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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Old Overholt 114 Proof Rye vs. Old Overholt 11 year old Rye

Beam Suntory executed a dramatic reboot of the Old Overholt brand last year. Before that maneuver, a 40%abv bottling marked the entirety of the Old Overholt universe. The ubiquitous bottle was both the least offensive and least memorable cheap American rye whiskey on the market. Then in 2020, three new Overholts appeared: a Bottled-In-Bond, a 4 year old 114 Proof edition, and an 11 year old. Even the 40%abv was elevated to 43%. Though most companies have been using rebranding as a vehicle for price inflation, Beam elected to keep this brand's prices relatively low.

Normally I prefer ryes over bourbons, but my palate prefers Beam's bourbons over their ryes. That didn't stop me from buying the 114 Proof last year for about $30. Though readers/viewers had recommended the 11 year old, that one sold out quickly here in Ohio. To my delight, my friend Secret Agent Man provided me with a sample.

Continuing with the two-post theme of The Olds, here are my notes on the ryes:

Old Overholt 4 year old Straight Rye Whiskey, 114 Proof (57%abv), 2020 OH Release

OO's undisclosed rye mashbill reads very low-rye in this whiskey's nose. There are cherry lollipops, citrus blossoms, red Twizzlers, Cointreau and a hint of crushed fennel seeds. It picks up a subtle band-aid note when reduced to 46%abv. It keeps the flower blossoms, while adding some pollen. Lots of vanilla and caramel as well.

As expected, there's plenty of burn in the palate. Raw almonds, cherry lollies and halvah dwell beneath the heat. It gets sweeter with time, though the mouthfeel is always a bit thin. Once diluted to 46%abv, it gets even sweeter, while taking on woody bitterness and tangy citrus, becoming more and more tannic with time.

It finishes with cherry lollies, black pepper, salt and heat. At 46%abv, the tannins take over, leaving the sugar and pepper in the background.

Most of my rye gets consumed in cocktails, with Manhattans leading that parade. This rye results in a satisfactory nutty Manhattan, which may actually require more bitters and/or Carpano Antica than my usual recipe.

Originally there was no intention to dilute the 114 proof during the tasting, but curiosity got the better of me. I regretted that decision as the stuff in my glass turned right into oak juice. When neat, this rye is certainly better than the defunct 40%abv version, which was sort of a 70-point benchmark for my palate. I was surprised by how pretty and polite the nose was. And, aside from the oak and the heat, it was an easy whiskey overall. On the other hand, I opened my bottle eight months ago, and it's still half full. It really cannot compete with Old Forester Rye, which is also 36% cheaper than Old Overholt 114 Proof here in this state.

RATING - 78 (neat only)

Old Overholt 11 year old 2009 
Straight Rye Whiskey, 46.3%abv

The nose begins with a mix of orange peel and new carpet. Then strawberry popsicles, cinnamon and mint candy. MGP-style pickles and barrel char. Its floral (and alcohol) notes are subtler than the 114's

The palate offers oranges in various forms: Cara Caras, clementines and Pixy Stix. Quieter notes of tobacco, cracked pepper and flower petals merge well with the oranges, keeping the sweetness from going overboard.

The palate's cracked pepper note moves towards chile oil in the finish. The orange notes focus on those Pixy Stix, while subtler notes of rye bread crust, salt and fennel seed make it more interesting.

No, I did not put this in a Manhattan, nor did I dilute it. It's a good sipper at full strength, more of a drinker than a thinker. Though I certainly wish there was more depth, the orange notes were a lot of fun. I appreciate the Beam folks not watering the 11yo down to 40% or 43% because it wears its poison well without burning the drinker's face. And because the market is the market, $75 is probably about as low of a price as one can find for a rye of this age. If one can find it.