New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Bottled In Bond
Rye — Kentucky , USA
Tasted October 10, 2021
I’ll begin with the most minor of quibbles because it plays a role in my New Riff Bottled-in-Bond Rye journey: the bottle is too tall, perhaps the tallest bottle in whisky. It’s the biggest I’ve ever had in my collection at least, edging out Writer’s Tears by a half-inch. The bottle is beautiful otherwise, with its waxed enamel look (it’s not waxed or enameled; it just appears that way); the black is smoky and smooth, as though someone burned a candle in it and the ash has stained the glass. The only reason I bring this up is that I have one cabinet where I keep my open bottles and a closet with shelving where I store my unopened collection, and the New Riff bottle doesn’t fit in the collection closet; thus, it was moved prematurely to the open-bottle cabinet. And because it was there, I ended up opening it before I was in the mood—on impulse, without the forethought I usually put into what bottle I plan to crack next. By impulse, I mean that I had just opened another bottle of rye that night—Sagamore Spirits Añejo Barrel Finished. It was the first game of the football pre-season, and it had been a while since my dad and I had raised a glass together (Father’s Day), and my dad had brought over the bottle I’d gifted him on that occasion—Knob Creek Rye Barrel Select. So, we started with the Sagamore and moved to the Knob, and because the Knob was 115 proof and I had an open bottle of Old Overholt 114 in the house, we had to pour the Overholt to get a decent comparison (the Sagamore and the Knob being just too different in flavor profiles to offer a fitting or fair comparison). Which means I then had two ryes open, and I generally don’t have more than two bottles of the same style going at the same time. And yet, when I opened the open-bottle cabinet to pour the Overholt 114, I spotted the New Riff Rye just sitting there, staring at me, calling out, “Open me! O-PEN MEEEEEE!!!”And since I was three whiskies in, I gave in to temptation. (I’m sure none of you have the faintest idea what that’s like here, do you?). Now, as far as problems go, this isn’t a major one (you know, boo hoo, I have too many bottles of whisky open, I feel really bad for you, right?). But somehow, my appreciation of the bottle of New Riff, in the past two and half months, has escaped me. It was just kind of….there? During the initial tasting, during the run of ryes with my dad, New Riff held its own. My favorite of the night was the Sagamore Añejo, if only for how unique and interesting it was. The weakest was the Overholt 114 (though to me it’s still plenty tasty so don’t look at this as a strike against it. It was facing some hefty competition) while the Knob was the most conventionally satisfying (as in, I’d buy this again and have it on hand regularly whenever I can). But the New Riff made a strong showing. It just seemed that every time I reached for New Riff after this, I’d already had something else prior to drinking it, which means it never met my taste buds without the influence of some other spirit lingering in my mouth. Of course, comparisons can open up whisky, allow you to note flavors you wouldn’t have otherwise notice alone. After all, if you have the Overholt 114 by itself, it’s a satisfying whisky and it took the Knob comparison to lead me to the realization that it wasn’t as robust as it seemed on its own. In any case, the level of the New Riff was slowly diminishing almost without my having realized it (pouring out some for my wife, making us Manhattans with it). I glanced at it the other day and realized it was a little more than half gone, and I worried I was going to end up clearing the bottle before I gained an accurate impression of the rye on its own merits. And this rye was special. It was #17 on Whisky Advocate’s 2019 Top 20. And because you can’t get it in here, it was another one of those bottles I picked up outside Ocean City on my yearly visit there, so it wasn’t like I could run down the street and nab another 750, right? I’ll begin the flavor profile by noting that New Riff makes one hell of a Manhattan. It mixes well with the vermouth and bitters but it’s strong enough to stand out as distinctive. I tried the other ryes I mentioned in a Manhattan, and the Sagamore was too distinct in its finish to blend properly and the Overholt’s proof is too high and overpowers all the other elements. But what about the New Riff Rye itself, consumed neat, on its own merits? My first impression was that it reminds me of George Dickel Rye and High West Double Rye (sorry I reference these often, but I do so because of their wide availability and my assumption that wide availability makes others understand what I’m referencing), with a similar strongly herbal aroma and palate. This is solid company to find yourself in, except New Riff is $10 more than High West Double and $20 more than Dickel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bottle of either of those handy now for a direct comparison, so I can’t say with any certain whether there’s anything about the New Riff that would make it worth the extra Hamilton or Jackson. But I don’t think the New Riff is outrageously priced at $46 for a bottled-in-bond, and as far as bottled-in-bonds go, I’d take this over Rittenhouse, a rye where my one experience with it left me feeling it was flat on flavor and highly overrated (though I wouldn’t rule out trying it again, given it’s around $25, but then again, so many ryes, so little time). The New Riff is herbal with a light touch of mint. And if you linger, you might get a little chocolate and coffee. The palate extends this with a little bit of bitter citrus, not bitter in a bad way, peel I suppose is what I mean, and then, when I let the sip fill my mouth, I experienced this sense-memory of Lipton Iced-Tea, either floral or lemon or a little mixture of both. Is it all in my head based on how I’ve prefaced this that I’m judging it after I’ve let it sit too long? It’s still good, but not quite as good as I remember it being the first night. The finish is nice and spicy, but I’m not sure it’s distinctive enough for me to choose this over other similar-tasting ryes in its price bracket. Not sure I see this as a whisky of the year, but it’s decent. I just don’t see anything making this exceptional. I see that it’s on FW&GS’s list as “coming soon,” but I doubt I’ll be picking it up again. Still, they also list the barrel proof rye as coming soon, and since it’s only $10 more, I’m certain that this is another bottle I’ll have to try.
45.99 USD per Bottle