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.