By S.D. Peters
As it is with writers, a whiskey’s reputation as a complement to the “independent spirit” appears indelible. It’s the drink of the American Frontier; the spirit that lent its name to a rebellion and was enjoyed by the outlaws and autonomous vigilantes in the films of Leone, Peckinpah, and other directors who challenged and uniquely redefined the heroic and clichéd cinema of the American Western.
Those associations have enlivened history and a superb genre of film. They’ve also made whiskey an unfortunate enabler of America’s torrid and tragic love affair with firearms. Thus it comes as no surprise that renegade San Antonio distiller Ranger Creek releases its whiskey in a firearm-themed “Small Caliber Series”. To those of us who’d prefer to see whiskey marketed as a mature, sophisticate, civilized sipping beverage instead of another root’n’tootin’ Wild West cliché, the theme is mildly disappointing. It’s better than the old pre-Prohibition one about a whiskey-sodden working class keeping riotous company with the Devil, but only by a hair. Look past the mythical glamour of firearms in America, and you’ll see that comparing a quality beverage to device that is primarily designed to kill isn’t really a compliment.
If you share those reservations with me, then set them aside for now a moment. Looking beyond the Ranger Creek’s Small Caliber Series cliché, its latest addition, .44 Texas Rye, will reward the open-minded.
If you’re feeling suicidal, you might find comfort in a simile that reads “Like the ammunition used in the Walker Colt, Ranger Creek’s .44 Texas Rye Whiskey is powerful.” Me, I’m not looking to ingest something that’s akin to a rather large line of small caliber ammunition when I sip a whiskey, considering that ingesting ammunition in the traditional way often ends with dire, if not fatal results. But I do like a powerful Rye.
Despite my misgivings, history proved the .44 Walker Colt was a reliable weapon, and Ranger Creek’s .44 Texas Rye Whiskey proves itself a reliable Rye. There’s signs of careful craftsmanship in this whiskey, and Walker certainly crafted his weapon with care, even if the cold comfort of a weapon is less objectively comforting than the warm comfort of a superb sipping Rye.
The Rye, which comes in a 375 ml. bottle “to represent the small barrels in which [it is] matured”, offers the moderate amber warmth of its kind in the glass, and is redolent with notes of pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, and toffee. It’s distilled from a 100% Rye Mash, so Rye lovers can rejoice in finding all the best qualities of their favorite whiskey brimming from this new entry in the field.
Bottled at 47% ABV (94 Proof) and labeled by Batch, Bottle, Season, and an Aging Statement (my 375 mls. were from Batch 1, Bottle 202 of the Spring 2013 Season, and were aged 7 months), .44 Texas Rye reveals a full, rich, and rewarding taste for such a young age. The taste confirms and enhances what the nose detects: a healthy dash of pepper and cloves compliment the warm swirl of caramel, toffee and cinnamon. The finish is smooth and long enough to let you re-experience and savor the taste. The flavors linger like the aroma of a fine flavored pipe tobacco, without any consequent numbness.
Yes, I might dislike the clichéd collusion of whiskey and firearms, but that is a trivial complaint. Ranger Creek’s .44 Texas Rye Whiskey is right on target.
Like the other whiskeys in Ranger Creek’s Small Caliber Series, the recommended price for their .44 Rye is $34.99 for a 375 ml. The Whiskey Reviewer’s Jake Emen wrote of the Series’ Rimfire Single Malt: “That might seem expensive for a half-sized bottle, but when you consider this is both a limited edition and a unique American malt, it’s actually pretty reasonable.” I can’t say it any better for the .44 Rye. Just substitute “Rye” for “malt”.