TOM’S FOOLERY BONDED RYE
Barrel #294 selected by K&L (2020)
MASH BILL – 69% winter rye, 27% malted rye, and 4% 6 row malted barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – 6 years 9 months
DISTILLERY – Tom’s Foolery
PRICE – $54
BUY AGAIN? – No, only because life is short. But future releases, absolutely.
My first experience with Tom’s Foolery was also a K&L store pick, a bottled in bond bourbon (Barrel #31) from 2017. I enjoyed it so much I bunkered a second—the last bottle K&L had at the time. I still have that second bottle and look forward to revisiting it, now a handful of years later. Will I still enjoy it as much?
My second Tom’s Foolery bottle, also a pick from K&L, was a 2019 cask strength bourbon—Barrel #121—featuring a very different mash bill than Barrel #31. Whereas Barrel #31 was fairly standard at 72% corn, 16% rye, and 12% malted barley, Barrel #121 was more secondary-grain forward at 56% corn, 25% rye, 19% malted barley. I never took to it quite like I had Barrel #31, and wondered if it was the unconventional mash bill…
When I picked up that cask strength bourbon #121, I also picked up a bonded rye, Barrel #150, featuring a 100% rye mash bill of 70% winter rye and 30% malted rye. This I loved! Sweet, rich, dark notes of chocolate, taffy, butter, caramel, and molasses mixed with strong herbal notes of rye grass, dark pine, and peppercorn.
From these three bottles I surmised that Tom’s Foolery’s particular brand of rugged craft experience—by which I mean an experience not smoothed of its unusual edges, like most mainstream whiskeys from larger distilleries—worked best for me when their sidestream craftiness was applied to a more “standard” mainstream mash bill.
This was my theory. So I was a little worried about yet another different mash bill with this bonded rye barrel #294. Would it be weird in a pleasing way, or weird in an unpleasing way…?
That said, something I appreciate about Tom’s Foolery is that they have not settled in to one standardized mash bill. They seem intent on exploring endless variations, sometimes by a mere handful of percentage points. This appeals to my experimental artistic side, and the pleasure of finding nuance in fine tuning.
Tom’s Foolery is a very small operation in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. They have one warehouse, one assembly line, and a singular commitment to making the maximum with the minimum. They are committed to using local ingredients grown as naturally as possible. Their transparency is fantastic—one can peruse their barrel inventory online and glean all the salient details.
So here we are, about two weeks after uncorking and a third of the way into the bottle. I already did tasting notes on this bottle in a comparison with the 2019 Parker’s Heritage Rye. It was so striking, I thought it deserved its own tasting. Here are some notes in brief, not taken in comparison with anything else but on this rye whiskey’s own terms, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – clear, vibrant, toasted orange
NOSE – a fresh crusty loaf of walnut bread, long dry grasses, rye grass, a dash of cinnamon, lemon zest
TASTE – the bread and herb notes now underscored with a bright but thick and rich caramel note, some faint toffee and chocolate fudge
FINISH – rich but soft creamy caramel, the rye grasses and herbs, a fine peppery warmth
OVERALL – a beautifully specific, untamed rye whiskey
When I first took tasting notes on this rye in comparison with the Parker’s Heritage, it had a dark, rich, dense chocolate cake note, with the herb notes seemingly sprinkled on top. Today, without the sweeter Parker’s next to it to bring out any emphases by way of contrast, the grassy and herbal qualities of the Tom’s Foolery rye really standout, grounded by that delicious, chewy fresh bread note and something more caramel than chocolate cake.
I’m really appreciating tasting this rye now on its own terms, without anything else to compare it to. Not because alone it’s better or worse. Simply to hone in on the experience in its pure form—as it is today! Tomorrow there might be other emphases. But what has been consistent about the first third of this bottle is its particular savory grassiness, and also how relaxed it is without losing any energy from its younger, greener days.
Sometimes I find exceptionally grassy ryes off-putting—too astringent, sharply green, or even wood-glue like. Not so here. There is a maturity at work that hasn’t lost its curiosity.
Nothing about this Tom’s Foolery Bonded Rye tastes mainstream. It is brashly what it is. It’s not something I’ll reach for everyday. But when I want to think about the rye I’m drinking, and enjoy it grabbing my attention, this is certainly a bottle to reach for. It’s not a background rye. It’s not a showy, downstage-center rye either. There is something at once unusual and at ease about it. Something authentic. Confidence, perhaps.
There is a time and place for off-center whiskeys. Sometimes we do just want to lean back into the mindless sensorial pleasure of a good familiar whiskey. Other times we want to be knocked off course, jarred into consciousness. Tom’s Foolery Bonded Rye Barrel #294 strikes a notable balance between the familiar and unfamiliar, maturity and youth, mainstream and sidestream. It has a wildness I associate with the natural pine forests I grew up in, matched by a decisive cohesion I associate with city life at its best.
If a store near you has Tom’s Foolery whiskeys on offer, and you’re interested in these dichotomies, I recommend checking them out.