...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whisky

Does this ever happen to you?  One of your friends recommends a newly released film.  And you think, "Hmm, that sounds interesting."  Then another friend recommends it.  Then another.  Then your dad recommends it.  And your mom.  And your second cousin, two coworkers, your landlord, and all of your exes.  Then a waitress recommends it to you, then a cab driver, the dude who bags your groceries, your dentist, your proctologist, a talking squirrel, the cop who arrests you for indecent exposure, and James Franco.
"Mmm, yes. The director's use of mise-en-scène for the
interiors was reminiscent of early Renoir.
More La Règle du Jeu than La Chienne, really."
(pic source)
Yet the more times you're told the film is great, the less and less you actually want to see it.

Then three years later you watch it, and everyone was right.  The film is excellent.  But you don't tell them about it because you recognize how late to the party you are due to the fact that you're such a stubborn sh*t.

Are you that guy?  I'm that guy.

I cannot count how many people have recommended Rittenhouse Rye BIB.  It got to the point where I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's great. Whatever."  And I never tried it.  Then two months ago I purchased a bottle.  And holy crap.

Brand: Rittenhouse
Owner: Heaven Hill
Type: Straight Rye Whisky (no 'e'!)
Region: Distillery - Louisville, Kentucky; Warehouse - Bardstown, Kentucky
Maturation: new American white oak
Mash bill: 65% Rye (I think) 51% Rye (per Cowdery here and here)
Age: minimum 4 years, though some batches are said to be 6-8 years
Bottle Year: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Its color is an orangey maple syrup.  The dense nose holds chocolate cake, flower blossoms, orange zest, cardamom, nutmeg, whole wheat bread, toasted rye bread, and damp tobacco.  There's something Scotch-ish about it too.  Perhaps it's a combo of toasted grains, salty air, and a hint of smoke?  With some time, the whisky develops notes of earthy molasses, fresh apples, licorice, and carob.  Rye seeds, black pepper, and brown sugar lead the palate.  There's an umami note in the center too; maybe savory herbs?  Lots of toasty grains all wrapped in silky sweetness.  It finishes with vanilla custard and caramel.  Lots of rich caramel sauce, all dark and syrupy.  Then the rye brings in a spicy twist of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and mint.

This stuff is very good served neatly.  It is very good on ice.  It is very good in cocktails.  It is very good to fill a tub with to plant your ass in.  Though I've never had a problem finding it in California, there have been known to be scarcity issues with this rye.  Must be from all those overflowing tubs.

Despite the 50% ABV, it's not hot at all.  Instead, it is creamy and very drinkable.  Wild Turkey 101 used to be my favorite rye for cocktails, but Rittenhouse BIB just zoomed ahead.  Oh yes, one more thing: the quality-price-ratio is outstanding.

So, my stubborn rye-loving friend, I recommend this Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whisky to you.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $20-$28
Rating - 90


  1. A-yup. And it's still that good, even though the age has probably gone down since supply has been so tight.

    1. The stuff going onto shelves now is probably closer to 4 years old than the 6-8 that it used to be. The demand is high, so Heaven Hill has the pressure of bottling stuff sooner, yet the quality is still there.

      Have you found Rittenhouse BIB shortage issues in Oregon? Despite what certain retailers say out here, I've always been able to spot bottles on shelves in CA.

    2. We'll get allocations that then sell out over the course of ~6 months. Right now there's only about a case left in the state and there's no way to know when we'll get more.

    3. That's good to know. I think K&L, HiTime, Party Source, and Binnys might be getting more allocations than entire states.

  2. I have a feeling your bottle was distilled at Bernheim but for a number of years Heaven Hill contracted Brown-Forman to produce Rittenhouse since their previous distillery burned down. I am fairly sure Heaven Hill is now making rye whisky now that they have settled at Bernheim.

    1. Well, that's me reading to fast but I didn't notice, Michael, that you did acknowledge that fact without mentioning Brown-Forman (which is based in Louisville).

    2. Hey Eric. I'll admit was a little vague about the actual distillery. The back of the bottle says DSP-KY1, which is Bernheim, which is also in Louisville.

