It took much of my life to fall in love with bourbon, but my courtship with rye was a one-and-done event. I fell for it from the start: its lighter body, fruity roundness and tingly, busy edges sharpened further by pepper and herbs. Good rye is a boss in cocktails, an attention-commanding star of the show without being a diva. It plays well with other ingredients while ever reminding the drinker that it’s the reason you chose this spirit.
That Old Forester, one of my favorite bourbon producers, is releasing a 100-proof rye in February, is about as good as news gets in cold and dreary January. That this is the distillery’s first new grain recipe in 150 years proves change happens slow at Fo’. But at least it’s a change that pleases me and surely many others.
Upon the release a few days ago, it took a nanosecond before some suspected it was just Woodford Rye rebadged as Old Forester Rye. But that’s clearly not the case as the mashbill is markedly different:
- Old Forester Rye: 65 percent Rye, 20 percent malted barley and 15 percent corn
- Woodford Reserve Rye: 53 percent rye, 33 percent corn and 14 percent malted barley
I do like Woodford Rye, but I love this Old Forester Rye.
Nose: So-Fo’ that you could easily mistake it for its legendary bourbon sibling if you didn’t know it was rye. Peach pie, ripe banana, dried grass, warm brown sugar bloom from the glass.
Flavor: A rush of fruit and spice that’s delicate for 100 proof. Rye leads, followed by toasted oak, spearmint and cooked green apple. Tangy toasted oak and pie crust boom on the exhale. Subsequent pours releases dill and more graham cracker.
Finish: Long and soft. Wait a few minutes for aftertastes of mint-milk chocolate and, yes, more graham cracker. The more you drink it neat, the drier it gets, but not unpleasantly so. Amid the tannin, pleasant floral notes emerge to offset it.
Conclusion: Gosh this is good, really good! For years I’ve praised Old Forester’s 100 proof bourbon as one of the best whiskey bargains on the market. That Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris has created a rye sibling at a similar price and at such quality is exciting though not surprising. If you’re an Old Fo’ fan, you’ll recognize its sibling’s DNA at every level.
Tasting Notes from Old Forester Master Taster, Jackie Zykan
Aroma: Rich brown sugar and magnolia blossom, with hints of soft sassafras and candied lemon
Taste: Spice awakens immediately leading with sharp black pepper and cinnamon stick, rounding out with notes of dried dill and baked apple
Finish: Allspice and peppercorn introduce a long and dry finish which ignites with pine, anise and bright lemon zest