Old Carter Rye Batch 9

OLD CARTER RYE
Batch 9 (2021)

MASH BILL – unstated MGP rye mash bill(s)

PROOF – 116.4

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Old Carter (sourcing from an Indiana distillery, i.e. MGP)

PRICE – $175

WORTH BUYING? – Ultimately no, but…

This 2021 Rye Batch 9 is my second experience with Old Carter. Like my first, the Bourbon Small Batch 9, it is excellent. The price, even at msrp, is exceptionally high. So I wrestle with the brand a bit. And though I’m quite bored with this wrestling, nevertheless I think about it most every time I drink it…

But before I get into that, let’s get into this rye. These notes were taken three weeks after uncorking and four pours into the bottle, tasted in traditional and Canadian Glencairns.

COLOR – antique pumpkin and russet oranges

NOSE – a bright sprig of dill on lightly salted caramel, waves of rye florals and grasses, subtle oak, vanilla bean, lovely dry baking spices

TASTE – caramel, black pepper, the dill and herbaceous rye florals, dark chocolate cake with a syrupy chocolate frosting, baked persimmon, oak

FINISH – the baking spices, bright caramel and rye spices, a prickly peppery warmth

OVERALL – a familiar, top-notch MGP rye experience

I’m guessing this is primarily, if not entirely, a blend of the classic MGP 95/5 rye recipe. With that sprig of dill and those herbaceous waves of rye, it’s a very similar flavor profile to other well-aged, cask strength sourced ryes like the Sagamore 8 Year, Hughes Belle of Bedford, or those MGP-sourced Willetts of old.

I’ve already said, it’s excellent. That it’s also immediately familiar makes the $175+ price tag all the more difficult to swallow. The Old Carter Bourbon Small Batch 9, though also sourced from MGP, offered an exceptionally distinct flavor profile—not recognizably MGP at all. (I even wondered if they’d partially sourced from Spirits of French Lick!) That distinction made it worth the expense, at least once.

With so much choice now on the market, if I’m going to pay this kind of money I’d prefer it go to a truly unusual tasting experience. For those who like their ryes herbaceous, this is a magnificent pour. It’s just not at all unique. And the similar Sagamore 8 Year, for example, goes for less than half the price.

And so to my wrestling:

Listening to Old Carter’s founding and blending duo, Sherri and Mark Carter, on various YouTube channels talking about what they do, their genuine love for whiskey and for crafting it comes through. They are unfailingly personable, approachable, and knowledgable. They’re also very supportive of even the smaller social media whiskey influencers, belying expectations of exclusivity one might have around such a brand.

Having done well in their hotel and wine businesses, the Carters were in a position to enter the costly whiskey trade at its high end. First they helped Dixon Dedman of Beaumont Inn, in Harrodsburg, KY, get Kentucky Owl up and running. Kentucky Owl was Dedman’s family brand, defunct since 1916. That brand also leapt straight up to the high-end market. When it was bought out by the Stoli corporation, the Carters immediately broke off on their own to establish Old Carter, very like Kentucky Owl in its style and sourcing.

In addition to good business savvy, the Carters have exceptionally good taste! From just the two examples I’ve now experienced, their talent for selecting and blending whiskeys is outstanding. The Bourbon Small Batch 9 is easily among the best bourbons I’ve had to date, and this Rye Batch 9, though not nearly as singular among ryes, is right up there in terms of quality.

So while I appreciate the Carters in many respects, the price they’re asking just doesn’t sit with me. Their brand is certainly not alone in this regard. And of course one can always justify it—smaller businesses with limited output must charge more to pay the bills, etcetera. And, it was their express intention to create a high-end brand. They never pretended otherwise. So they’re true to their word, which I respect in principle.

My question is, why create a high-end whiskey brand now? Why does whiskey need yet another of those? If such an endeavor is not just a flamboyant jump onto the Bourbon Boom Bandwagon, if one truly loves whiskey, then why not share that love with as many people as possible?

It’s a class issue for me—that exclusionary aspect of capitalism whereby only the wealthy get the best seats at the show, the best food and drink, the best health care, the best access to opportunities of every kind, whether related to leisure, physical wellbeing, or power over their daily lives.

Bourbon and rye whiskey were for so many generations a drink “of the people,” affordable, accessible, no nonsense. American whiskey wasn’t even highly respected for most of its history. It was “common,” in the dual sense of being easily had and low class. Bourbon certainly can’t be better now than it used to be in those days. It’s just more popular.

Bah… My wrestling wearies even me. I’m tired of bemoaning the Bourbon Boom’s price hikes, and reading things people like me write about it online. It’s a bit like pushing against a cement slab.

But: these matters are simply more important to me at the end of the day than any bottle of whiskey. My fatigue ultimately has less to do with whiskey than it does with much larger concerns. So although I get tired of questioning capitalism, I’m willing to persist. I’m reminded here of the lyrics from an old Malvina Reynolds song:

God bless the grass
that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it
to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired
of what it has to do.
It breaks and it buckles
and the grass grows through.
God bless the grass.

God bless the truth
that fights toward the sun.
They roll the lies over it
and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground
and reaches for the air,
and after a while
it is growing everywhere.
God bless the grass.

God bless the grass
that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender
and it’s easily bent.
But after a while
it lifts up its head,
for the grass is living
and the stone is dead.
God bless the grass.

God bless the grass
that’s gentle and low.
Its roots they are deep
and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth,
the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing
at the poor man’s door.
God bless the grass.

Like any piece of art might, a high-end whiskey brand like Old Carter becomes a symbol, a metaphor, a prompt for contemplating—in this instance—the American class system. It’s not the whiskey that needs fixing. It’s the system. And here I’m also reminded of something the theater director and critic, Harold Clurman, said back in the 1930s: “If you want to change the American theater, first you have to change America.”

That’s a big job. Ongoing. Balancing a long view with immediate needs. In just that, one can see whiskey-making as metaphor once again, with its balance of timely calculations and patient waiting.

So I’ll sit here for the moment with my conflicted views and feelings, while I sip on this exceptional rye, summon the patience of the grass, and continue to consider the various ways I might help chip away at the concrete of capitalism. Art is just art, and whiskey is just whiskey. But the thoughts they compel are something one might eventually get up from the table and do something with.

Cheers.

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