Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
Opened: December 2, 2011
47.8% Alc/Vol (95.6 proof)
Price: $49.99 @ Binny’s
Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey – 13 years old
Tasting Date: December 11, 2011
Color in glencairn glass: brown with light orangish copper.
Nose: Citrusy orange rind, grassy fennel, sweet black licorice, unripe vanilla bean, warm bitter cinnamon.
Taste: Sweet grass, salty bubble gum, shaved candy spearmint. Confectioner’s sugar on the entry, sticky flower-taffy notes on the palate, diluted roses in a medicinal finish.
There is a vague sour caramel apple on the nose which moves into the palate surrounding a cooled bitter wood essence. The bitterness is brief in passing, interrupted by a balanced powdered sugar sweetness. Lavender petals show up brilliantly infused within a salt taffy-like effect. It is this flower taffy stickiness that makes this whiskey some of the most inspired and inspiring juice I have ever tasted. The minty, medicinal bubble gum flavor this rye offers is absolutely lip-smacking and places this whiskey in a category all on its own.
Now, some background. First of all, this bottle is not the first of its kind I have owned. I bought one bottle from the Fall 2010 Van Winkle allocation and was sorely let down by it. True, my palate has evolved leaps and bounds since then, but my tasting notes from January 6, 2011 (after it had been open for two months) follow, and I stand by them:
Nose: salty citrus, orange peel, heavy banana flower, concentrated, dark berry jam
Taste: slight warm mint on the outskirts, deep jammy orange tobacco, dry wooden finish, green woodsy aftertaste, concentrated whole-grain rye bread leaves behind a stubborn coating. It’s not unpleasant, but it isn’t very graceful either. This whiskey is extremely smooth, but there is clearly a gummy wood shutting the door on more subtle fruity/flowery flavors. It is satisfyingly chewy, but this whiskey ends before it begins
What a dud! This bottle stayed open for a good 7 months or so before allowing only a slight hint of the amazing character my more recent bottle has been so generous with on first crack. How could two separate bottlings produce such drastically disparate effects? Here’s what I know. First of all, from what I’ve gathered at StraightBourbon.com, the whiskey released under this label is said to have been distilled in the early-mid-80’s at the Medley Distillery in Owensboro, KY. My understanding is that it was in oak for 18 years or so before being bought and bottled by Julian Van Winkle III around the turn of the century (that’s right, turn of the century). Most of the whiskey was taken from the oak and stored in steel tanks to be taken out and bottled in small quantities until a newly distilled rye whiskey had enough time to age the 13 years stated on the label to continue the brand.
So, not only was the whiskey in these bottles likely aged in oak barrels for a good deal of time longer than the label-stated 13 years, but it was actually distilled closer to 30 years ago at this point, and has spent a considerable amount of its existence in the influence of stainless steel. So. Well, that’s that.
And then there’s this: if you see this on a shelf, buy it. I don’t know how likely it is that the bottle you buy will be a dud, but the potential payoff is well worth the risk!