OLD POTRERO RYE
Single Barrel #13 selected by K&L (2019)
MASH BILL – 100% malted rye
PROOF – 126.42
AGE – NAS (~7 years)
DISTILLERY – Hotaling & Co.
PRICE – $108
BUY AGAIN? – No, because of $$$ not taste. But future Old Potrero single barrels? Yes, I have no doubt.
My very first experience with Old Potrero Rye was a shot had in a bar back in 2016, I believe. At the time I was more interested in scotch, and the wild grassy field that makes up a good deal of the Old Potrero Rye flavor profile vaguely reminded me of certain lesser-known brands of intense, smoky whiskies I’d had in Scotland—specifically something I tried at a hotel in Finland, the name of which I neglected to write down to my everlasting regret!
Then in the summer of 2017 I picked up a bottle of the first single barrel Old Potrero released, a 100% malted rye whiskey aged in a used chardonnay barrel. That bottle knocked me off my feet. The explosion of chocolate, rye spice, maple, and dark dried fruits was exceptional. Bottled at 110.6 proof, it was a bit too easy to drink! I later regretted not having bunkered a second bottle. But then an online acquaintance, who wasn’t as excited by this single barrel as I, wanted to unload his open bottle. I was very glad to take it off his hands. You can read more about that special bottle here.
Since that 2017 bottle, and despite their hefty three-digit price tag, I’ve continued to pick up Old Potrero Rye single barrels as they’ve been released. Unlike the 2017 barrel, these have not been aged in used wine barrels and therefore qualify as true rye whiskeys. They have each varied, but not one has disappointed.
Old Potrero Rye single barrels offer the kind of intensive flavor experience I can absolutely understand someone not caring for. It’s very specific. And at cask strength, Old Potrero literally commands your attention, becoming the loudest voice in the room, so to speak. But I thoroughly enjoy listening to what it has to say—or what it has to sing, might be more like it. Old Potrero is visceral first, like good singing, and innumerable thoughts follow.
Before the full details, here first are some brief notes taken two weeks after uncorking and a quarter of the way into the bottle, using both traditional and Canadian Glencairn glasses:
COLOR – gorgeous, with deep cherry wood, copper, and smoldering oranges
NOSE – molasses, cinnamon, textured grassy rye, dried autumn flowers, mint, dark dried cherry, chocolatey fudge, toasted honey
TASTE – Woah! So much at once… A rich, elegant, utterly gorgeous blend of syrupy chocolates, chewy malt, long grasses, rye spice, rye florals, thick dried plumbs and apricots, peppery cinnamons kicking up at the end
FINISH – tingle from the peppery cinnamons, the thick dried fruits, chocolate, the malt, the rye grasses swaying in and out… And long long long… Eventually a nice cooling heat settles in to rest at the back of the throat…
OVERALL – Gorgeous. That’s the third time I’ve used that word.
I really like this. It’s like a sultry summer evening at sunset’s end, when the light makes everything seem to smolder. At the same time it’s also autumnal, but indoors with a fire going, wrapped in a soft wool blanket, with a cold draft slipping in through the cracked windows to give the air a crisp edge—all very cozy. It’s like that charismatic person across the room you just can’t stop looking at and you begin to feel caught in the spell of some mystical energy they seem to exude.
The two Old Potrero Rye single barrels I’ve tried previous to this one were both roughly 6 years old. This barrel is said to be closer to 7 years. Looking back at my notes on the others, this one does indeed tilt darker overall—not only in color but also flavor. But they all share a dense, lively, sensuous mix of chocolates, grassy herbs, juicy dried fruits.
Again, I can fully imagine someone not liking this due to its sheer intensity, as is similarly the case with certain intense scotches like Lagavulin or Laphroaig. But for the same reasons some folks are put off, others are inextricably drawn to the experiences these bottles offer. This Old Potrero is robust, to put it mildly, with a strong sensuality about it. It’s legit seductive. Certainly something to serve later in the evening if one is planning to taste a number of whiskeys. There’s the substantial proof, of course. But also, too much of this flavor explosion, or too much like it, and your palate might eventually collapse from sheer exhaustion!
At a tasting event last year, I was lucky enough to get a sample of the Old Potrero 18 Year Single Malt Hotaling’s Whiskey—a single barrel, bottled-in-bond whiskey released in 2016. That was one of those whiskey experiences that stopped me, relegating my forehead to the palm of my hand so I could shut out the rest of the world and just soak in those dense layers of flavor. Even at roughly a third of that whiskey’s age, the more current single barrel rye store picks really go all out to squeeze every ounce of flavor from their 100% malted rye mash bill. This barrel #13 is no exception. It is elegant, sophisticated, bold, and exquisitely sensuous.
Okay. I can’t step away without noting again the price. It’s steep. I don’t like it. It pains me a bit each time I buy one of these bottles. Yet I keep coming back to them. Their pull is irresistible…
So maybe that means they are worth $100. Old Potrero Rye single barrels are weird, wonderful flavor bombs. Whiskey fans can be breathless in their desperation to pay two to ten times the price for Van Winkles and BTACs. Those are good. I would never pass up a glass of Pappy Van Winkle 15 or George T. Stagg. But if those are worth their average asking price, why these Old Potrero Rye single barrels sit on the shelves so long makes zero sense.
Actually that’s not true. FOMO is its own kind of sense. Or at least it’s an explanation. But when I consider the full scale of the whiskey unicorn phenomenon, $100 for these Old Potrero Rye single barrels suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Though one bottle versus another may be more or less to one’s personal taste, no Van Winkle can even compare with the sheer abundance of flavor this Old Potrero Rye is packin’!
I recommend giving it a go.