Comparison: Two Hotaling’s Single Malt Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskeys – aged 18 and 17 years

OLD POTRERO HOTALING’S WHISKEY
single barrel bottled in bond release, bottle 77 of 225 (2013)

MASH BILL – 100% malted rye

PROOF – 100

AGE – 18 years

DISTILLERY – Anchor Distilling Company

PRICE – It’s complicated…

OLD POTRERO HOTALING’S WHISKEY
single barrel bottled in bond release, bottle 191 of 246 (2021)

MASH BILL – 100% malted rye

PROOF – 100

AGE – 17 years

DISTILLERY – Anchor Distilling Company

PRICE – $147

So here is one of my favorite kind of whiskey hunting moments. And I should say up front, for 2022 I have committed to the experiment of hunting not like a bloodhound, always sniffing and running about, but rather like a Venus Fly Trap, waiting patiently for what happens to come along. And this is one of those instances.

Several months ago now, I received a DM from a fellow whiskey aficionado through The Right Spirit Instagram account. They told me they’d read my blog post about the 2013 Hotaling’s 18 Year release because they’d just picked up a bottle of the Fall 2021 17 Year. I’d scrolled by a Facebook post some weeks prior about the 17 Year having quietly come out. But I didn’t expect to see it anywhere. Well apparently a local shop had a handful of bottles on hand. But unlike most other rare bottles this place sells, they hadn’t jacked the price up to secondary pirate levels.

I received this Insta-DM while downtown and just getting out of my day’s meetings. I darted underground to hop a train and head out to the shop in question. When I arrived, there was indeed a clutch of bottles perched up on a high shelf. I took one home.

The reason I assumed it highly unlikely that I’d come into one of these is due to how I came into the 18 Year. That minor saga is detailed in full on my post devoted to that bottle. In summary, it had been sitting on a shelf out of reach—both physically and in terms of price—for years at another high-end joint I occasionally visit. The $650 price tag kept me at bay, until one day I took stock of my bunker and identified a handful of bottles I could part with that together added up to $650. I passed these on to a fellow whiskey hunter at cost. So, money out over a period of years, money back in one afternoon, later that same day money out again, and Old Potrero Hotaling’s 18 Year finally in!

Was it worth it? Short answer is yes, though it’s not a scenario I’m likely to repeat. So to find this 17 Year at the “affordable” price of $147 tax and all was the welcomed kind of sticker shock. I still had about a third of the 18 Year left, and knew a comparison would be in order.

They differ in age by only one year, and both are single barrel, bottled-in-bond releases. However they were bottled 8 years apart, the 18 Year in 2013 and the 17 Year in 2021. That means the 18 year was distilled in 1995 and the 17 Year in 2004—very different eras of the rapid whiskey boom and Anchor Distilling Company’s history.

In 1995, Anchor Distilling had only just gotten underway, having been established two years prior by Fritz Maytag, who had purchased Anchor Brewing back in 1965 and revitalized the brewery into a major player on the beer market.

So in 1993, Maytag finally acted on his passion to bring back old-style American pot-distilled rye whiskeys. At first a purely in-house endeavor, Maytag recruited a small team to research and experiment in his newly established whiskey distillery in San Francisco’s quiet Potrero Hill district. The goal was to create a whiskey akin to American whiskeys from the 18th century, rye based and robust. The first whiskeys were barreled in 1994, all pot-distilled from an uncommon mash bill of 100% malted rye.

The three original products, all single malt rye, included a 2.5-year whiskey called Old Potrero 18th Century, aged like a scotch in used barrels and bottled at a robust 102.4 proof. Next to it stood an American rye, aged in new oak barrels and slightly older at 3.5 years, bottled at 90 proof. (Around 2016 it was raised to 97 proof and aged longer at 4.5 years, and in 2022 the age bumped up to 6 years.) And the darling of the line, Hotaling’s Whiskey, aged in used barrels like the Old Potrero 18th Century and released at anywhere from 11 to 18 years old, only came out periodically as casks showed themselves worthy.

All three releases continue today. Port and stout cask finished ryes came out around 2017. That same year, single barrel cask strength rye releases, picked by local and eventually also national shops, began to come out as well. Among the first was an exceptional barrel that spent additional time finishing in a used chardonnay cask. That barrel was so good I subsequently bought an open bottle from a fellow local whiskey fan who didn’t care for it.

And that’s the thing about Old Potrero. It’s not for everyone—which is fine by me. It means when these rare Hotaling’s releases come out I can actually get one! And whenever a single barrel store pick rye comes around I don’t have to scramble for it.

With the straight rye release, the 100% malted rye mash bill creates an intense blend of malt, chocolate, oak, and wildly herbal flavors. At their best, the cask strength single barrels also feature dark sweet fruit notes—like SiB #13 from 2019, among the best ryes I’ve ever enjoyed.

With these older Hotaling’s releases, aged in used barrels and not as influenced by the oak, there is a fine graininess that some people find too raw, gritty, and/or “weird.” It did take me awhile to acclimate to my first Hotaling’s, the 11 Year from 2017. I too initially found it weird, though not nearly as weird as the perfumy 18th Century standard release. And anyway I tend to like weirdos.

So here we are. The 18 Year has been open one year and one week, almost to the day, and I’m nearing the bottle’s final pours. The 17 Year has been open six days and this is the third pour. Tasted in traditional Glencairns, what might these two different generations of distillate—1995 and 2004—reveal about the evolution of Hotaling’s Whiskey?

COLOR

BOTH – nearly identical amber and straw yellows, with the 17 tinting slightly darker in various lights

NOSE

17 – bright, fresh milled grains, granulated honey, a citric zing, fresh marzipan

18 – similar notes, though more subdued, and with a bundle of dried flowers and more of a caramel aspect lacing through it

TASTE

17 – a syrupy texture, a rich and drippy honey note, bright malt, lemon and orange zest

18 – malty, caramel, lemon and tangerine zest

FINISH

17 – warm with the malt and citrus zests

18 – vanilla taffy, a crisp citric zest edge, a nice prickly warmth

OVERALL

BOTH – celebrations of malt, citrus zest, and sticky old-fashioned Playland at the Beach candies

WORTH BUYING?

17 – Yes

18 – As already noted, it’s complicated…

These are very close cousins, born in different eras but clearly the same bloodline. The consistency is remarkable, especially considering they are both single barrels. The differences I noted are subtle, discernible with careful parsing. Drinking rather than tasting, I might not notice.

So in terms of the consumer aspect, I now know I never again need to hawk anything from my bunker to raise funds for another older release like this 2013 18 Year. The cheaper current release offers the same experience without the antique markup.

I now also know that, although I genuinely appreciate this flavor profile, ultimately it’s not one I need to invest in further. I’ll stick to the Old Potrero Cask Strength Single Barrels to get my fix of this brand’s unique malty character. These Hotaling’s releases are malty in a brighter, for me less interesting way than the Old Potrero SiBs can be. With more interplay between the whiskey and the fresh oak barrels, the Cask Strength SiBs are more complex. Whereas, even after 17 or 18 years, the Hotaling’s Whiskeys stay on the bright side, reading a bit younger than their actually younger cask strength Rye cousins.

All that said, I certainly have no regrets. I do love this brand, both the local San Francisco history to which it pays homage and the old-fashioned 100% malted rye mash bill, pot distilled and aged by the famously foggy San Francisco bay. There is a purity to the brand, and they’ve been honing that purity longer than most craft distilling operations that have ventured into the past to revive old practices and recipes. The three Hotaling’s Whiskey outings I’ve had have made for a great leg of the journey.

Cheers!

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