CORBIN CASH 1917 MERCED RYE
Distillery-only barrel proof release (2021)
MASH BILL – 100% rye
PROOF – 123
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Corbin Cash
PRICE – $127 (includes tax and shipping)
WORTH BUYING? – No, unfortunately
I’ve been eyeing the standard Corbin Cash Rye release on various San Francisco liquor store shelves for years now. It’s easily among the more unique bottle designs going for a standard release whiskey. It’s also a relatively local distillery to me, a roughly three-hour drive east of San Francisco in Atwater, near Merced. Corbin Cash is a family run farm-to-bottle operation, specializing in sweet potatoes and rye grain. They grow the latter to replenish the soil for the former. And they make spirits from both—vodka, gin, whiskey, liqueur.
So Corbin Cash has a lot of the traits I appreciate in a craft distillery. I’ve not yet gone for a bottle of their standard release rye, though. No particular reason. I just haven’t got around to it.
But when their distillery-only barrel proof rye release came out, named after the year the farm was founded, 1917, my longstanding curiosity was piqued. The label and bottle design were legitimately classy. And I’m both a rye and barrel proof fan. Why not introduce myself to Corbin Cash Rye in its most pure form? So I paid the shipping to have a bottle sent to me, making the already mighty price even mightier. My fingers were tightly crossed…
At uncorking, the first thing that hit my nose was a strong burnt electrical wire note, along with copper pennies and a bit of caramel. Not a great hello. The taste was then prickly from the proof’s heat, with apricot, chocolate, that burnt electric wire thing veering dangerously near creosote (a note I can’t abide), and yet oddly I found it to be okay. Even good on some sips! This was a surprise. It was very counter intuitive. But I liked it. Kind of…
I knew I was at the start of a journey with this one. I let it sit a few weeks and tried it again. This time I wasn’t as intrigued by its peculiarities. I let it sit several more weeks…
And here we are, eleven weeks now since uncorking and just a small handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – beautifully rich pumpkin-orange and russet baked cherry
NOSE – burnt copper wiring, metallic like a battery, and those notes are so strong it’s hard to get much else… After time, some dry rye bread crust, a bit of lemon zest, fleeting whiffs of caramel, black pepper, dried apricot, dusty oak
TASTE – biting heat from the proof obliterating most everything but the copper and battery; once that abates I notice some of the apricot and caramel, and these grow more evident with subsequent sips as my palate grows accustomed to the proof’s bite
FINISH – another clenching of the heat’s teeth, then subtle waves of copper, apricot, caramel, dense crusty rye bread, some faint dark cherry
OVERALL – I hate to say it but I just don’t enjoy it…
I never want to write off a whiskey. Even if it’s not to my taste, I try to understand how it might appeal to someone else. The burnt copper wire and metallic battery notes are not as big a turn off for me as that tarry, rubbery creosote note I’ve gotten in certain well aged ryes (e.g. WhistlePig 15 Year and Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year). But they make a close second. I don’t enjoy them. And here in this whiskey they will not be ignored.
Wanting to give it a shot from another angle, I added 7 drops of water and let it rest for 10 minutes… The nose carried the same basic notes with a notch less force behind them, and now also an added cinnamon note. The taste had less teeth to its bite, allowing more apricot (very tart) and caramel to come forward, still wrapped in the burnt copper wiring and metallic battery aspects. The finish likewise showed more apricot and caramel, with the other notes still in attendance…
I tried again, this time with 21 drops of water added… The nose, though gentler, was now pure burnt copper wiring with the faintest of dry rye bread if I searched patiently. The taste was notably better—no overwhelming bite, with the caramel, apricot and cherry all taking the lead. Then on the finish things reverted a bit more toward the burnt wires, still allowing for the caramel and fruit notes and a return of some less-dry rye bread. This round could be a point in favor of the standard release—bottled at 90 proof. But I frankly don’t want to pay the $50+ to find out. I’ll just water this cask strength bottle down going forward…
Well. I can’t recommend this. Not even as a curiosity purchase. The price alone warrants an age statement at the very least. (Even the 375ml bottle is $65 before tax and shipping.) Corbin Cash is a small operation so I understand their prices need to be higher than a larger distillery’s. Even so, I’ll admit to feeling a bit ripped off here. Perhaps it serves me right for not trying before buying. But I don’t own a car to get myself to Atwater, so, I sided with rolling the dice. Gambling is as gamblers do.
It feels odd to sign off with a cheers on this one, but, Cheers—maybe with a cocktail that spreads this rye out among other ingredients. I’ll try that.