Journeyman “Not a King” Rye Batch #3

Batch #3 (2018)

MASH BILL – 60% organic rye, 40% organic corn

PROOF – 90

AGE – NAS (likely under 2 years)

DISTILLERY – Journeyman Distillery

PRICE – $54

BUY AGAIN? – No, but I’m glad to have tried it

On this Presidents Day, and in honor of George Washington’s birthday specifically, a bonus post this week!

A few years ago I bought what was either Batch #1 or #2 of the Journeyman “Not a King” Rye. Here is how the distillery briefly frames it up:

Not a King Rye is a tribute to George Washington, who was not only our first president, but also one of America’s first distillers. After his victory over the British, he was celebrated by the masses as the first King of America. Washington famously stated that he was “Not a King”. This is a limited release whiskey made available on Presidents Day each year.

I was toward the beginning of my rye appreciation when I first tasted Journeyman’s presidential offering, and I remember how striking and unusual it was to me then. Organic, kosher, and young, it was an attention grabbing, grassy, spicy pour as I now recall it.

I’ve since ventured far and wide into the rye fields. This more recent Batch #3 now tastes less unusual to me, but remains quite striking. Here are some brief notes, taken nearly halfway into the bottle:

COLOR – pale toasted yellow in the glass, verging into and around various vibrant oranges

NOSE – floral bubblegummy rye, fragrant grasses, spicy herbs, young cut wood planks, some vanilla-caramel taffy, faint maple-bacon

TASTE – juicier up front than on the nose, with the faint caramels and vibrant florals followed quickly by the grassier, woodier, drier flavors

FINISH – a softly prickling pepperiness coats the roof and sides of the mouth, leaving the florals and grasses on the palate to linger and slowly fade

OVERALL – young, vibrant, and unapologetically Floral with a capital “F”

This rye is floral, first and foremost. Then come the related grasses, herbs, and woods. Sweets make only a fleeting appearance, leaving as fleeting an impression. It’s remarkably flavorful overall, with that vibrancy of its youth keeping things bright. 

I don’t not like this rye. But its high-energy herbaceousness does start to grate a bit. I appreciate its vim and vigor while also finding it a bit exhausting and limited in scope. It never dives deep. For a floral rye, I’d much rather reach for Old Forester at half the price. It’s less showy and has more to say.

I tried this in two glasses, the regular Glencairn and Canadian Glencairn—both good for tasting fragrant whiskies. Alternating between them several times at each stage of the tasting, I noticed that in the regular Glencairn the whiskey is juicer, the caramel and taffy notes more present. In the Canadian Glencairn things lean drier, with more wood notes where the caramels and taffies would be in the other glass. Both glasses reveal all of these flavors, of course. But each has its emphasis, neither of which are significant enough for me to favor one glass over the other.

As I write all this out and continue to sip from each glass, the taste and finish are taking on stronger and stronger sharp sugary notes. I’ve tasted these sharp sugars in other young whiskies as well. There is an artificiality to them, though I know they are entirely natural. Perhaps its that youthful showiness, ungrounded by experience and fluttering about erratically. There is certainly something fun and optimistic about it all. But something strident and shrill as well. 

Perhaps I’d appreciate this whiskey more in the springtime than during these cold winter months. It’s a bit like the kids at the holiday family gathering, bouncing noisily up and down the halls of the house with their jarring squeals. I appreciate their energy, but also wish they’d go outside and play in the snow so I can chat with the adults around the cozy fire.

Journeyman has been making a variety of organic, kosher whiskeys since 2011. As far as I can tell—from their website and from looking at other bottles in various stores—they are content with, perhaps even committed to, bottling very young whiskies. Most bottles I come across, even store picks, are less than two years old. They are achieving a great deal of flavor. But it’s all a bit much. I’d be very curious to try this rye aged four or even six years. Might that vibrancy mellow into a richness?

Maybe one day Journeyman will give us that opportunity. Until then, I’ll be sticking to Old Forester when I’m hankering for a bouquet of floral rye. It’s not organic or kosher—a detail I appreciate about Journeyman—but its affordable, available, and adaptable to more occasions. 

All that said, if you love young whiskies this could be your go-to floral rye. Try it.


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