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Friday, November 12, 2021

Old Overholt 4 year old Rye, bottled in 1978

Overwhelmed, insomniac, sitting up in bed, I quickly wrote a non-whisky blog post about my emotional state, 369 days ago. Circumstances have since changed, and not entirely for the better. Goodness glimmers up ahead, but conflict continues to spread out of the dark towards the light like a mutating black mold.

This past August, my local friends — who know a little bit about said circumstances — surprised me with all sorts of gifts during an armagnac tasting event the day before my birthday. They'd raided the Tensuke Market shelves, filling a bag with sweets and savories, bought a Japanese cheesecake, and presented me with French elixirs. To this day I remain humbled nearly to tears about it.

I would have reviewed the Japanese goodies but my daughters and I have consumed all the wonderful individually wrapped treats. But there was a specific 2oz sample of something, gifted by one Secret Agent Man, about which I can opine.

Before Jim Beam swallowed up the National Distillers brands in 1987, Old Overholt rye was still being distilled in Pennsylvania, though its actual source remains foggy. I have greatly enjoyed three of National Distillers's other Olds (Taylor, Crow, Grand Dad) — in fact, if I had any S-W bourbon I would gladly swap it for ND — but I don't think I'd ever tried their Overholt. I, the rye fan, had only had Beam's Old Overcoat. Until now.

My sample of 1978-bottled O.O. had a desperate sparring partner in a diluted pour 2020 Ohio edition of O.O. 114 Proof. And by "desperate" I mean that the bottle has been open for more than seven months and I just cannot finish the damned thing. Both whiskies were labelled four years old, and I dropped the 2020's strength down to meet that of the 1978, at 43%abv. Here's how that played out:

Old Overholt 4 year old 114 Proof, 2020 Ohio Edition, distilled in KY, diluted to 43%abv

Nose - Cherry lozenges and lemon zest. A little bit of clementine juice and fennel seeds. Intense barrel char and a splash of turpentine. Overall, it's better than I'd expected and remembered.

Palate - Much less there there. Mint and menthol. Tangy lime candy and tree bark. Ethyl and something leafy.

Finish - Fades fast. Woody and peppery, with a hint of limes.

Sorry to steal Randy Brandy's format here. I'm sure he'll forgive me. Right? Anyway, this rye began decently, but gradually descended though the finish, its weak point. Still, I'll bump up the score one whole point.

Rating - 79

Old Overholt 4 year old, bottled in 1978 by National Distillers, distilled in PA, 43%abv

Nose - So much bigger than one would expect from 43%abv. It is waxy with swirls of dried apricot and dried sweet potato. Pound cake and cold car engine. Snuffed candle and a hint of MGP-style pickle brine.

Palate - A balance of savory herbs and perky baking spices. Toss in a dash of salt, fresh French bread crust and a whiff of sandalwood. Not even a hint of sugar.

Finish - Very long and very spicy. Smoked paprika, lemon pepper, olive oil, salt and sandalwood.

It's not sweet, it's not oaky and it's not raw. I'm not saying the American whiskey industry broke the National Distillers moulds. I'm tellin' you — to quote Dead Man — they killed 'em, fucked 'em, cooked 'em up and ate 'em. This is stellar whiskey. It is of the stars. Thank you, Secret Agent Man, for the opportunity to drink this gem.

Rating - 91