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Rye Whiskey Report - A Time of Transition

  • sku Mar 15, 2012 07:48 AM

The popularity of rye whiskey keeps growing. This is good and bad for the rye lovers. Good because it means more options, but bad because the stocks of aged rye (which is a really tiny market compared to bourbon) are shrinking. Many rye fans have noticed that some of their favorite ryes are becoming harder to find. Rittenhouse 100 and Sazerac go through seasonal shortages and can be hard to find.

Wild Turkey 101 was, IMHO, one of the best budget rye choices, but they recently announced that they will be releasing a lower proof rye, Wild Turkey 81 Rye, and (at least for now) discontinuing the 101 rye.

On the plus side, Bulleit Rye, which Diageo released last year, seems to be available in huge quantity. It is distilled at the LDI distillery in Indiana (that distillery was just sold to an industrial distillery company so there may be some insecurity there, but hopefully they will keep producing). Jim Beam announced that it will introduce a new 100 proof Knob Creek Rye which should be hitting shelves soon.

On the higher end side, Buffalo Trace is still sitting on at least some 18 year old rye that they use for Sazerac 18 (this whiskey was distilled many years ago and has been sitting in steel tanks; they release a bit of it every fall but eventually it will run out). The question is whether there will be enough to keep them going until they have more 18 year old rye that they distilled. They will also need 13 year old rye to replace the rye stocks currently being used in Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, which is made up of old rye stocks from a couple of closed distilleries. Heaven Hill also had been sitting on some aged rye which they released as Rittenhouse 21, 23 and then 25 year old, but from what I've heard, those have all been released. High West seems to have plenty of rye stocks for its small releases and they have now made some of their own rye which is aging (and is quite promising).

So, in the next few years your rye is likely to get younger (as old stocks decline), weaker (as distilleries lower proofs to stretch stocks) and probably more expensive as well (natch).

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  1. So is that why the Sazerac 18 yr was nearly impossible to find this year? I guess I will hang on to the 2009 bottle I found a couple months back in the middle of nowhere WV - having trouble deciding whether to drink it or sell it on ebay for a nice profit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ncyankee101

      Drink it. You'll probably have trouble getting another one, and the stuff is just exceptionally good. If you're anything like me, you'll regret having sold it when you use the money for something boring like paying a bill :-)

      1. re: davis_sq_pro

        The problem is I don't know if I can bring myself to drink what is essentially a $175 bottle (what the prevailing ebay price is, I paid $71). That's a little outside of my normal comfort zone for a bottle of liquor.

        I'm also wondering if I should grab another bottle or two of Handy when I go up to PA in a couple weeks. It's only 6 yrs old so I wouldn't expect stocks to run out, but prices might continue to climb - online prices were around $100 this year while at the state-run stores in PA it is only $60.

    2. And, to think, it's been less than a decade since asking for a rye and soda would often be answered with Canadian Club.

      1. Whoa -- time to stock up on WT101. Thanks for the heads up! Especially given the difficulty of finding Rittenhouse 100, WT is my go-to for higher proof mixing rye.

        Too bad to hear about the older ones. I actually don't mind sipping a younger rye -- Redemption, Bulliet, and a handful of others are fairly nice -- but something like Sazerac 18 or Rittenhouse 21 really hits the spot on occasion.

        2 Replies
        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          Those heavily aged Rittenhouses (at least the 23 and 25) are still around and, since they are very high priced, will probably stay on shelves for a while.

          Willett also has a bunch of LDI rye (the same stuff in Bulleit, Redemption and Templeton) that they are releasing. They started at three years, then four and have no released a five year old. If they have more, we may see even older releases.

          1. re: sku

            Those Rittenhouses may stay around for a while but they're very expensive. I'd rather see more Sazerac 18.

        2. I mentioned Russell 6 year old in another thread. Nobody ever mentions this one. Does nobody else have it around? Or has anyone tried it?

          I really like it alot. $34.95 a bottle in St. Louis.

          http://www.americancocktails.com/page...

          6 Replies
          1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

            FOTD, I was at my local (super-) Binny's today and looked around for the Russell's since you mentioned it in my thread. No luck. Their rye stock is pretty slim, but good. They had at least eight bottles of Handy! Is it just me or is that crazy?

            What do you guys have to say about the Rittenhouse 21/23/25? Which is the best and what would you pay for them? Binny's had a discount on the 21 ($129 from $149). Is that a worthwhile deal?

            1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

              I've almost bought the Russell's 6 yr several times, but I am reluctant to pay $34 here in NC seeing as I can get both Sazerac 6 yr and Bulleit Rye in the $20-25 range.

