Kentucky Rye – Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 56.5%

Our host set himself a very clear goal – to bring together a quartet of Kentucky Rye that reflects the range of possibilities…

Next up was a single barrel from Wilderness Trail at full cask strength… Spoiler alert! This was simply exceedingly drinkable, pairing perfectly with a cigar!

In this case the magic lies in a few things these folks are doing a bit differently….  They talk of their unique yeast strains, proprietary Infusion Mashing Process, chemical free steam, largely locally sourced grains from nearby farms (except barley from the northern US)… but what is truly unique is the use of sweet rather than sour mash.

Sour mash uses spent mash from the previous batch in the new one, reducing bacterial infestations and the preferred method since the 1800s. Sweet mash is ‘fresh’ each time and considered ‘risky’ due to potential for contamination. Hence the guys at Wilderness Trail designed their whole approach around a highly sanitized process that enabled them produce spirit that is “softer” and “more flavorful”. You can read more about this in Fred Minnick’s Forbes’ article.

As always, what matters most is what we found in our tasting….

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel 15017 Kentucky Straight Rye 56.5%

  • Nose – What a nose! Toffee, caramel, juicy
  • Palate – Fabulous! Sweet desert, soft and sooo smooth, quite chewy… and while certainly was from the Rye family, there were other things going on that blended together rather well, some sweet spices, tobacco leaf and caramel
  • Finish – Long, sweet with a lovely spice

We quite enjoyed this one. You could hear appreciative words around the room “Fabulous” “Wow what a finish!” “Zero burn” In short, it went down rather well with the most balanced character – sweet but not too sweet, spice but not too much spice, quite delightful on the nose, substance on the palate with a terrific finish.

As usual, we set it aside to try the last one – Angel’s Envy – which was pure burnt caramel and treacle. When we returned to this one, what stood out was how everything simply worked together – each element adding its bit but none too much. It was no surprise when the Gurkha Seduction cigar was paired with the Wilderness Trail.

I was curious about this one as it clearly held its own… It was sweet, well rounded with a a lovely balance… again it was only when I sat down to write my tasting notes that I learned this combines corn and barley from a sweet rather than sour mash – clearly accounting for its character.

Definitely one to watch out for!

What did the folks at Wilderness Trail have to say?

Our Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskeys are offered as a Cask Strength release. We have the lowest entry proof we know of in Kentucky. We barrel at 100 proof to highlight the balance of the grains and alternate solubility expression from the barrel. Our three-grain recipe is 56 percent rye, 33 percent corn and 11 percent malted barley. Our rye mash bill is one we created for a broader balance of flavor to offset the typical high ryes commonly found. We use Kentucky-grown Heritage rye from our local KY Proud farm. We enter the new, air-dried #4 char, 53-gallon barrels at 100 proof for our Rye Whiskey and age until maturity in our barrelhouse. We age our Rye Whiskeys on the upper floors of our Rickhouses A & B, arguably one reason for their vibrant expression at 3 + years. We plan to age our Ryes as long as our Bourbons — in the 6-8 year age range — but we do plan to introduce some 3 and 4 year old Rye Whiskeys as Cask Strength releases. We just keep finding wonderful honey-barrels with great expressions that need to be explored.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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Kentucky Rye – Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

Our host shared he wanted to start with the Basil Hayden’s one as it was an ‘outlier’ in flavour profile and approach. He also shared the reason he wanted to focus on Rye is the ‘liberties’ that can be taken to explore a range of combinations without any major restrictions.

Hence this was not simply matured in a Port cask…. it actually had Port simply blended with the Kentucky Straight Rye and Alberta Rye!

Which I somehow hadn’t clued into until after our tasting… no wonder our notes keep coming back to cherries and port!

Here is what we thought…

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye 40%

  • Colour – Such a vibrant ruby red it was unreal! (the photo does NOT do justice to the colour!)
  • Nose – Started off a bit peculiar – like it was whiskey at all! Then shifted into orange, cloves, a bit musty and metallic, old wood polish, then increasingly the black cherries of the port became more and more pronounced, peaking behind was some vanilla custard… after the 1st sip, it took a sour almost sharp quality, lots of wood, vanilla and above all cherries
  • Palate – Sour fruits, dark cherries, spice comes in from behind… better on the 2nd sip, oily, sweet… while quite linear had different dimensions, becoming sweeter and sweeter with each sip, the port element remains strong, wood and even a bit of whey
  • Finish – Definitely there

Fresh out of the bottle it was a good place to start – while the three elements were not melding together cohesively, it did make for an interesting interplay. Unlike most where port is an accent from being matured in ex-port pipes, this was full on port… which clearly is due to it literally being added to the mix!

We set it aside and when we returned? It was like coconut water that has gone a bit off… after the cask strength and diverse other ryes, this one at 40% seemed watered down… back to being slightly queer or different.

While it may not be for everyone, it was certainly interesting to try! After later reading the notes it might go well on the rocks, perhaps with a twist of orange or as a cocktail such a Sazerac of Whisky Sour.

What did the folks at Basil Hayden’s have to say?

Blending is an art form, and our Dark Rye is your chance to own what might very well be a masterpiece.

It all begins with Kentucky Rye, providing a firm foundation of spice, oak, dried fruit and subtle molasses undertones for this release to build upon. From there, Canadian Rye from our award-winning Alberta Distillery is skillfully layered in. A touch of California Port, and its complementary notes of ripe fruit, provides the third and final layer to a whiskey just as at home on the rocks as it is in a cocktail.

Full in flavor, yet delicately nuanced, you’d be wise to grab a bottle of our Dark Rye to experience this magical blend for yourself.

  • Color – Deep, rich amber with ruby undertones
  • Aroma – Oaky notes balanced with dark berries and molasses
  • Taste – Complex blend of caramel, dried fruit, and oak with back notes of spice and a rounded mouth feel
  • Finish – Lingering dried fruit with a hint of sweetness and rye spice.

What else was on our Kentucky Rye menu?

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