By S.D. Peters
The city of LeClaire, Iowa, sits on a westward bend of the Mississippi River, approximately 160 southwest of Chicago. The extraordinary U.S. showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born here in 1846, and 166 years later the Mississippi River Distilling Co. gave Buffalo Bill’s hometown another extraordinary Cody: Cody Road Rye Whiskey.
Distilled at the company’s premises in LeClaire using grains from the surrounding countryside’s rich farmlands, this distinguished Rye is an adventurous small-town spirit, with plenty of road to roam.
Cody Road Rye was launched in 2012, in a limited run of 5 batches. Subsequent releases in 2013 (a more extensive run of 10 batches) and 2014 (3 batches so far), find the Rye further along on its travels. It’s an 100% rye distilled from grain grown in nearby Fulton, Illinois, and bottled at 80 Proof (40% ABV) in a wide bottle that looks nice on the shelf.
My tasting came from the Batch #1 of the 2014 series, Bottle #601 (of 1,416 total) — or, I should say, my “tastings” since my recent summer hiatus from The Whiskey Reviewer afforded me some time to savor this Rye. It’s proved a good friend during some stressful months.
Similar to other younger, locally-distilled Ryes that have appeared in recent years (particularly Finger Lakes Distillery’s McKenzie Rye), Cody Road Rye has emphasized Rye’s less-familiar quality: its mildly sweet fruitiness. Old time Rye drinkers who typically seek out the whiskey’s noted spiciness as its principal character may a little disappointed at this newer trend. After looking back on my older reviews, I know I was… at first. Over time, though, these newer Ryes reveal the whiskey to be one that balances its signature robustness in surprising ways, moving it well beyond the classic, aged standards of, say, Old Overholt or Jim Beam Straight Rye.
In the bottle, Cody Road Rye has the color of a classic: a sun-dappled amber that mellows to a gold-flecked copper in the glass, where a pleasant blend of Clementine and dried apricot infused in mild caramel, with a sprinkle of salt and dash of black pepper greets the nose. Lighter scents of wild berries and a sun-warmed springtime meadow reward the taster who lingers a while before taking a first sip. Relax here a while and you might even hear buzzing bees and the song of a meadowlark, and start to feel the blanket-like warmth of the temperate morning sun.
When it comes to taste, Cody Road Rye keeps it simple and not too surprising: the citrus and apricot of the nose are dominant. A tang of blackberry strolls around the perimeter, and a hint of pepper foreshadows the more surprising finish: an appearance of the classic Rye flavor. Riding the plank of an oaken hogshead, the rye grain charges to the foreground and lassoes the lingering citrus with a pepper-twined woodiness, roping in the flavors for a long, warm, and savory finish.
You may need to travel a good stretch of road to find a bottle of Cody Road Rye, particularly if you live on the West Coast, Northeast, or Mid-Atlantic regions — or anywhere outside the U.S — but it looks as if each annual series will put expand this road to a distributor near you. The average price for 750 ml. is $30-33.
Cody Road Rye has won the Bronze Medal in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Here’s hoping it goes on to win much more!