Single Barrel selected by Spirits of Timber Creek, TN (2021)
MASH BILL – 95% rye, 5% malted barley
PROOF – 118.8
AGE – 5 years
DISTILLERY – Big River Distilling Company
PRICE – $66 ($43 plus $23 shipping)
WORTH BUYING? – Absolutely! The added shipping cost is significant, though, so hopefully it becomes available nearer me.
Ever since I first tried Riverset Rye back in the Summer of 2020, I’ve coveted the single barrels popping up on people’s social media feeds. Riverset Rye is not sold on shelves in California, where I live. But one can track the standard release down through online sellers like Seelbach’s. The single barrels, however, are typically only available in-store in Tennessee and its neighboring states.
A kind TN-based acquaintance from a bourbon Facebook group I follow noticed one of my expressions of interest, made in the comments of another member’s post about one Riverset Rye single barrel or another. She reached out to me, generously offering to ship a bottle my way when one became available at a shop near her. Lo and behold, some weeks later she followed up. The bottle, selected by a shop called Spirits of Timber Creek, arrived safe and sound and I uncorked it right then and there.
Out of the gate, it was very good. It even perfectly matched the sunset I happened to be enjoying that evening. The whiskey virtually glowed in the glass, like the setting sun itself.
That was about two weeks ago as I’m writing this. Tonight’s pours, tasted in both a traditional and Canadian Glencairn, will be my third and fourth. Here are some notes in brief…
COLOR – a gorgeous and glowing rusty orange, as if lit from within
NOSE – fragrant rye spices and grasses, bright cinnamons, coarsely ground black peppercorns, a sprig of dill, caramel, vanilla, maple taffy, very faint cherry
TASTE – a syrupy texture, tangy at the edges, the herbal rye and baking spices, the caramel and vanilla more prominent than on the nose, and now something like an organic papaya bubblegum
FINISH – fudgy caramel, dry grassy rye spice, a cooling warmth like a mint in dark chocolate, that excellent papaya bubblegum note, a late-blooming flare of peppery heat after several sips
OVERALL – an excellent, vibrant blend of herbaceous and sweet notes, with just enough bite leaving a nice easy warmth considering the high proof
In the Canadian Glencairn, the drier herbal and spice elements lean forward. In the traditional Glencairn, the sweetness of caramel and vanilla get more emphasis. Both glasses present the whiskey with a pleasing mix of these elements. And there’s that crazy specific organic papaya bubblegum note! I can’t say I prefer one glass over the other—it would depend on my mood.
Success! Looking back over my notes from the standard Riverset Rye release, a number of them carry over here. With one more year in the barrel and 25.8 more proof points adding heat, this single barrel’s flavors follow through on the promise of the whiskey’s rich color, offering a remarkable blend of sparkly and broody aspects. Dry herbs sprinkled on sweet caramelized sugars and syrups. Smooth, gooey textures rolled in more granular sensations. There is a bit less dill here than in the standard release, and notably stronger caramel and taffy notes.
The Riverset label and website use language that’s vague enough to make it uncertain whether Big River distills this themselves or sources it. Their exact statement—“Distilled in Tennessee and bottled by B.R. Distilling Company, Memphis, Tennessee”—could be interpreted to mean the whiskey is both distilled and bottled by them, or distilled in TN by someone else and then bottled by Big River.
Back when I first tried Riverset alongside its bourbon cousin, Blue Note Juke Joint Bourbon, I was a bit more put off by this equivocal language than I am now. I’m a fan of producers being utterly clear about what they’re doing, granting the fact that contractual obligations sometimes forgo the sharing of certain details. Honesty is more important to me than whether a given brand is sourced or not. I see no shame in sourcing whatsoever, so long as one is up front about it. And since whiskey itself by nature doesn’t obscure its truth—a whiskey is only ever exactly what it is—I believe those who make it should follow suit.
At this point, though, I’m much more interested in the experience of this rye than its marketing. It’s a legitimately fun sip—lively and flavorful. It’s not readily available to me where I live, so, given the added cost of shipping, I’ll likely not be purchasing these single barrels often. But if and when they do distribute to California, I’ll no doubt be a regular buyer.
Given the notable dill aspect, when I want something a bit more rambunctious than a WhistlePig or Wilderness Trail rye, Riverset will be what I reach for. It’s also more affordable than either of those ryes. The standard release, for example, I could have shipped and still pay less than I would for either Wilderness Trail or WhistlePig off the shelf. I’d like to say price does not impact my tasting experience, but, I’ve come to assume that’s something one must be wealthy to be able to afford saying. Knowing a great tasting whiskey only cost $40 adds to the joy and ease of sipping it, just as knowing that an average tasting whiskey cost $300 can add a false bitter edge that can’t be attributed to the natural influence of oak tannins.
In short, if you can get a bottle of Riverset Rye, whether the standard release or a single barrel store pick, do it. It’s very affordable and very good. Alongside Old Dominick, Big River Distilling is among the Tennessee distilleries helping to expand the definition of Tennessee whiskey beyond the confines of Jack Daniels and George Dickel. I look forward to continuing to follow where they go from here.