When in Milwaukee recently I was told to stop off on the way to a big screen tv Green Bay Party because they were running short of whiskey. Stopped in just-another-liquor-store along the way. I was surprised initially by the rather impressive selection of whiskies they had (what with Milwaukee being such a brandy-drinking state and all) and reveled in the benefits of the whiskey revival this country was so obviously experiencing these days. Lots of great choices.
But with the unfailing keen and hawklike eyes of the bargain predator that I am, honed by years of looking for the deals and steals, I spotted a lone bottle lurking. And it had the strobing beacon of a red price tag! Closing in for the kill, I realized I had hit the big time jackpot: a bottle of Old Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey for only $13.99. And…wait for it, wait for it…it was a full Liter bottle! (Victory dance ensues)
So why was I so excited? Easy. In this day and age, when hype accounts for so much, and high prices don’t always reflect commensurate quality, there remains a handful of sturdy, consistently superb and reliably excellent brands that always deliver. And they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. One of those brands is Old Rittenhouse, from Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Easily one of the best rye whiskies there is, it’s almost always found at a modest price, and often goes relatively unnoticed on the shelf. Mind you, the pros have acclaimed it and serious connoisseurs know it well---after all, it did receive the 2006 San Francisco International Spirits Competition “North American Whiskey of the Year” (for the 100 Proof version), seriously outclassing competition priced at four or five times as much!
But that’s acclaim and awards. For some reason it doesn’t resonate with the drinking public as much as it should. I don’t know why, either. Whatever the version ---there are three: the 80 Proof, the 100 Proof Bottled in Bond, and the extra-aged special release, currently in either 23 or 25 year old limited bottlings--- Old Rittenhouse is a fine, old style, robust and full-bodied example of a classic Rye. And I would, without any hesitation, put it up against anything in the market!
The Award Winning 100 Proof Bottled-In-Bond
This is whiskey with character: rustic, edgy, spicy with nutmeg and clove and allspice, a touch of herb and fennel, a whisper of spearmint, and all wrapped in soft caramelly-vanilla oak that barely restrains it. And it has enough flavor to stand out past any mixer you’ll throw at it. This is the Rye you want for your Sazerac cocktail. This is the Rye you want in your Manhattan---straight up, icy cold, and add the tiniest spike of Luxardo just before you serve it, if you please, Mr. Mixologist!
Now the three releases out there are very different: The 80 Proof is, or should be, a standard rye in a good bar, suitable for mixing the basic cocktails. The 100 Proof is my sipping whiskey; it’s the perfect combination of richness and flavor and spice. And the 23 Year Old Reserve is the one I hold for the rare moments of sheer unadulterated pleasure (and mind you, I’m not necessarily a believer in the myth of “the older the better”, but this is one of those splendid exceptions to the rule; the other is Van Winkle). My advice? If you can have only one on hand, split the difference and get the 100 Proof.
Below, 23 Year Old Limited Release
(which, you should be so lucky)
So the trend hoppers and the marketing-driven can run out and chase the darling of the moment, or be dazzled by pretty bottles and flashy labels---just hand me the bottle of Old Rittenhouse, and I’ll be fine. It’s quite simply one of the finest rye whiskies on the market.