When I started as North American Archivist for United Distillers in 1992, there were very few distilleries outside of the State of Kentucky. Now there are several hundred distilleries not located in Kentucky and many of them are making excellent whiskey. I have picked six very good rye whiskeys made by a few of these distilleries. They are listed in alphabetical order by brand and come from six different states. Some are still young, but the quality is there and the future is bright for these brands. All of these brands with the exception of one can be purchased in Louisville liquor stores.
- Catcher’s Rye Straight Rye Whiskey: This rye whiskey is distilled and bottled by Two James Spirits of Detroit, Michigan. It is made from 100% Michigan rye grain and bottled at two years old at 98.8 proof. There are a lot of fruit notes and rye herbal flavors tempered by sweet vanilla and honey. I like this rye, as well as, other whiskey I have tasted from Two James Spirits. Definitely a brand with a future.
- Dad’s Hat Bottled-in-Bond Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey: This rye whiskey is distilled and bottled at Mountain Laurel Spirits of Bristol, Pennsylvania. I have been a fan of this whiskey for several years. I was first introduced to the brand by John Lipman about six years ago and I was impressed with the quality of that very young whiskey. The brand has matured and offers this Bottled-in-Bond expression that is very good. There is a strong rye herbal quality with some vanilla and spice notes. It is a very good rye to enjoy with a good cigar. I expect the brand to get even better as more of their stocks age even longer. (See the Dad’s Hat 90 proof rye review here)
- George Washington Straight Rye Whiskey: This is the one brand that is not available outside of the gift shop at Mount Vernon. This rye is made at the 18th-century style distillery at George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, in Virginia. This distillery was built on the foundations of Washington’s original distillery and uses 18th-century style, wood-fired pot stills to make this whiskey. It is sold only at the estate and is not inexpensive. However, it’s worth every penny spent on a bottle. Rye herbal flavors are complemented by flavors of caramel and peaches with a hint of spice. The whiskey is only 4 years and 2 months old and bottled at 86 proof, but it is one of my favorite whiskeys in the world. If offered a dram of any whiskey I wanted at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, this is what I would pick 9 out of 10 times. (See the Mount Vernon Apple Brandy review here)
- High West Double Rye!: This blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys covers two states – Utah and Indiana. The High West Distillery in Park City, Utah blends some of their own rye whiskey with some sourced rye whiskey. This sourced whiskey comes from the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. High West has been sourcing whiskey for their brands for years. They blend this sourced whiskey with their own barrels in a masterful manner. I love their products but I am torn. I would like to see bottles of whiskey solely from their distillery in Utah, but they do such a good job with what they are making now, I would hate to see them stop doing that as well. Their Master Blender is a real talent. (See the Midwinter Night’s Dram, Act 6, Scene 6 review here)
- Sagamore Spirit Spring Fed Straight Rye Whiskey: This whiskey is bottled by Sagamore Spirit of Baltimore, Maryland, but the whiskey is made in Indiana. They own a distillery and should have their own whiskey in the bottle in a few years, but for now, they are using a sourced whiskey from MGP. I am using them as an example of all of the fine rye whiskey brands that are sourced from MGP. It is a very good rye whiskey with the typical MGP minty note with lots of other rye herbal flavors, vanilla and a little baking spice.
- Tom’s Foolery Ohio Straight Rye Whiskey: This 2 ½-year-old rye is made at the Tom’s Foolery Distillery at Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It is a sour mash whiskey that is double distilled and bottled at 90 proof. I really like the whiskeys coming out of Tom’s Foolery Distillery. This whiskey has the typical rye herbal flavors with a little ripe apple and candied ginger spice. Vanilla and caramel with some sweet oak make this a very well balanced whiskey.
These are six rye whiskeys that are very good and not made in Kentucky. Each of these distilleries has brands that will continue to grow in popularity as long as they continue to keep this level of quality. Kentucky and Tennessee are still the home of over 90% of the whiskey made in the United States, but I suspect that percentage will shrink as these distilleries grow. Kentucky distillers have competition which is a good thing. It makes sure that the quality of the whiskey remains high.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller