As the holidays approach, the new whiskey releases are beginning to stack up. There’s so much out there right now that you can easily get lost in the weeds trying to keep track of it. We’re here to help as much as we can. To that end, I’m conducting another rye whiskey blind taste test of brand-new ryes that have just hit shelves.
For this blind taste test, I’ll be focusing on rye whiskeys from the U.S. and Canada. Some of these are so new that you might not even be able to find them in your neck of the woods, at least not yet. Others are 2022 editions of expressions that get released every year that you should be able to source (a little) more easily. Spoiler alert: All of them are pretty damn good.
Our lineup today is:
- Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Double Barrel Rye Whiskey Voyage 26
- Noble Oak Double Oak Rye Finished with Port Wine Oak Staves
- Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye Whiskey
- Alberta Premium Limited Edition Cask Strength Rye
- Square 6 by Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
- Willett Distillery Kiamichi A Family Reunion Whiskey Aged 5 Years
- Lot 40 Dark Oak 100% Rye
- Jack Daniel’s Distillery Series Straight Tennessee Rye Whiskey Finished in High Toast Oak Barrels
For the ranking today, I’m going off of taste alone. This is about what tastes best when tested blind. I’m looking for depth of flavor, the vibe (where does this whiskey take me?), and whether I’d actually like to drink this in real life instead of just tasting it professionally. Sound good? Let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a nice subtlety to the nose with hints of vanilla-laced pancakes covered in brown butter and real maple syrup next to sour mulled wine with a spice mix of star anise, clove, allspice, and cinnamon, and a hint of singed marshmallows. The palate is rich and full of buttery toffee next to spiced nut cake with plenty of vanilla sauce and flakes of salt. The mid-palate has a wintry spiced tobacco warmth that leads to a hint of minced meat pies, apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks, and sour red cherries tossed with smoked sea salt.
This is really freakin’ good. I can’t really tell if this is Canadian or American rye (there’s a bourbon-y vibe), but it doesn’t matter when it’s this easy to drink and satisfying. It’s also comforting. You really are left with a sense of ease on the finish.
There’s a clear grassiness on the nose that’s like a freshly filled lawnmower bag next to soft caramel, woody spices, and a whisper of oatmeal cookie dough. The palate leans into the brown sugar and cinnamon of that cookie dough with a whisper of maple syrup next to more grassiness. The end has a note of bell pepper next to more of that wet oat feel with a mild sense of fennel-crusted rye bread.
This was fine. It was grassy and very much a rye but nothing to write home about.
There’s a nice fruitiness on the nose that’s kind of like dark fruit leather next to sourdough cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, plenty of vanilla, and some brown sugar butter. The palate has a light white pepperiness that’s countered by sweet green herbs, burnt orange, and floral honey. The green herbal vibe takes on a slight savoriness as light winter spices layer into tobacco leaves with a hint of cedar bark.
This was pretty good. I think it feels like a solid cocktail rye to build some killer Manhattans or Sazeracs with more than a sipper though.
There’s a bold sense of buttery and dark toffee on the nose with rich and oily vanilla pods, dark blackberry jam, mulled wine spices (star anise, allspice, clove, cinnamon), brandy-soaked raisins and dates, dry Earl Grey tea leaves, and a hint of dark cacao nibs. The palate builds on that with tart black currants dipped in salted dark chocolate next to a hint of espresso cream, and caraway-encrusted sourdough rye bread (the real stuff from Central Europe, not the bullshit rye you get in the Americas) that leads to a huge cinnamon spiciness on the mid-palate. The end rounds off that cinnamon Hot Tamale spiciness with a sweet sense of vanilla white cake bespeckled with dried cranberries and shredded blackberry tobacco.
Yeah, this is a masterpiece. It’s so deep and enticing while being complex and almost cryptic. It beckons you back for more again and again and then reveals something new and fresh. What a pour!
