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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Batch Match Up: High West Double Rye versus High West Double Rye

No, this is not an April Fool's joke.

One of the things I wanted to start doing on this site this year was comparisons between whiskies bottled under the same name.  I'll compare batches, barrels, bottling years, ABV versions, ownership changes, and shifts in mashbills or oak.  This is partially to demonstrate that the whisk(e)y websites and books which exist for the sole purpose of being buying guides are not entirely reliable.  But these matchups' main purpose relates to my intent for all of my spirits posts, and that is to document my personal experience and share my findings with you.  Our palates change, as does the liquid.

I'll be sprinkling these posts around, mostly when I have the samples in hand.  Last week, I really enjoyed doing the Old Taylor lineup because the whiskey was so damn good.  This week, I'll do two slightly more relevant posts.  Today, it's High West Double Rye.

Two months ago, I reviewed my bottle of Double Rye and found the whiskey to be surprisingly uninspiring.  I'm a big fan of High West's Rendezvous Rye, but its little cousin was a letdown.  Immediately following my post, reader Florin exclaimed, "WTF?! GTFO."  He claimed his Double Rye experience did not match mine, saying his open bottle of the Double was good.  And he generously supplied a sample.

The usual rundown:
Product: Double Rye
Producer: High West
Distillery: Barton/Tom Moore and LDI distilleries
Type: Straight Rye Whisky
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (LDI), Kentucky (Barton)
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 53% rye 37% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 2 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (LDI)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

High West is great when it comes to a batch match up, since their labels actually list batch numbers.  And their batch numbers are usually decipherable.  In this case, they are as follows:

My bottle -- Batch 13C07 (likely March 7, 2013), bottle 2309, purchased at Costco,
Florin's bottle -- Batch 12J12 (likely October 12, 2012), bottle 782, purchased at DrinkupNY or The Party Source

Line 'em up.

BATCH 12J12, bottle 782 (Florin's)
Actual rye seeds in the nose; fennel seeds, too.  Pickle juice, black pepper, and something almost rosemary but not quite.  It gets sugarier with time: brown sugar, simple syrup, and fresh baked carrot cake.  The palate is dry and herbal, like a mellow Willett LDI rye.  Salt and savory, very little sweetness at first.  Rye bread toast with salted butter.  A graceful floral note develops with time.  That extra air also brings a sweet(er) -> herbal -> spicy progression.  Salt and pepper in the finish.  Green and pink peppercorns.  Not particularly lengthy, though it develops some nice bitterness, over time.

BATCH 13C07, bottle 2309 (Mine, from Costco)
The nose starts with chlorine, vodka, cherry juice, and hints of mint and pepper.  Then brown sugar, bubble gum ice cream, cinnamon candy, and orange candy.  Rubbing alcohol.  With some air, the whiskey shows some maple syrup and a lot of new oak.  The mild sweet-ish palate is oddly corny.  Vanilla from the barrel char and then a hit of bitter oak.  It's very green, in both herbs and grains.  Some peppery spice and artificial mint flavoring.  Cinnamon, sugar, and the fake mint thing make up most of the finish.  A slight rye zip grows with time.

Nose: 12J12 by a lot
Palate: 12J12
Finish: 13C07 slightly
Overall: 12J12

These don't even seem like the same whiskey.  My batch tastes like a cheap young hi-rye bourbon.  Florin's batch tastes like a young but approachable LDI rye.  When I gave my batch of Double Rye its score last time, I was worried that it was too low.  But now I'm going to dock it a few more points.  It's a C grade whiskey.  Florin's is more like a B-/B.

I've floated the theory that Costco was given a crummy batch not on accident.  High West could save their best stuff for well-respected specialty liquor retailers that buy at a higher price (than a Costco bulk purchase) then turn around and sell the product to bigger spenders and/or pickier whiskey folk.  Though I can't really prove this, my bottle from the Costco batch was capital-L Lacking, while Florin's was demonstrably better.

Another more dispiriting possibility is that High West is running short on the 16-year-old Barton stock thus its almost total absence in the 2013 batch.  If you've had a batch more recent than mine please share your experience.

One final thought on price.  Though Rendezvous is still the better rye, if you can find a good batch (maybe an older batch) of Double Rye at $30, I'd say it's a good deal.  But, unless you know someone who liked his or her bottle of 2013 Double Rye, I can't even recommend buying the Costco batch at $27.99.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $30-$40

Rating - 83

Rating - 76