      You're right about Brown-Forman stepping in after the old Bardstown Distillery burned down in November 1996. They bought the Bernheim distillery in '99, but I'm not sure when they started distilling rye there. On the Facebook fan page, they said the current (then 2011) rye had been distilled at DSP-KY-354, Brown Forman's digs. But again I'm happy to say that my bottle code of L1 (2011) has the DSP-KY-1 on the label.

    3. I think someone needs to ask Chuck Cowdery. Based on the DSP it does appear that Bernheim is producing and bottling Rittenhouse instead of Brown-Forman. After all those contracts expire eventually.

      Incidentally some people might say Rittenhouse was the best whiskey produced at Brown-Forman.

    4. Both of my bottles (purchased around the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012) are DSP 354. So if you ever want to compare, I'm happy to send off a sample.

    5. Eric, if the Rittenhouse made at Brown-Forman is anywhere near the quality of my Bernheim bottle, then you can count me amongst those "some people".

    6. Jordan, that would be great to compare the two! I'll set aside a sample of the DSP 1 version for you if you're interested, unless you wind up picking up a whole bottle of it before then.

  3. Are you sure you didn't get your reviews mixed up? Bring me a sample of 90pt Rittenhouse Rye, and I'll give you one of 90pt Double Rye. Or else bring me a 79pt DR and I'll show you a 79pt RR. But let's stay with the 90pt for now...

    1. I'll bring what I have left of both! I really wanted to enjoy the Double Rye, but that bottle was rougher than expected from the start. Thus my impossible-to-prove theory that Costco was given a lower quality batch. That theory could also extend to those lower quality JW Gold Labels we both bought at Costco......and maybe the reports of declining Lagavulin 16s.

      I would be interested in trying a crummier Rittenhouse. It was being distilled by Brown-Forman (DSP-KY354) until very recently when they switched over to Bernheim Distillery (DSP-KY1). I sincerely doubt the rye stayed the same. Or there was a difference between distilling seasons. Or I'm blinded by my infatuation with my bottle.

    2. Yes, bring it on! After you panned the DoubleRye I opened a new bottle from my stash - and it was as delicious as I remembered it (the mouth waters). Maybe we'll do a DoubleRye DoubleBlind!

      As for the Rittenhouse, I bought a bottle in Fall 2011 that was so hot and blank, I couldn't approach. Unfortunately that was before I started storing samples. I'll be more than happy to be proven wrong on this! It was a major disappointment, seeing how it seems to be everybody's favorite.

      I think that the price does play a role. Recently I had a Knob Creek 9yo from a stored sample, that I didn't like much when opened back in 2012 (*). It wasn't great, but also not worse than my Old Grand Dad 117, of which I do have a good opinion. The latter is a good deal, if not a great whisky, whereas the $10 more expensive KC not so much. So yeah, whether we want it or not, chances are price creeps into our assessments.

      * Knob Creek 9yo SB Reserve, TPS Barrel #106, $34: It has the signature Jim Beam bitter rye note. Some nice dark chocolate; burnt ash, peanuts. Not very exciting, more of the same Jim Beam juice. I would definitely drink it on a desert island. Here - not so much.

    3. That's funny, I was just asking around to see who has tried any of Knob Creek's single barrels. They're on the shelves everywhere; Hi Time has its own selected barrel. I'm not the biggest fan of the Beam style, but I'm open to surprises.

      Wasn't my Double Rye review a soft pan? Now, the Knob Creek Rye was a heavier pan. For Dewar's White Label, I brought out the iron skillet.

      You're right though, it's difficult to filter out price when trying to quantify quality. In the Ritt's case, there are only three ryes I've enjoyed more, found more complex, and thought better made: Willett, Handy, and Bowman. I'll still buy the Ritt first because of its price, but if they were all equal in cost I'd pick those three first. If HW Rendezvous was $25, it would be a close call but I'd still go with Rittenhouse. If Ritt was $50, well......I don't want to give Heaven Hill any ideas. My one weakness would be love at first sight with this bottle. There's a sensitive man underneath the hubris.

    4. For those who are following this discussion, Florin enjoyed the Rittenhouse that I brought and I enjoyed the Double Rye that he brought. More to follow on this in another at some point this year. Cheers!