Massive notes of wet grains and raw pancake batter, raw oatmeal cookie dough, and molasses-laced bran muffins dominate the nose with supporting nuances of honey, figs, and maybe some black tea. There’s a white pepper edge to the palate with a raw cornbread batter vibe with more of that graininess. The end is, you guessed it, grainy AF with hints of chili pepper in that raw cornbread, brown sugar, vanilla oils, and maybe a hint of allspice.
This feels like the craftiest whiskey to ever crafty. The graininess is almost impossible to get past. It’s all well-rounded and makes sense but this feels about a million miles away from a rye whiskey. Is that a good thing? Maybe?
Wow! This nose is gorgeous with subtle notes of tart cherries tossed with flakes of salt next to dark plum jam laced with soft cinnamon, ground clove, and nutmeg, vanilla pound cake with poppy seeds, red and orange nasturtiums, floral honey, and salted cashews. The taste is fruity but moves more toward pineapple cores, peach skins, and lemon pith next to a soft dry sweetgrass braid twisted up with wild sage and cedar bark with notes of pine-infused honey, old black tea leaves, and cinnamon sticks that have just been singed on the mid-palate. The end is lush and beautifully layered with real sourdough rye crusts, honey-dipped Graham Crackers, dark chocolate-dipped sour cherries, and a hint of walnut bread with plenty of wintry spices and butter.
I didn’t think anything could come close, much less beat, taste 4 but this just did. This is outstanding whiskey. It takes you on a journey that’s luxurious and welcoming while delivering a seriously deep flavor profile that just keeps giving.
This opens with a complex nose full of dried sweetgrass, cinnamon toast, clove-studded orange skins, rich salted caramel, and vanilla beans soaked in cherry liqueur. The palate leans into a fatty dark chocolate fudge with spiced apple cider, sweet and rich cherry syrup, apple fritters with a powdered sugar frosting, and a hint of vanilla tobacco with a woody edge. The finish layers some dark cherry syrup into that vanilla tobacco and adds a mild spiciness thanks to the cinnamon and orange.
This is a very solid whiskey. It feels like a classic sweeter rye whiskey with a solid depth and a good overall vibe.
There’s a lot of wood on the nose with pine bark nestled next to piles of cedar kindling with decent notes of garam masala, zucchini bread, chocolate cream pie, and maybe a whisper of dried red chili spiciness lurking in the background. The palate has a salted caramel sweetness countered by dark gingerbread, apple cores, molasses, and rum-raisin vibes. The end is fruity and nutty with a Christmas cake feel to it next to cinnamon-laced tobacco and more of that cedar.
This is another winner. This isn’t quite as deep or luxe as some of the other pours but it’s damn fine and well-rounded with a sweeter edge.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Square 6 by Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $90
This is a one-of-a-kind whiskey from the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville. Artisanal Distiller Jodie Filiatreau makes exactly one barrel of whiskey a day there to release exclusively at the gift shop on site. The juice in the bottle is a unique Heaven Hill mash bill of 63% rye, 24% corn, and 13% malted barley, which makes this a “high-rye rye whiskey.” Small batches of barrels are put together for the release and proofed with local award-winning Lousiville water before bottling.
This was so grainy that a lot was lost in the mix. It kind of felt like being force-fed raw cornbread batter. I also can’t see that graininess not overpowering a cocktail. So, I don’t know about this one.
7. Noble Oak Double Oak Rye Finished with Port Wine Oak Staves — Taste 2
Average Price: $36
This whiskey is made from Indiana juice that’s finished in Ohio. The “double oak” maturation process means that his high-rye mash was first aged in new American oak per law, and then re-barreled into old port casks for a final rest. Those barrels are batched and the whiskey is proofed with Ohio water before bottling.
This was very much in the “fine” category. I think I’ll be using this for cocktails mostly.
6. Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $40
This 95% rye whiskey (a portion from Indiana) is shipped out to Sonoma County, California where it’s blended with Redwood’s own rye and proofed. The whiskey is named after the fastest-growing Redwood tree in the world, the Emerald Giant.
This is a really solid rye whiskey. It’s not overly spicy and has a good balance. I can see this making one hell of a Manhattan or old fashioned, or really shining in whiskey sour too. Basically, every whiskey from here on down (including this one) is a winner.
5. Lot 40 Dark Oak 100% Rye — Taste 7
Average Price: $53
This version of Lot No. 40 is made from 100% Canadian rye grains. It’s twice distilled and then rests in low-char American oak for a few years. Before it’s blended, the whiskey is re-barreled into heavily-charred oak for a final rest. Once it hits just the right spot, it’s batched, lightly proofed, and bottled.
This was truly solid from top to bottom. The only reason it’s not a little higher is that the next expressions just popped more on the palate. That said, this feels like the perfect bottle to have around for both mixing solid cocktails and sipping on the rocks.
4. Jack Daniel’s Distillery Series Straight Tennessee Rye Whiskey Finished in High Toast Oak Barrels — Taste 8
Average Price: $42 (375ml bottle)
This is the same rye as standard Jack Daniel’s, 70/18/12 rye/corn/malted barley. In this case, the hot juice was charcoal filtered and then loaded into new oak for five-year rest. Then the whiskey was re-barreled into new high-toast, no-char oak barrels for nearly three more years of mellowing. Finally, the best barrels were batched, proofed, and bottled.
This was the fruitiest whiskey on the list by far, and that was kind of nice. Overall, this felt like a super easy sipper that offered a nice break from overly woody and spicy whiskeys
3. Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Double Barrel Rye Whiskey Voyage 26 — Taste 1
Average Price: $82
This Canadian rye went on one hell of a journey. The juice aged for about five years in medium-charred American oak before it was re-barreled in both new medium-char barrels and toasted barrels. It then went on its voyage around the oceans — you can check out the whole voyage route here. Once the barrels arrived back in the U.S., they were small batched, proofed, and bottled.
This was subtle and delicious. It’s mildly spicy, sweet, and nutty with a sense of classic rye from top to bottom. Again, I can see this crushing as both a cocktail whiskey and an on-the-rocks sipper.
2. Alberta Premium 2022 Limited Edition Cask Strength Rye — Taste 4
Average Price: $85
This year’s Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye is made exclusively with classic Canadian Prairie rye grains grown locally in Alberta. Glacial spring water from the Rocky Mountains is in the mix as well as new white oak barrel aging. Once those barrels hit just the right spot, they’re batched and bottled with no proofing at all.
This was fabulous whisky. I really wanted to go right back into this one and keep searching for new flavor notes and smells. It feels like an amazing sipper that had no burn from that high-proof at all, it’s kind of like a magic trick really.
1. Willett Distillery Kiamichi A Family Reunion Whiskey Aged 5 Years — Taste 6
Average Price: $149
This whiskey from the new Kings of Leon’s collaboration is their entry point to the trio of bottles released this year. The juice is a 12-barrel blend a mix of two Willett rye mash bills that were aged in both char 5 oak (a very heavy alligator char) and 24-month cured oak from Hoffmeister Cooperage. Those extremely rare barrels were then batched and just kissed with water and then bottled in only 2,780 bottles.
This was outstanding. I’m still thinking about it right now. I want to live in this whiskey for a while. It’s one of the better pours of whiskey this year. I’m stoked to see how their eight-year-old rye and 19-year-old bourbon expressions stack up.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I can’t overstate this, the Alberta Premium Cask Strength bottle and Kiamichi bottle are both stellar whiskeys in general (rye or not).
If those bottles are too hard to source (depending on wherever you’re located), I’d say try Jefferson’s Rye. It’s a solid whiskey that’ll make a great cocktail mixer through the holiday season.
Still, goddamn, that Kiamichi was a true killer pour of whiskey.