Highspire Rye Whiskey is the brainchild of Austin Hope of Kindred Distilled Spirits. He owns a winery in California and wanted to make a whiskey that would appeal to wine drinkers. He wanted a spirit that showcased the grain flavors and yet had some fruity characteristics of wine. He approached and partnered with Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Kentucky and came up with Highspire Rye whiskey.

Since the grain was an important part of this product finding the right grain was important. Austin decided to use an heirloom variety of rye called Ryman. He found that it had some different flavor components to other ryes that he thought would carry through with the distillate. He convinced a farmer next to the distillery in Crestwood to plant 10 acres of the rye and that was the grain used for the first batch. It was decided to be 100% rye whiskey so they used 90% Ryman rye and 10% malted rye. Since this first batch they have increased the amount of rye grown to over 200 acres and started to malt their own grain so they can make the whiskey from 100% Ryman rye. Wine drinkers are interested in the grapes and the Terroir so Hope is trying to translate this into the grain.

Stephen Thompson of Kentucky Artisan Distillery is in charge of making the rye whiskey. He is now malting the rye and making the mash. He distills the new make spirit but treats it a little different from most whiskeys. He actively works on making sure the grain flavor is carried through in the distilling process. That is the point of this product, to be able to taste the grain and not just the barrel.

The next phase is the real genius of the brand – the distilled spirit is entered into a used wine barrel at 110 entry proof to age for four months. There are plenty of “wine finished” aged whiskeys on the market but this is the only one I am aware of that begins life in a used wine barrel. Then, because Austin Hope has been in the wine business for over 25 years, they finish it for another two to six months by adding additional wood staves into the barrel in a similar manner to what Maker’s Mark is doing with the Maker’s 46. The result is a whiskey that has a lot of rye flavor but with a fruity note from the wine barrel. The wood does not dominate this product. It is all about the grain. It is bottled at 80 proof once again with the wine drinker in mind.

Here are my tasting notes for Highspire Rye:

Proof: 80

Age: at least 4 months old

Color: Light straw. Not surprising for this young whiskey.

Nose: Rye grass and honey with a hint of raisons and vanilla.

Taste: Rye grain and sweet spice – allspice and a hint of clove. Vanilla and a hint of grape or raisons that comes through late in the taste. A nice mouth feel with just a little heat.

Finish: very long and fruity. This is where the wine exerts itself as the spice from the rye and the fruitiness of the wine linger in a nice balance.

Notes: I find that this goes very well with a cigar or pipe of tobacco. The flavors work well with the smoke creating a nice pairing.


Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Michael Veach