Rye whisky traces its origin to North America, with a history deeply rooted in the early days of European colonisation. Settlers, particularly those of Dutch and German descent, brought with them the tradition of distilling spirits from rye grain, a hardy cereal grain well suited to the continent’s climate. The popularity of rye whisky grew in the northeastern regions of the United States and parts of Canada, where the cool climate proved conducive to cultivating rye. Over time, this distilled beverage became an integral part of the North American whisky heritage. The production process typically involves fermenting and distilling a mash bill that contains a significant proportion of rye grain, usually at least 51%, but that can go up to 100%. Let’s review three rye whiskies from overseas, two from Canada and one from the USA.
Cirka N° 3 Review
Located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Cirka is a distillery I visited during my holidays in Montreal and Quebec in July 2022. The distillery produces a variety of whiskies, including corn whisky, rye, and other mash bills. One of their expressions is Cirka Whisky N° 3, a 100% rye expression using chocolate rye malt. This whisky underwent a four-year maturation process in American oak oloroso seasoned casks, followed by a finishing period in 30-year-old Oloroso casks. Bottled at 46% ABV, it is presented without chill filtration and maintains its natural colour. Back in 2022, I acquired this bottle for approximately CAD 75, equivalent to around £48/€56 at that time.
Russet. Definitely not as red as on the bottle picture!
The nose reveals a presence of wood, though it carries a somewhat aromatic quality, reminiscent of a ‘softer’ wood than sandalwood. Additionally, there are notes of triple sec, menthol, Jaffa cakes, dark cherries, and chocolate shavings.
Neat: Initially, the palate may feel a bit thin in terms of mouthfeel, but it swiftly evolves into a creamier texture. It then quickly introduces a burst of spices, including pepper, chili, cinnamon, and nutmeg, accompanied by dark chocolate, wood, lime, and notes of dried espresso crema. The chocolate element persists prominently.
The finish lingers for a medium-long duration, showcasing a sweetness surpassing that of the palate. The spice intensity softens, leaving behind a pleasant warmth. Jaffa cakes and After-Eight chocolates.
This rye stands out for its straightforwardness, lacking excessive complexity. It embodies what I perceive as typical rye characteristics – subtle wood, a touch of spices, and a hint of lemon or lime. While I appreciate the warm spiciness on the palate, both the nose and the palate strike me as somewhat uncomplicated. To be honest, I anticipated a bit more depth and complexity from this whisky.
Dad’s Hat Batch 1 That Boutique-y Whisky Company Review
Distilled in 2016 by Mountain Laurel Spirits, this Dad’s Hat comprises 80% rye and 20% sweet mash. Bottled at its cask strength of 64% ABV by Boutique-y in 2023 for their USA series, it hails from the Mountain Laurel Spirits distillery situated approximately 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. This Dad’s Hat is still available in the UK, priced at around £100 for a 50 cl bottle.
Neat: Despite the elevated ABV, there is no pronounced burning sensation. Detectable notes include orange, quince jam, pine needles, some aromatic herbs, lime, and curaçao, with a subtle presence of paint thinner. Overall, a pleasant nose.
With water: Introducing water brings forth additional wood notes, along with nuances of spent tea leaves and artichoke.
Neat: Well, here the ABV is prominently felt! It initiates with a gentle touch, but the alcohol burn escalates progressively. Rye, sandalwood, orange liqueur, Black Forest cake, and a hint of lemon juice characterize the palate. After a while, the mouthfeel evolves into a creamy texture. There’s also a herbal and sour element, albeit challenging to precisely identify.
With water: The profile remains similar, with perhaps an amplified presence of spices.
The finish is marked by lingering herbaceous and sour notes, accompanied by charred wood and possibly a touch of eucalyptus. It imparts a pleasant warmth to the throat, persisting for an good duration.
While rye may not top my list of preferred whiskies, I find genuine enjoyment in this particular expression. It presents an approachable and pleasing nose, along with well-balanced flavours and strength on the palate, leading to a satisfyingly long finish. Despite its merits, one might argue that the price point is somewhat high for a 6-year-old rye in a 50 cl bottle. Nevertheless, it undeniably stands as a very commendable whisky.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Batch 1 Review
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye is crafted exclusively from 100% Canadian Prairie rye grains. The inaugural release of this cask strength rye occurred in 2019, marking the focus of our review on this initial batch. Bottled at a robust 65.1%, this expression underwent approximately five years of aging in new American white oak barrels. Although the first batch is sold out, subsequent batches are available in Germany and the UK, albeit at a considerable premium compared to the original Canadian pricing.
Neat: Initially, the intensity surpasses that of Dad’s Hat, despite a comparable ABV. Notes of nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon dominate, followed by a prominent wood aroma. Hints of orange persist, although the overall bouquet is somewhat masked by the presence of alcohol.
With water: The addition of water allows the orange notes to emerge more distinctly amid the alcohol. Despite a reduction to around 45–50%, the aroma retains its sharpness and doesn’t undergo significant changes.
Neat: The palate presents a silky mouthfeel initially, followed by a pronounced alcohol heat after a couple of seconds. As the alcohol sensation subsides, notes of wood, dark chocolate, and clove emerge. On a second sip, the alcohol bite diminishes, revealing flavors of pecan pie, butterscotch, and subtle blood orange undertones.
With water: The addition of water introduces a sweeter profile, albeit with a lingering alcohol sharpness. The palate evolves to include more chocolate, a touch of light bitterness, and subtle hints of lemon peel.
The finish is long with lingering spices accompanied by notes of caramel and blood orange.
More traditional in nature compared to the Cirka, and perhaps slightly superior, particularly after dilution to temper the alcohol intensity. However, ultimately, I hesitate to assign it a higher rating than the Cirka. It seems to be in fact more distinct than superior, and as someone not well-versed in ryes, I’ll maintain a rating of 5.
Thanks Dave and Tyrone!