Woodinville Cask Strength Rye

WOODINVILLE CASK STRENGTH RYE
distillery-only release (2021)

MASH BILL – 100% rye

PROOF – 116.62

AGE – 5 to 6 years

DISTILLERY – Woodinville Whiskey Co.

PRICE – $70

WORTH BUYING? – Yes

On my recent visit to Woodinville Whiskey Company in Washington state, after a tour and interview with senior distiller Mike Steine, I plunked down in the tasting room to sample some of the distillery-only offerings. I’d been looking forward to the cask strength rye in particular. It was a forgone conclusion that I’d be taking a bottle home with me!

I haven’t actually had the regular release rye in a couple years. But my last bottle went fast, especially once applied to a cocktail for my partner’s birthday—2oz Woodinville Rye, 4oz ginger-lemon kombucha, a squeeze of fresh ginger juice, wedge of lemon, on ice, very refreshing.

My whiskey journey has continued along its winding path since then. I’ve enjoyed other Woodinville offerings, chief among them a few single barrel bottlings of their cask strength bourbon, and the wonderful port cask finished bourbon. I’m delighted now to return to their take on that rambunctious grain, rye, and in this mighty cask strength release.

These brief notes were taken about three weeks after uncorking and four pours into the bottle, tasted in both traditional and Canadian Glencairns.

COLOR – medium amber and pale russet oranges

NOSE – tart and sweet apricot preserves, soft oak tannins, sweet caramel, some cherry, some ethanol hiding behind the oak

TASTE – a prickly pepperiness surrounding the apricot and cherry notes, the oak tannins tilting a bit more toward their bitter edge

FINISH – a faint creosote/rubber note hiding out amidst the apricot preserve notes, largely camouflaged there but noticeable

OVERALL – wonderful fruit and oak notes, hampered for me by some tannic bitterness and that creosote aspect that rye can sometimes have

I really want to like it more than I do. But the tannic bitterness that creeps in on the taste, followed by that whiff of creosote on the finish, hold this cask strength rye back for me from the great promise of its fruit, oak and caramel notes.

It’s interesting to taste such appealing notes alongside such unappealing notes, and for them to be so distinct from one another, almost as if I could separate them out with a baking spatula. Also interesting how even though the appealing aspects are indeed more prominent overall, those fainter less appealing aspects nevertheless keep the whole from coming together for me to form a singular satisfying experience. Something akin to that old saying, “One bad apple…”

Unlike Woodinville’s Port Cask Finished Bourbon, this cask strength rye doesn’t compel me to keep reaching for it. There is a sadness to having whiskey in your glass and not wanting to finish it. But it’s true I’m just not feelin’ this one. And that’s been true since uncorking. Because I’m otherwise a big Woodinville fan, I’ll keep trying with this bottle as it continues to air out. Thus far it’s been remarkably consistent, however, so my hopes for a significant evolution aren’t high.

I remember about a year ago, when I was at a local shop to pick up some bottles. One was a cask strength Woodinville bourbon, a single barrel selected by the shop. I asked the fellow helping me whether they had ever considered getting a cask strength single barrel of the rye. He paused, then said something diplomatic to the effect that Woodinville’s bourbons fair better than their rye, that he felt the latter was not quite up to the former’s standards.

When I consider that comment, it’s notable that it has indeed been a couple years since I myself last purchased their standard release rye, whereas I’ve returned to variations on their bourbon many times. I’m a big rye fan. And a big Woodinville fan. But I must agree with my local shop employee’s assessment that the Woodinville rye doesn’t quite hit like the bourbon. I wouldn’t want to see them stop trying, however. Their bourbons are so good. And the Woodinville people may be perfectly satisfied with their rye and not wish at all to mess with it. But if they were to dig back in and tinker with it, I’d jump at the opportunity to try what they came up with.

I just took another sip from the Canadian Glencairn. Oh those dark apricot and caramel notes are so good! They actually carry my sense memory back to the Old Carter Bourbon Batch 9, among the best bourbons I’ve ever had… Darn those tannins and creosote!

For science I poured a bit of the Old Carter. Their proofs are very close—116.62 for the Woodinville and 116.8 for the Old Carter. Nosed side by side, the pungent apricot preserve notes are indeed similar, with the Old Carter coming across a bit darker and much dustier. On the taste, again the fruit notes run parallel. But the Old Carter leaps forward with its full fruity, oaky, dusty, caramel laced force, while the Woodinville lacks the same depth and complexity. That said, with the Old Carter infiltrating things, the objectionable tannic and creosote notes in the Woodinville have lost their power to distract.

What an interestingly unlikely comparison! On paper, and regionally, these two whiskeys have absolutely nothing to do with one another beyond the coincidence of their similar proofs. Yet they share remarkably similar fruit notes. The fact that adding the Old Carter to my palate’s attention utterly deters the off notes in the Woodinville is also interesting. This suggests that, going forward, the Woodinville Cask Strength Rye may show itself better in flights than alone. Certainly it will mix well into a cocktail. In any case, at least now I can leave this tasting with hope!

Cheers to the journey! It’s full of surprises!

Addendum

Given the curiosity this bottle spurred in me, I gave it another formal go just prior to going live with this post, now a bit over nine weeks since uncorking.

On the nose I get fresh cut oak, also weathered oak, black pepper, crisp apple slices, apricot preserves, a bit of dark chocolate and caramel, and a very faint whiff of ethanol and rubber—faint enough that I don’t notice it as much if I’m drinking and not tasting. Then on the taste I get a lively peppery burst right up front from the proof and rye spices, followed by the chocolate and caramel notes, the apricot preserves, and on swallowing a subtle but clear wave of the creosote note. The finish then leaves me with the apricot preserves tinged by that creosote note, oak, caramel in breakfast pastry dough, and a mild peppery tingle lingering warmly…

So, still a pretty consistent experience overall, though now with a few more layers of complexity than before. The chocolate notes swirling amongst the caramel are particularly welcome, and do help take the edge off the ethanol and creosote notes. And the oak tannins seem to have softened enough they are no longer worth mentioning.

Based on this tasting, my basic assessment from six weeks ago remains essentially the same. I’ll continue to put the Woodinville Cask Strength Rye into flights of other whiskeys going forward, to further help mitigate those notes I find undesirable. It will be interesting to place it next to other cask strength ryes in particular, to tease out the details of this challenging grain.

The journey continues…

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