By S.D. Peters
Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey is the latest Rye from Buffalo Trace Distillery, which has already contributed to the “Rye Resurgence” with it’s pair of Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskeys. These are fine examples of American Rye, but the E.H. Taylor expression is something else again. By comparison, the 6-year old Sazerac Straight Rye is the Trace’s Old Overholt, and the 18-year old Sazerac it’s Wild Turkey 101 Straight Rye: the high-quality standard and the premium expressions of this American classic.
The Taylor Rye fits into that arrangement at the top. Part of a line named for Col. E.H. Taylor, the original proprietor of the distillery that would become Buffalo Trace, and a man who fought to improve the integrity of American whiskey, the Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey is unique. Limited to an annual release (beginning late August 2012), this Straight Rye deserves a place on the shelf with Masterson’s 100% Straight Rye Whiskey.
Col. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey is Bottled-in-Bond, with a mashbill of rye and malted barley that ensures the sweetness of corn won’t overwhelm rye’s distinctive character. “Bottled-In-Bond” means that this Rye is the product of one distillation season, of one distiller, at one distillery, has been aged in a federally-bonded warehouse supervised by the U.S. Government for at least four years, and bottled at 100 Proof (50% alcohol). The practice dates to the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which was passed to guarantee that consumers were buying real whiskey, and was strongly supported by Col. E.H. Taylor.
The whiskey’s deep golden copper promises a classic Rye, and it’s bouquet is one of the most complex I’ve sampled. There’s a lot happening here, with several styles of spice and sweetness complimenting each other. Tobacco and black raspberries, cardamom and caramel, dill and toffee are the most distinguished pairings, and repeated nosings find them engaged in a Bop-like interplay. The spice takes the lead but never dominates, allowing the sweet aromas to improvise freely.
An initial peppery bite, courtesy of the higher proof, explodes into a Free Jazz improvisation. A piquant interplay of strong shag tobacco and white peppercorn mellow as toffee and mixed berries cut in with calculated boldness. The finish is long and satisfying as cardamom returns and fades into a lingering white pepper ice cream.
The trend these days is to mix rye, which argues that the whiskey’s best characteristics are best when diluted. The argument belies the careful balance of sugar and spice that exists between a well-crafted rye, a balance best appreciated neat. In the Taylor Rye, Buffalo Trace has created a whiskey that keeps this balance in constant motion. This Rye mixes itself, and being a limited, annual release, it ought not to be wasted on a trend.
If you’re lucky enough to get a bottle, enjoy it in the classic way: pour yourself a double (forget the rocks), find comfortable chair, and spend an hour or two getting to know it. If you really must mix it, then try mixing it with Charlie Parker’s Savoy masters, or Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz To Come” – and invite a friend or two.
Addendum by Richard Thomas
The Taylor Rye has a clear, mid-amber coloring, and the nose has a crisp, aromatic quality. I found the scent perfectly balanced the woody caramel and vanilla on the one hand, and the white peppery spice on the other. A berry floral quality rounds out the aroma.
The taste is woody, sweet and spicy in equal measures, with the spiciness coming across as deep rather than hot and biting. The flavors of the Taylor Rye are big, but too laid back to be truly bold. The spice stays in the white pepper band, the woodiness carries those subdued caramel and vanilla notes, and the sweetness morphs from being berry-like to almost plum-like. I found the finish to be long and warm, delivering a potent-but-mellow spicy afterglow.
This whiskey’s byword is perfect balance. It manages to have out-sized flavors without any one element dominating the mix and smothering up the smaller notes. I like to think of it as akin to an aromatic curry: very flavorful, clearly heavily seasoned, but with no mean bite. It’s as cozy as a purring pussy cat in your lap.
If you can find E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey be prepared to splurge, and don’t feel guilty about it. The suggested retail value is $69.99 in the U.S. If you live outside the U.S., add the cost of airfare for a trip here, as distribution is stateside only.