Updated April 11, 2016
By S.D. Peters
Texas has a reputation for doing things its own way. Take music, for example: the Lone Star State has given us psychedelic visionaries (13th Floor Elevators), Outlaw Country (Willie Nelson) and febrile boogie (ZZ Top) – and its state capitol, Austin, is a capitol of Indie- and Alt- music as well.
Talking music in a whiskey review isn’t apropos of nothing: the states that are best-known for their whiskey also produced some of the most definitive American music: Bluegrass and Appalachian Folk from Kentucky, Country and Rock & Roll from Tennessee. It’s a connection that’s helped make whiskey the most musically-inclined of alcohol expressions.
Texas already has a musical heritage as rich and vibrant as Kentucky and Tennessee. Whether or not Texas can ever equal them as whiskey producer is debatable – frankly, the state is too large to be defined by any one quality – but Houston’s Yellow Rose Distillery has released a Straight Rye whiskey that can compete with the best Kentucky and Tennessee whiskeys.
Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey is a small batch, sourced Indiana Rye bottled at 90 Proof (45% ABV) and numbered by batch and bottle (my tasting is from Batch #3, Bottle #321). With a 95% rye mash bill, it’s a serious Rye to boot. A liquid copper in the glass, it boasts an exquisitely surprising spicy balance to the expected floral note of honey: pinecone. It’s a surreal twist on Rye that also adds a touch of white chocolate, and draws a welcome comparison to the music of the 13th Floor Elevators.
The taste is a superb balance of sweet and spice, not unlike the interplay between dulcet ballads and uptempo tales of indiscretion on Willie Nelson’s 1973 masterpiece, Shotgun Willie. Mild maple sugar sprinkled with black pepper precedes the finish, which is medium but flavorful and quite smooth. Less immediately spicy than seasoned Rye drinkers might expect, it wraps its spice in a bit of crisp citrus, nectar and caramel. When it comes to a Rye finish, you might say it’s a lot like ZZ Top-ping the charts 1983: an Eliminator in the current trend in Rye whiskey.
Playing to that trend, the good folks at Yellow Rose suggest that their Straight Rye whiskey is “perfect for fine cocktails.” It does make a satisfying Manhattan, but really, the best mix for this Rye is with some good Texas music. Like the state and it’s music, Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey is best experienced on its own terms.
Addendum By Richard Thomas
Yellow Rose as a company has evolved since Scott wrote this review 2 1/2 years ago: new partners, new distilling site, and (so I’m told) a new formulation for the Yellow Rose Rye. I’m sure this explains why my opinion of it diverges so sharply from Scott’s. The floral, brown sugar and vanilla aspects and classic rye spiced seasoning are there, and I detected a nice trace of barrel char as well.
However, there was also a light, but nagging astringency to it, the sort of thing I associate with an average effort at small barrel aging. I don’t know if that represents some in-house, youthful, small barrel rye in the blend with the 95% Indiana whiskey, but Yellow Rose says this is no longer an all-MGP stock, 95% rye product.
In any case, I really couldn’t get past the modest, but unmistakable tug of the astringency, and hence my score of a full letter grade lower.
Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey has limited availability in the United States. Expect to pay $35-$40 where it’s available.
Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey won the Double Gold Medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirit Contest, an honor befitting of this world-class Straight Rye.