OLD POTRERO STRAIGHT MALT WHISKEY
2017 K&L store pick, finished in a chardonnay cask
MASH BILL – 100% Rye
PROOF – 110.6
AGE – NAS (likely ~5 years)
DISTILLERY – Anchor Distilling Co. (now Hotaling & Co.)
PRICE – $109
BUY AGAIN? – If it still existed!
This was among the very first Old Potrero single barrels ever released as a store pick. K&L snagged it up. It was expensive. But, sensing a rare opportunity, I gambled on a bottle and my only disappointment was I didn’t gamble on two.
That was the summer of 2017. Then this past spring I noticed a guy in a whiskey Facebook group I follow had posted that he was halfway through his bottle and still not into it. I offered to take it off his hands. I’ve been taking my sweet time enjoying it ever since. And now the end of its era has finally come:
BOTTLE KILL IMPRESSION
COLOR – rich burnt yellow, orange, and copper
NOSE – rye, brown sugar, sweet and savory baking spices, chocolate, caramel, oak, tall dry summer grasses in late August
TASTE – caramel, oak, vanilla taffy, rye, cinnamon, fancy dried dark figs
FINISH – a glowing warmth at the back of the throat, with chocolate and a buttery, tangy caramel dusted with crushed dry grasses
OVERALL – an eccentric rye heaven
Prior to being finished for a time in a used chardonnay cask, this rye spent the majority of its aging in a new toasted—not charred—oak barrel. Legally, this makes it a whiskey and not a rye, since a rye must be aged in new charred oak barrels.
Since this single barrel’s 2017 release, Hotaling & Co. has continued to release single barrels of their standard Old Potrero rye offering, minus the wine cask finishing, which do attain legal rye status having been aged in charred barrels. Those I’ve tried have been stellar, offering a similar but darker flavor profile.
Despite its mere “whiskey” status, this 2017 bottle is very much a rye. Its spiciness is fresh and lively, even explosive in a slow-motion sort of way. The impact of the barreling process on this copper pot distilled whiskey is remarkable, with the chardonnay barrel’s influence blending seamlessly with the 100% rye mash bill and the original toasted barrel’s fresh-oak influence. That lightly toasted barrel allows for a rich brightness, as opposed to a charred barrel’s rich darkness.
I didn’t actually uncork my original bottle until late 2018, by which time I’d also lucked into a bottle of the Old Potrero Single Malt Hotaling’s Whiskey, an 11-year bottled-in-bond offering released at only irregular and unpredictable intervals. Also a 100% rye, the Hotaling’s Whiskey forgoes legal rye status due to having been aged in once-used, not new, Old Potrero charred oak barrels. It too had a youthful brightness, despite its 11 years in the wood. It struck me as a much more refined and interesting version of the Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey, a standard offering aged in both new and used toasted barrels for a quick two and a half years.
I had found the Old Potrero 18th Century intolerably perfumey when I first tried it in 2016. But recently I had an opportunity to revisit it during a rye flight with some friends. Now having had the Hotaling’s Whiskey and a reacquaintance with this chardonnay-barrel-finished single barrel, I could better appreciate the 18th Century’s fragrant gesture. I still wouldn’t buy it again, given its overall flavor profile and price. Nor would I buy again the even pricier Hotaling’s Whiskey. But what these variations on the Old Potrero rye experience have given me is a great appreciation for their particular 100% rye mash bill, its consistency and its flexibility, and for the evident attention to detail granted these products.
I polished off this current bottle with the help of four different glasses—the Norlan Rauk Heavy Tumbler, a Libby brandy glass, a Glencairn, and a Canadian Glencairn. Each tilted this vibrant rye whiskey toward various of its inclinations—grassy, dried fruity, spicy, chocolate-caramelly. But I immediately noticed it was at its richest and most satisfying in the Canadian Glencairn. My armchair theory is that, because rye is the most popular Canadian whisky grain, the Canadian Glencairn’s design works best to feature the spicy and grassy flavors particular to rye. And Old Potrero is a very rye rye.
So I poured the final ounce into the Canadian Glencairn, and savored it slowly as I typed up these notes. I will miss this 2017 single barrel. It has played a significant role in my whiskey journey. It is the bottle that truly opened my senses to the off-beat offerings of craft whiskey in general. My initial and strong rejection of the Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey eased up after I’d experienced other refractions in the Old Potrero spectrum. It has been a lesson in how one’s tastes can truly evolve with time, experience, and an open mind.
With Old Potrero, it’s as if I can taste the makers’ love for their product. They don’t need to make it the way they do. Yet they make it the way they do. It’s a kind of genuinely joyous extravagance—both “unnecessary” and yet so authentic and particular as to constitute a gift.
I absolutely understand why someone might not like Old Potrero. It’s brashly and unapologetically what it is. But it’s also uncommonly and richly layered. Its flavors and aromas refract and shift, like the light that passes through it. I’ll always treasure, remember, and miss this whiskey.
Unless someone else out there has an open bottle they don’t care for! You know where to find me!