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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Constellation Brands blows up High West Rendezvous Rye, so let's try the original stuff: 2012 versus 2016

High West Rendezvous Rye was a long time favorite in this house. If we couldn't get MGP Willett or MGP Smooth Ambler rye then I would buy a bottle of Rendezvous.

Note the past tense in that paragraph. The Rendezvous recipe has changed. What was once 16 year old 80/10/10 (Barton) + 6 year old 95/5 (MGP) rye, is (as of 2018) "A blend of older Straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 4 to 7 years", 95/5 from MGP and 80/20 rye/malted rye from High West itself. Now MGP is the older sibling. It is much much younger than the Barton rye was, and, yes, the oldest whiskies in the current batches are almost the same age as the youngest whiskies in the original batches. And per Winesearcher, Rendezvous 20% more expensive than it was in 2015.

Let's all chillfilter the bitterness out of our feelings about those facts for a moment. Inflation has gone up 7-8% since 2015, so the price was going to rise at least a little bit over the past four years. Though the ingredients changed, it was infeasible for High West to use 16 year old rye indefinitely. And at some point actual High West rye was going to have make an appearance in a bottle somewhere in the range.

Okay, now bring the bitter back. It takes some serious chutzpah to blow up a recipe so drastically while keeping the same name on the bottle. What do they think this is, Johnnie Walker Black? Why no "Son of Rendezvous"? Why no limited release "Last Rendezvous in Park City" to fluff the secondary marketeers? David Perkins was a stellar blender who created a successful brand via quality products. But I'm not motivated to drop $65 on 4 year old rye, especially when it's produced by the $40B market cap Constellation Brands rather than a family business.

In honor of the OG Rendezvous Rye, I'm going to compare my first saved Rendezvous sample with my last. 2012 versus 2016. One may imagine the recipe was already shifting far away from the Barton by 2016. None the less, I commence.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Distillery: Barton and MGP distilleries
Producer: High West
Type: Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys
Region: Kentucky and Indiana
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 6 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (MGP)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Batches: 12E03 (from 2012) and 16K29 (from 2016)

Batch 12E03 - Pickles! Dried cherries, lemon peel and brown sugar. Not much vanilla. More of a toasted oak feel than charred oak. Cloves and dried grass. Okay, I'll say it: pickles in toffee pudding.
Batch 16K29 - Slightly flatter at first. Less fruit. The pickles have been replaced with mint leaves and earth. More toasted grains and toasted nuts. Cinnamon bread and halvah. Hints of rye bread, cherries and salty pork.

Batch 12E03 - I'm happy to report one well-sealed sample bottle because this stuff is still brisk as hell after more than six years. Heat, mint and tart citrus at the start. Then apricots and cayenne pepper. Bit O' Pickle. Mild sweetness and vanilla. It gets increasingly spicy and fruity, then picks up a brothy salt note.
Batch 16K29 - Calmer and sweeter than the 2012, with a slight medicinal note. Luxardo cherries, mint and milk chocolate. Dustings of clove and cayenne. A mix of tart lemons and orange candy arise after a while.

Batch 12E03 - A straightforward mix of stone fruits, rye seeds, salt and pepper. Very long. It gets sweeter with time.
Batch 16K29 - Cherries, cloves, rye seeds and mint. Good 'n simple 'n sweet. Also has some length to it.

Do I have to choose which one I like better? Even worse, do I have to assign them grades? This is my fault.

There's a definite through line from Willett to Smooth Ambler to the 2012 Rendezvous. Pickles, spices and fruits; that LDI spirit distilled in the mid-aughts. Great rye, all around. This old sample reminds me how much I enjoyed that bottle.

The 2016 batch held up better than I'd expected. It's sweeter and more immediate than the 2012, and finishes very well, which makes it a pleasure to drink. It's short on fruit which keeps it from meeting its elder head-to-head. It does make a great manhattan, when required, though.

I've had to bury Willett's and Smooth Ambler's single barrel MGP ryes on this blog. Now I bury the original batches of Rendezvous Rye.

Good night, sweet pickles. May flights of cowboy angels sing thee to thy sleep.

Batch 12E03
Rating - 88

Batch 16K29
Rating - 86