bernheim distillery which is now Heaven Hill.

The Bernheim distillery also made rye, which is popularly referred to as Cream of Kentucky rye, though it was a very limited release and most of the rye they made went into various blends (Schenley was one of the largest whiskey companies of the time).

Midway through the first decade of the twenty-first century, a number of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers independently bottled ryes distilled in the mid-1980s started appearing on the scene and making waves.  There were Willett bottles by Doug Phillips, the Velvet Glove and Iron Fist Willetts that are still available in DC, the Red Hook Rye bottled for LeNells in Brooklyn and Rathskeller Rye, bottled exclusively for the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.  These were huge, spicy, cask strength ryes.  They are without a doubt, some of the best ryes I've tasted.

Eventually, it came out that many and possibly all of these whiskeys had their origination at the Old Bernheim distillery.  What they were doing to the rye at Old Bernheim in the 1980s, I don't know, but it was something amazing.

Today, I'll taste the Rathskeller rye, but you can see my previous notes for LeNells Red Hook Rye Barrel 3 and Barrel 4, the Willett Iron Fist and one of the Doug Phillips Willett Ryes on the LA Whiskey Society site.

Rathskeller Rye, 23 years old, distilled 1983, 68% abv

This has a really concentrated nose of sandalwood, molasses and brown sugar.  It starts spicy and goes sweet.  On the palate it's thick and syrupy with sandalwood, plenty of wood and sweet wine.
The finish has mulled wine spices and cloves.

This is really amazing stuff.  It has a lot in common with the old Pennsylvania ryes I've tried, particularly the sandalwood notes.  Unfortunately, the days of these ryes are numbered.  Other than the Seelbach, there are bottles of this at a few prominent DC bars, including the Acadiana, Jack Rose and Bourbon DC, though it will cost you from $60 to $70 per glass.  Still, one of those bars is your best bet, since it's pretty much impossible to buy a bottle.

Thanks to Jason Beatty for the sample and photo.


15 comments:

sam k said...


Thanks for the timely heads up, Sku. I'm staying at the Seelbach next week!!

Adam D. said...

Thanks for the review--sounds tasty! When you say the Iron Fist and Velvet Glove are still available in DC, did you mean at bars or stores? I'd sure love to score a bottle of those! Thanks for any advice you might have.

sku said...

Adam, I meant bars, specifically Jack Rose and Bourbon DC in DC. I don't think you can find them in stores.

T Comp said...

A fine gentleman from Texas generously shared a full bottle of his at the gazebo table during the Bardstown Ky Sampler weekend. The first night I though it was overly woody but the second night I fell in love.

Adam D. said...

Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

SKU, quick question, was the Rathskellar bottled at different ages or in different batches? I distinctly recall that the bottle I drank from at Bourbon in Adams-Morgan was a 14 year, but I have consistently seen it referred to as a 23 year old. Have there been multiple batches?

Anonymous said...

Had a pour of this at the Seelbach when I was in Louisville last summer, and yeah, it's an absolute stunner.

Anonymous said...

Had the same pour Friday night Thad. Very woody. Didnt try it Saturday night, now I regret it. I did try the Hirsch blue though.

sku said...

Anon @ 9:06, as far as I know the 23 year old is the only version of this, but I don't know for certain. Anyone who knows otherwise, please chime in.

Anonymous said...

Dare I say that Cream of Kentucky rye is one component of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, a product for which I am very fond.

Michael T said...

Great review! First trip to the Seelbach Bar last night, asked for something rare. Hmmm, guess about as rare as it gets. Incredible stuff! Will be back for more this weekend.

Anonymous said...

What about Sazerac 18?

sku said...

I've heard various theories about Saz 18. I believe BT says it is their distillate.

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know the distillation date on the Rathskeller?

I see it is 1983 but wondered if its 5/10/1983.

sku said...

It was distilled on April 29, 1983.