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Friday, October 14, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: High West Rendezvous Rye, Vine & Table Barrel Select (barrel 957)

Something else was on my calendar for today's review, but circumstances call for this whiskey. If you hadn't heard, High West was purchased by Constellation Brands for $160 million of money.  The Perkinseseses are staying onboard, which is good.  The funny(?) thing is that High West made hay due to their barrel picking and blending. Meanwhile, distilling is a very different business and science. No one really knows how their High West's aged spirit will fare. Like Willett, they'll have to segue from high-quality products sourced from long-running distilleries to their own distillate. And that's at least one strike against them. I am rooting for them though. It takes guts to open a whiskey business in Utah.....and then succeed. And I do love me some Rendezvous Rye.

Today's bottle isn't the usual Rendezvous. High West has (or had, depending on Constellation) a Barrel Select program, wherein retailers could get an exclusive barrel of Rendezvous or Double Rye with extra maturation. In this instance, High West poured the blended contents of regular Rendezvous -- 6yo MGP rye + 16yo Barton rye -- into an ex-bourbon (American Prairie?) barrel and let it age for another two-and-a-half years before bottling at barrel strength. Thus it's a different whiskey than Rendezvous and, as to be expected, more expensive. Ignoring the older component, consider that this Barrel Select is mostly 8 year old MGP stuff, so $70 is a reasonable price in this market.

Since High West is in the news and I attended Vine & Table's Expo this past weekend, I figured it's time to taste this stuff officially.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Producer: High West
Distilleries: Barton and MGP
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whisky
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (MGP), Barton (Kentucky)
Mashbills: Barton - 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley
MGP - 95% rye 5% malted barley
Maturation, part 1: Barton 16yo and MGP 6yo, separately, in new white oak barrels
Maturation, part 2: 2.5 year marriage together in an ex-bourbon barrel
Barrel #: 957
Bottle #: 40
Alcohol by Volume: 53%
(notes taken from my bottle's midpoint)

The nose starts off with a surprising dried fruit note; think apricots, pineapple and golden raisins. Plenty of creamy vanilla notes. No pickle juice (for those who fear it). Some fun notes of root beer and hazelnut liqueur poke out here and there. Eventually it develops a big Rolos candy note that nearly takes over. A lot of ethyl heat blocks the palate for the first couple of sips. But then the aggressive high-rye spices rush in, followed by an old bourbon character (lots of corn and vanilla). Its sweetness is of the brown sugar and maraschino cherry sort. Some black cherry soda. With time the spices shift towards jalapeño pepper. It also picks up some plain oak notes as well. At first the finish is all maraschino cherries on vanilla ice cream. Then there's plain sweet & heat, along with dried fruit. After later sips, it trends towards bitter oak and pencil shavings.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is all dried fruit at first. Then vanilla takes over, followed by smaller notes of root beer, peanut dust, and orange oil. Something darker and grungier lurks in the background. The palate gets saltier. Plenty of zing remains, though it's more pepper than ethyl. Fruit punch. Kind of a peppier version of Canadian rye. The finish is sweet and tannic, with notes of vanilla and bananas.

I was actually prepared to pan this rye. Upon opening the bottle, Kristen and I found it too hot to drink. Even when reduced to 43%abv, the ethyl stayed put. Thus I had planned to reduce it to 40%abv to see if I could break through the heat.  But now that the bottle is at its halfway point, the whiskey has calmed down considerably, and thankfully, so I could take proper notes. Now I prefer it neat!

With the joyous nose as its strong point and the finish its weakest, this Barrel Select proves to be unique and different than the regular Rendezvous. If it were priced above $100 like most 8yo MGP ryes, I'd say skip it. But if you're already out $60+ for the regular Rendezvous, this is worthwhile at $70, especially if you favor dried fruit over MGP's pickle juice.

Availability - Vine & Table only
Pricing - $69.99
Rating - 85 (when neat)