Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Emancipate Yourself from Kentucky Whiskey - Redemption Rye

After prohibition, when the great rye whiskey tradition of the mid-Atlantic died out, Kentucky became the de facto capital of rye whiskey, but rye always played second (or maybe third) fiddle to Bourbon. For decades, rye lovers had only a few choices, all of them afterthoughts from the big Kentucky distilleries: Jim Beam, Old Overholt, Wild Turkey. About ten years ago, rye started making a comeback, but it was still largely Kentucky-based. Brands like Sazerac (from Buffalo Trace) and Rittenhouse (from Brown-Forman) started making waves. Ryes targeting a more upscale market were released by Wild Turkey (Russel's Reserve) and Jim Beam (rī)¹.

But in the last few years, a new and somewhat unlikely state has come into the rye game with a new, kicked up, rye flavor. Suddenly, Indiana rye is all the rage, or as we might call it in LA, Kentucky-adjacent whiskey.

The only whiskey distillery in Indiana is Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), located right across the Ohio River from Kentucky. Formerly the Seagram's distillery, LDI was acquired by Pernod Ricard when Seagram's broke up and then sold to Angostura (the bitters people).

The interesting thing about LDI is that while they make Bourbon, corn whiskey and rye, as well as gin, they don't bottle any of it under their own label. All of it is sold to independent bottlers or blenders. Therefore, we don't always know when we are drinking LDI whiskey, though we have some clues. (See a list of their products and mashbills here).

Templeton Rye, bottled in Iowa, admits that it uses LDI rye. Cougar Bourbon and rye, an export brand bottled by Foster's for the Australian market, is also bottled by LDI. The speculation is that High West gets its whiskeys from Four Roses, but that the rye was originally distilled at LDI, back when both it and Four Roses were part of the Seagram's empire.

Redemption Rye is a new rye whiskey on the market bottled by Strong Spirits, a bottler located in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey doesn't explicitly say who distilled it, but the bottle states that it was made in Indiana, which means LDI.

The intriguing thing about LDI's rye whiskey is that the mashbill they use is 95% rye and 5% malt, which is an extremely high rye content with no corn, which makes it quite different from the Kentucky ryes. They also make a bourbon with a 99% corn mashbill, but I don't know if it's ever been bottled on its own (as opposed to being blended with other whiskeys.)


Redemption Rye, aged over 2 years, Batch 2, 46% abv ($27).

The nose has lovely, soft, fruity spice notes followed by some herbs and grassy notes. The first thing that strikes me on the palate is that it tastes young; it has that bold, overly herbal/medicinal quality that is typical of young rye. The spice is there, but it's still in a very raw form, though more of it comes out on the finish. This one needs to spend a few more years in the barrel to round it out and take the edge off.

File this one under "has potential but needs work" or maybe, "None but ourselves can age our whiskey."


Chuck Cowdery said...

Steve, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page: http://www.lawrenceburgdistillersindiana.com/Custom.aspx

Chuck Cowdery said...

I see that you know that (it's LDI's website where they list their mash bills), but maybe it will be a useful reference for one of your readers. It's also further proof, if any were needed, that Redemption is LDI juice.

sku said...

Thanks Chuck; I sort of buried the lead there. I changed it to make that link more obvious.

sam k said...

Thanks for the review and the link to LDI. They are definitely aiming for contract work, but do they have plans for own-label whiskey?

I had read recently that Redemption was sourced from Canada. I appreciate the clarification.

Anonymous said...

"... is 95% rye and 5% malt, which is an extremely high rye content with no corn, which makes it quite different from the Kentucky ryes...."

I thought that if whiskey label stated "straight rye", it meant that the mash bill was 100% rye. Is that not correct?

Thanks very much.

Shell (shell@freilich.com)

sku said...

Shell, American rye whiskey, including straight rye, must be at least 51% corn, but the rest of the mashbill can be other grains, and nearly always is (usually corn and a small amount of malted barley).

The designation of a whiskey as "straight" means that the whiskey has no additives (such as neutral spirits or coloring) and that it is at least two years old.

Kindred Cocktails said...

Thanks for the review. Your comments about age are interesting. I have tried the McKenzie rye from New York State's Finger Lakes Distilling. It is so overly rye-forward and spice that I find it very hard to drink or even mix with. I wonder if this is an age issue.... --Dan

sku said...

Thanks for your comments Dan. I haven't tried the McKenzie, but I'm not surprised as a lot of these craft distillery ryes taste that way.

I think age is definitely one issue. The other is mashbill. The old-school, macrodistillery ryes (Rittenhouse, Sazerac, etc.) typically use a mashbill of about 51% rye, 44% corn, 5% barley. The spice of the rye is balanced against the sweetness of the corn. Redemption, in contrast is 95% rye, 5% barley. I don't know about McKenzie but many of the craft ryes are 95-100% rye. Without the corn you are losing some of that balance. That's not to say there aren't some good high rye whiskeys. I've enjoyed both Whistlepig (100% rye) and Old Potrero (100% malted rye) as well as High West (various mashbills but fairly high rye) but most of those are kept much longer in the barrel.

When using an ultra-high rye mash, you can get a less spicy and more vegetal flavor. Combine that with the raw spirit flavor of only a couple of years (or less) in the barrel, and you end up with something raw and one-dimensional.

Kevin B said...

Totally agree with sku...need some balance to the dryness of the rye with corn. That being said, I love Redemption Rye a long as I can go back to a good bourbon afterwards. Feel weird since LDI is involved...alonst like I am drinking an Anhauser - Busch product.