              1. re: ncyankee101

                I like the Bulleit but I do like the Russels better. The Sazerac to me is much spicier and works well in, well a Sazerac....

                You should really give the Russels a try.

                1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

                  OK I finally picked up a bottle of Russell's reserve rye when I saw a good price on vacation - just cracked it open.

                  My first impression is that it falls somewhere between the spicy bite of the Wild Turkey 101 rye and the sippable smoothness of the Bulleit and sazerac 6 yr. I don't like to make a final critique on a freshly opened bottle but so far I would say I like it.

                  FotD - I haven't compared them side by side yet, but I don't find the sazerac 6 yr all that spicy, at least compared to the WT 101 rye. My first impression of the Russell's is that they are more or less comparable in that respect, though I will try them in a direct comparison after the RR has been open a week or so.

                  1. re: ncyankee101

                    Thanks for the feedback!

              2. re: FriendOfTheDevil

                Russell is a six year, lower proof version of the Wild Turkey 101, also made by Wild Turkey. It's a bit milder than the 101. I think it's decent though not one of my favorites.

              3. Speaking of Ryes I have been also interested in trying this High West Double Rye. Was wondering if anyone has had it? http://www.highwest.com/spirits/doubl... <Marriage of two straight rye whiskies that combines the feisty properties of a high rye 2-year-old and the saddle smooth richness of a 16-year-old. The 2-year-old has a 95% rye 5% barley malt mashbill. The older rye has a "barely legal" rye mashbill of 53% rye and 37% corn. The extra age and corn provides some extra sweetness to calm the "bite" of the younger rye for a relationship that works. >

                1 Reply
                1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

                  Double Rye is good, but overall, I prefer the Rendezvous Rye from High West which uses older whiskeys.

                2. Thanks for the report. I'm really disappointed to hear the news on WT 101. I really don't care for 80 proof whiskeys, particularly for cocktails. Any idea on the motivation for this decision? This really puts me in a bind, considering I've all but given up on finding a steady supply of Rittenhouse.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tomjb27

                    Motivation? Sure. Sell less rye for more money, stretch out the supply, possibly go back to a higher proof rye at a premium price later onr.

                  2. I bought a bottle of Sazerac 18 in MD not long after it first came out (haven't looked, but I'm guessing over 10 years ago). That was the best-tasting, easiest-drinking whiskey I'd ever had at that point. I've gone to great lengths to get followup bottles. The quotes on Ebay pricing make me feel a little better about grabbing the only bottle I've ever seen on the shelf in ATL b/c it was priced about $25 more than I have paid in the past.

                    I like the Russell's Reserve a lot for a big, spicy whiskey. Something about the younger Sazerac has always been offputting- almost too grassy for my preference.

                    The explosion of ryes has been fun to try. Just wish the demand was enough for all these distilleries to add a second day of rye production a year.

                    Lately have been working on a bottle of Jefferson's Rye that a buddy got me for my birthday, and I have a Templeton that I brought back from CA but haven't opened yet.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ted

                      Jeffersons' is a Canadian rye. The influx of Canadian straight ryes is a whole other interesting thing. There is a Canadian distillery (likely Alberta Springs) that is selling off barrels of 10 year old 100% rye mash rye. This is stuff that would be used as the flavor grain in a Canadian blend, but a number of American companies have purchased it and bottled it as straight rye. The first was WhistlePig, then McLain & Kyne under their Jefferson label and then a California wine bottler under the Masterson's label. I haven't had the Jefferson's version, but both the WhistlePig and Masteron's are very good, though as 100% ryes, they are much more spicy, vegetal and briny than American straight ryes.

                      1. re: ted

                        Jefferson was my last purchase based upon a rec at my store. I told them I loved the Russel and was debating about something to try that was a little less $. They pointed me to the Jefferson. They told me about the WhistlePig as sku said below. It is good but I like the Russels alot better.
                        I need to see if Rittenhouse is here. I have not looked for it.
                        I have to say that this Lukas Liquors in St. Louis is really a fabulous store. I am guessing some of you would be pretty jealous...

                      2. A quick update on this. Campari (owners of Wild Turkey) have clarified that they are not going to discontinue Wild Turkey 101 Rye, but that there will be shortages through the end of the year at least. Eventually, they say it will come back. Presumably, this is due to the fact that they used rye that would have gone into 101 in their new 81 proof rye offering.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sku

                          Your update is appreciated. I was considering buying a case (which I don't really have room to store), but I guess I'll muddle through with a spare bottle or two.

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