Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tasting Notes #4: Rittenhouse, Bottled in Bond, 100-proof

Already one of my favorite whiskeys (and one that's getting harder to find every month), I decided to put Rittenhouse to the test. Unlike the lesser, 80-proof version or the newly released 21-year old premium version, this economical 100-proof rye spirit has kept cocktail and whiskey enthusiasts excited for years. The high-proof stuff works especially well in a variety of pre-Prohibition cocktails, which often drew on bonded whiskeys because of their assured higher quality (Old Granddad 100-proof bonded bourbon, for instance, offers a similar timeless quality in that category).

Rittenhouse is an old Pennsylvania label that emerged after Prohibition ended in 1933. Now, like almost all American rye whiskey's, it's made in Kentucky (by Heaven Hill). It came to the attention of many in the spirits world when it won the "North American Whiskey of the Year" prize at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It's been hard to find ever since, largely because it's usually less than $20 a bottle, and in a few corners of this great country, sometimes found for less than $15 a bottle (I'm talking about you, Boise, ID).

The thing I like best about this whiskey is that it not only livens up the best cocktails, but also serves as a entry-level sipping whiskey. While it can't compete with high-end ryes, it certainly offers rye lovers a pleasant drinking experience neat, with just a little water, or even with ice.

Appearance: At the first swirl of the glass, one sees uneven beading--some of the legs are thin and fast, while other seem thick, slowly moving down the sides of the glass, if at all. The color is dark, from the center all the way to the edge.

Smell: A not-unpleasant charcoal overtone mixed with an astringent note that is decidedly thick.

Taste: Sweetness to start, a big, wide taste that lingers. Vanilla grows out of the sweetness and then black pepper pops out. A little ginger-like burn follows the pepper, especially on the back of the tongue, slowly fading out. Thoroughly complex and delightful.

Finish: Sharp, but not brittle.

Overall, this is an excellent whiskey and an even more excellent value. Even if the price for this spirit has recently gone up in your area, it's a must-have. When you find some at your local liquor store, stock up. It may be gone the next time you need a bottle. And by then, you won't be able to live without it.

The flexibility it provides--perfect for heavyweight rye drinks such as the Whiskey Smash or the Suburban, but suitable for sipping neat--makes it especially useful for the value-conscious rye drinker in these difficult economic times. No wonder it's the darling of cocktail aficionados and rye drinkers alike. Simply put, Rittenhouse 100-proof bonded rye is an especially democratic spirit.

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