James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Barrel Proof
Rye — Indiana (Bottled in Kentucky), USA
Tasted July 2, 2021
118.2 proof. Prior to a tour of the distillery several days ago, the only product I recognized from James E. Pepper was the Old Pepper rye in the tall, clear bottle, and always thought it to be rather overpriced for such a young rye. Today, with much more knowledge gained from the facility tour, I know now that that same bottle is their single barrel variant of this, the 1776 rye, but it is still steeply overpriced. Once I learned that the 1776 rye was an extremely small blend of only 6 barrels, I knew the single barrel was not needed, but the proof was still worth it; at $50, this seemed like an easy deal. I tasted the standard 1776 rye at the distillery, and now I'm hoping that there are more flavors to be discovered from the barrel proof version. For a #3 charred barrel and only 3.5 years spent in it, this whiskey has impressive color, while still a lighter body; think molasses that has been pretty heavily watered down. The scent can be picked up from several feet away, and as another surprise, it's actually sweet oak that's at the forefront, being a mix between floral notes of toasted oak, and classic vanilla and rum-sugar-sweetness from a more heavily charred barrel. There are grain notes, though, but the rye noses as if it's been aged and mellowed out for quite some time; usually 3 year rye whiskeys still have a potency of the cinnamon and herbaceousness. I believe the rye in this is not malted, so that may contribute to the less spicy notes. The initial flavor begins as mildly sweet oak, but the rye grain is also distinguishable at the same time, except through the gums instead of the tongue. There's a lot of the floral side of rye that comes out for most of the middle taste, which does help complement that sweet (but not overly so) flavor of the oak. The young age of the grain can't be ignored, however, since there is a raw element that contributes none of the traditional rye spice that is less than welcome. The finish is close to a sickeningly sweet area with some more toasted oak notes, but a few breaths and some time do allow some cinnamon and mint to make themselves known. I am slightly shocked that I dislike the barrel proof version over the standard 1776 rye. I'm attributing that to the barrel proof allowing more of the young, unmalted rye notes to pass through, which make it less focused on spices and herbs, my go-to notes for a rye whiskey. Having said that, the flavor of the grain itself is very fresh, which I always expect of rye whiskey from MGP. This is a neat alternative to the majority of similar rye whiskeys out there, and more special knowing that 95% of the mashbill is rye (a very proper rye whiskey mashbill indeed), so you know the flavors you're getting are all base essences of the rye itself.