Monday, August 25, 2014
Very Olde St. Nick Rye Whiskeys
Thanks to the Southern California Whiskey Club, I've been able to sample the full line of Very Olde St. Nick bourbons and ryes over the past few months (and attend a really fun tasting).
Very Olde St. Nick was a line of American whiskeys made exclusively for the Japanese market by the a California company. There were a multitude of sources for the whiskeys. Julian Van Winkle bottled some of the earlier editions, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers bottled the later ones and the the company went directly to Diageo to acquire bourbon stocks, including Stitzel-Weller.
With all of that action, it's tough to tell where the bourbons are from, and of course, they could be from multiple sources. The ryes, based on their age and when they were released are mostly likely from the Medley and/or old Bernheim distilleries.
These are exceedingly hard to find, especially in the US, but there is a lot of interest around them, so I thought I would share my reviews. I will start with the ryes, and later this week, I'll cover the bourbons.
Very Olde St. Nick Summer Rye, 40% abv
The nose has big, spicy rye notes with lots of sweetness and fruit cocktail. The palate is light and fruity, very diluted tasting. There is some spice at the very end which fades into the finish where it's met with sweetness.
This is pleasant enough with its sweet, fruity notes and a touch of spice, but it's lacking complexity and too weak. Still, it's plenty drinkable.
Very Olde St. Nick 15 year old Ancient Rye, 43% abv
The nose is nice and spicy with sandalwood. The sandalwood spice continues on the palate combined with some rock candy sweetness. The sweetness is lightly present in the finish which is more dominated by spice.
This one is nice and spicy with good balance. I wish it was higher proof because I would like more of those flavors, but it's good stuff.
Very Olde St. Nick 16 year old Rare Perfection Rye, 43% abv
The nose on this one is pure, old rye with lots of sandalwood spice. It's really beautiful. The palate is spicy with licorice and fruit. It's got a lot going on and is a bit soapy. The finish has muted spice, black licorice sticks and some soap.
This one is bold, and if it weren't for the soapy notes, it would be perfect, but the soap brings it down a few notches.
Very Olde St. Nick 17 year old Ancient Rye, 51.85% abv
This has a more muted nose than the younger VOSNs with hay and coastal notes. It's almost more like a coastal Scotch. The palate has a sort of generic whiskey taste. It's not discernibly rye. There's some very muted spice, but it's mostly just a vague sweet, grain note. The finish has candy and wood.
I wonder if this might be a different distillery than the younger ryes from this series. Either that or 17 years was just too long for this particular rye and the wood got the better of it. It's not bad. There are some light chocolate notes and some decent oak, but not much in the way of distinctive characteristics. While this one didn't do much for me, I should note that for many others, this was their favorite rye of the series.
Very Olde St. Nick 18 year old Ancient Rye, 52.3% abv
The nose has rye spice and oak. The palate comes on very oaky and then has sweet baking spices. The finish, again, is very woody.
This one is heavy on the oak but a nice whiskey.
These are all good whiskeys, though none of them were amazing. They certainly share a lot of characteristics with those old Bernheim ryes, but none are anywhere near as good as the best of those that we saw in the US (Rathskeller, LeNell's, etc.). My favorite of the bunch was probably the 16 year old, probably because it was the most similar in flavor profile to those great old ryes, but I also really liked the 15 and 18 year olds.