Introduction: Recently, when making my first sample trade with the renowned whisky blog commentator Florin, I suggested that he include one of his own choice. This rye challenge is the result. One of the samples I had requested was the Collingwood 21 and my challenge was a to identify which of two rye whiskies it was. Also I needed to identify the other rye. What a great challenge. I am certainly going to embarrass myself here, but I love this idea. It really strips away all preconceived notions and forces you to just taste the whisky.
A nagging thought kept bothering me. I was thinking about the other whisky challenges that Florin has initiated. All seemed to involve some sort of genuine whisky trickery, where down is up. This sort of learning from failing is going to be great, but knowing that the road you are on is filled with potholes while you are driving blind is rather intense. Nothing to do but taste them and hope you hit the pool.
Florin’s Rye Challenge – Rye #1
Color/Appearance: Golden amber with a thinner looking viscosity. Noticeably less reddish than rye #2.
Nose: At first pickle juice and varnish, then there is something more elusive and floral, citrus blossoms and a spritz of orange peel. Oak staves fresh with char. Hot glazed doughnuts. Certainly interesting and intense here on the nose. Very strong standard rye scents and power.
Palate: Upon entering your mouth a delicate drop of flower nectar coats your tongue but then the onslaught begins. A spicy blast of black pepper, cloves and cardamom warming to cooked down rye sugars. Even more powerful in the mouth than expected, maybe due to a higher percentage of alcohol, or younger whiskey. The spices then slow to reveal a complex less intense sweetness that takes its time. Lacking some in finesse and rounded development but making up for it with a rush of warmth and all those spices. This one has a more standard bright rye profile, though it is a little too dry for my tastes. I like dryness and even intense dryness but if your sweetness balance is off the whole high wire act falls flat. But this type of austerity helps to highlight the herbal, spicy, and muted sugar aspects of rye. It lets the grain speak to you clearly.
Finish: Long and spicy with the cracking intensity of the attack still leaving a lasting impression. Eventually minty and herbal dryness fades to a wooden core.
Overall: I have split this small sample bottle up into about four small servings and each time I find I like this more. It falls so squarely into the category of rye. And since rye and I have been in love since first sip I like that very centered profile. Rye #1 is giving me lots of second thoughts. It seems at first to be an LDI/MGPI 95% rye with its brightness and pickle notes. It reminds me of Willet but not as refined. I have no real idea, could even be a Thomas H. Handy if Florin is messing with me. Seems more likely a MGPI sourced bottle like George Dickel Rye or Templeton.
Florin’s Rye Challenge – Rye #2
Color/Appearance: Beautiful amber. Late sunset. Good legs and a rather thick and viscous looking liquid.
Nose: A little soft and muted for a rye. Cinnamon, rye, molasses, and oak. Then some more unusual notes of baking soda, damp forest floor and dried flowers. Flowing under the surface there is coconut, freshly baked bread, and bananas foster. Nice and unusual with lots of interesting development.
Palate: Vanilla and the candy coating that you find on candied nuts, without the nuts. Then a feeling like a cup of tea with loads of honey. Sweeter and softer this has an easygoing mouthfeel. Almost no burn whatsoever, with a strange sensation in the middle where it almost seems as if you have only water in your mouth. There is an overarching rye and cinnamon spice infusion seeping through all of the sweetness, but so integrated. Rather balanced for a rye.
Finish: The last drop of a soft caramel as it melts away on your tongue. Sandalwood and very soft oak. Dryness without any aggressiveness. Spicy sweet tones hang around for quite a while, their softness seeming at odds with this long staying power.
Overall: My first and lasting impression is that this is the Collingwood 21. Yet I am still unsure, since today I read an old post from Diving For Pearls where Florin gave Michael a similar challenge involving an out of character Balvenie 15. Could this be a similar situation? I almost hope so since I find this more unusual rye profile rather nice and hope that it is actually something more attainable. Though I have seen the Collingwood 21 still available for a reasonable price.
Rye #2: Collingwood 21yo, as you guessed (40% abv).
Rye #1: George Dickel Rye – just as you guessed! – with some Collingwood 21yo blended in, about 4:1 ratio (44% abv overall). So indeed young MGPI rye, filtered through maple charcoal before aging.
My notes: I liked the Collingwood but found it too oaky – you note the oak, the sandalwood, the bananas (were they overripe?), the damp forest floor. This may be just me, I’m not big on old bourbons and ryes, I’ll take a 7yo Thomas Handy over a 18yo Sazerac rye every time. That watery, hollow middle seems to be present in a lot of Canadian whiskies, in this case possibly due to the low abv. Otherwise, a very interesting spicy profile, different than those in the Indiana, Kentucky or Alberta ryes – but of the three, closer to the KY: more cinnamon and cloves than mint and pickle juice.
In contrast, the Dickel Rye was too bland for me: easy-drinking, even more so than the usual MGPI, likely due to the charcoal filtering, and a good rye overall, but young and brash and a little *too* smooth (blame it again on that maple charcoal). The addition of Collingwood added some missing depth and another layer of spices – as you found out. More than once I did a double-take, surprised how good this Dickel Rye was that I was drinking casually, only to remember that I had tampered with it!
You did very well, congratulations!
I’m glad you enjoyed the challenge, and I’ll have to make it harder next time.
I am pleasantly surprised with the results. This section of the blog post was supposed to be filled with me making fun of myself for being so wrong. Ooops. I am glad that I saved a small amount of each sample and can now go back and taste them while knowing what they are. Of course, there was some trickery involved since the George Dickel was augmented with some of the Collingwood 21. I guess that is why I kept liking it more and more each time. I really had a great time doing this challenge and look forward to another, though I am rather sure the next one will be more challenging. Thanks again Florin for trading with me and for creating such an interesting challenge.