Rittenhouse is a modern rye, but is also a nod to the roots of whiskey in America. In revolutionary times the drink of choice for colonists was rum. When the British blocked shipments of molasses from the Caribbean, desperate times ensued. To get their drink on people started distilling native grains and cereals. Pennsylvania in particular was known to make some more than adequate rye whiskey. A lot of this rye whiskey was made along the Monongahela river and this particular style of rye whiskey became known as Monongahela Rye.
Rittenhouse isn’t made in Pennsylvania but in Kentucky by Heaven Hill and is a throwback to the Monongahela style. For decades Rittenhouse was one of only a handful of ryes being produced in the United States. Rye had fallen out of fashion and perhaps hung on at the behest of some bartenders and whiskey lovers stubbornly sticking to tradition. Then as is typical, given a long enough timeline what was once popular eventually sees a renaissance. Rye began to boom in popularity and Rittenhouse was at the forefront with a legendary name at a great price.
The Rittenhouse story has a couple more twists with a fire in 1996 at the Bardstown Distillery. The fire was a total loss and the future of other brands were in doubt. Heaven Hill teamed up with Brown-Forman (of Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester fame) to work out a distilling agreement for Rittenhouse. Since then, and until recently, Rittenhouse was distilled at Brown-Forman. Not long after, Heavin Hill bought the Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in 1999. The distillery didn’t have capacity to add on Rittenhouse, but around 2008 the capacity was increased by 40%. At that point Heaven Hill once again began distilling Rittenhouse and filling barrels. That whiskey started to come to age in just recent months. If you really want to nerd out you can look at the bottles and know which is the newer stuff. labels listed as made at DSP-KY-1 are the newer bottles and DSP-KY-354 are the bottles we’ve known for many years. This review is listed as DSP-KY-354.
No age statement, but said around 4-6 years old. Bottled in Bond at 100-proof. Paid $24, Mich state minimum.
Caramel and cocoa. Good vanilla. Barrel char. Soft rye bread. Mint. Maple syrup.
Oaky. Seems dry already with additional astringency. There’s sweetness here, but seems to be hidden. Black pepper rye flavors. Tobacco. Toffee. A little buttery.
Rittenhouse Rye is a dry and assertive rye. This seems to have maturity to it with a some darker notes. Rittenhouse Rye has a woody dryness that doesn’t always work for me. The finish gives me a little cotton mouth. There’s a lot of flavors here and they’re pretty intense. Rittenhouse Rye is enjoyable at full 100-proof, which helps in the flavor department. It’s also nice with a little water. I can see why this is a popular mixer. It has some nice assertive flavors that hold up well while mixing.
Pricing on this bottle is good. There are only a handful of rye whiskeys and bourbon of this quality at this price. If you’re looking for a mixer, this is a good bottle to have on the shelf. If you’re looking for a sipper, this is’t my first choice but for the price it’s worth checking out.
Try a Glass 2.5/5.0
(My 5 point scale: Pass, Try a Glass, Buy a Bottle, Buy Again, Shut Up and Take My Money – Bottle price is taken into consideration for recommendations.)
Buying Options and Further Research
Rittenhouse has a relatively lower rye recipe, putting it in the “barely legal” group somewhere just about 51% rye. At this price there are a few similar options worth checking out. I’m a fan of “Baby” Sazerac Rye 6 Year Old which has some nice sweetness vs the dryness here. Old Overholt is a popular option, but that’s a little dull in my book at 80-proof. Besides the Baby Saz, I’d recommend checking out both Wild Turkey 81 Rye and Wild Turkey 101 Rye. Technically Wild Turkey 101 Rye is up a tier in price, but that’s because the current packaging is only a 1-liter bottle. Pro-rated it’s right in there with Rittenhouse and a very nice rye.
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