Let’s begin this review with full disclosure. If I have learned anything from reading Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey, it’s that there is still a whole world of whiskey appreciation that I haven’t yet begun to comprehend. More than any other beverage (with perhaps the exception of wine), whiskeys of all types are subjected to an immense scrutiny by a legion of devotees, professional tasters, and all-out snobs. I myself am new to whiskey and what I do know is largely academic, as opposed to experiential. However, sampling a spirit like (rī)1 (pronounced “rye one”), is an excellent step in anyone’s whiskey education.
These days, bourbon has almost exclusively claimed the market as “America’s whiskey,” though I know a fellow named Jack who’d like to argue that point. In reality though, this notion of bourbon as American heritage is a distinctly post-Prohibition concept. Before the 18th Amendment wiped out the (legal) whiskey business in 1917, rye was by far the most commonly produced and consumed whiskey in the United States, and had been since colonial times. It wasn’t until Prohibition ended in 1933 that bourbon distillers were able to pounce on a newly reopened market and establish a solid hold on American drinkers.
In recent years however, with the revitalization of the cocktail culture, rye whiskey has been finding its way back to store shelves and home bars. One of the most popular among these is (rī)1. Priced at $45 for a standard 750mL bottle in PA Liquor stores, (rī)1 is the higher shelf alternative to brands like Jim Beam Rye or Wild Turkey Rye, before jumping off the deep end into $80 or even $100 territory.
Even watered for tasting, (rī)1 has a kick to it. It’s a blended whiskey, which itself is not unusual. Just about any whiskey you find that isn’t labeled as “straight” or “single malt” is almost certainly blended, though generally distillers will blend an un-aged or lightly aged grain alcohol into a well-aged whiskey. This saves a tremendous amount of money for the distiller as aging is expensive and lowers alcohol content. By contrast, however, (rī)1 is blended from several different ages of whiskeys, the youngest of which being four and a half years. The result of this process goes into the bottle at 92 proof.
But (rī)1′s kick doesn’t just come from its high proof. As far as whiskeys go, (rī)1 has a spicy, almost harsh flavor to it, which comes on very strong very fast. This then peters off into a long lingering finish that sits and tingles the tongue. Whiskey newcomers, and even seasoned bourbon drinkers, will have a lot to wrestle with when sampling (rī)1 for the first time. I know I did.
This spiciness, I’ve found, works tremendously well to balance an Old Fashioned. A sweeter bourbon can have a tendency to lose its flavor in the fruity mash that is the basis of this classic whiskey cocktail, but (rī)1’s bold flavor stands out and nicely punctuates each sip. In a similar vein, Shanna has taken to muddling peaches with honey and topping with (rī)1 and a few ice cubes.
Overall I was very impressed by (rī)1. It’s not for everyone, but that in itself can be a strength. Certainly on flavor it doesn’t compromise for wider appeal and that’s reflected in the price tag. For boozehounds of modest means, like Shanna and myself, this is not an everyday spirit. It does, however, make an excellent gift should you find yourself attending the wedding of a discerning drinker.
Read more Wedding Gift Booze Reviews.