Comparison: Two Rubicon Ryes – Fall 2021 & Summer 2022

RUBICON RYE
Fall 2021 release

MASH BILL – 100% rye

PROOF – 96

AGE – NAS (~2.5 years in the first barrel and the balance of ~6 years in the second, according to distiller Cris Steller)

DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings Distillery

PRICE – $70

WORTH BUYING? – Yes

RUBICON RYE
Summer 2022 release

MASH BILL – 100% rye

PROOF – 96

AGE – NAS (~2.5 years in the first barrel and the balance of ~6 years in the second)

DISTILLERY – Dry Diggings Distillery

PRICE – $87

WORTH BUYING? – Yes

This is my fourth post on Rubicon Rye. I wouldn’t have expected that. But it’s become quite the rabbit hole for me.

I first tried it in 2018, when my folks gave me a gift-set of four 375ml bottles, sold together by Dry Diggings to show off variations of their signature rye whiskey in two-barrel blends and single barrels. Those bottlings leaned dry, highlighting the whiskey’s range of pine notes. I didn’t mind them but I also didn’t take to them. They struck me as intriguing, but still a bit young and rough around the edges.

But the standard release blend—if “standard release” actually applies to Rubicon (I’ll get to that)—really struck me. It was richly sweet without ever cloying, featuring delicious cherry and caramel fudge notes alongside its arid mountain pine and rye grass spices. The sweet wood sugars could be seen floating in the barely filtered, dark red whiskey, like mysterious clouds rolling through a mountain chasm. I polished off three bottles of this between Summer 2019 and Fall 2021, all purchased in 2019/20 and so from the same basic generation. This flavor profile became what I identified as the “standard” Rubicon Rye.

Then in January 2022 I paid a visit to Dry Diggings after a long pandemic-induced absence. When I asked owner Cris Steller if there was anything new and unique on the shelf, he pointed to the Fall 2021 batch of Rubicon Rye. Though not specified on the label, it was in fact a single barrel that he’d decided not to blend due to its unique, nutty flavor profile. Also, he noted, it had spent its full life next to another cask distilled and barreled at the same time. This also tasted remarkably unique, he said, yet not at all like its sibling. Steller decided not to blend that one either, but to sell it as the subsequent batch.

I was intrigued. I went home with a bottle of the nutty Fall 2021 single barrel and opened it that evening. Sure enough, mixed nuts—especially walnut. Also a thick dark caramel and a subtle baked peach note. Nosing my soon empty glass, it was almost meaty—bacon glazed in a dark tangy BBQ sauce, charred oak, caramelized pecans.

As the bottle opened up, however, it evolved into a rich celebration of pine—very different from the sweet cherries and rye-spiced caramel I’d grown accustomed to from those 2019/20 batches. I preferred them to this nuttier, pinier variation, which actually took me back to those initial 375ml introductions from 2018. But still I quite enjoyed it.

Per Steller’s advice, I made certain to save a good amount to eventually compare with its sister barrel. Now that barrel has finally been released and I have both on the table.

So here we are: a comparison I’ve been waiting for with great anticipation. The Fall 2021 bottle has been open for a full seven months and I’m into its final third. The Summer 2022 bottle has been open for a week and a half, and I’m five pours in. These brief notes were taken using traditional Glencairns.

COLOR

FALL 21 – foggy orange, like clouds of wildfire smoke in sunlight

SUMMER 22 – a rich red-orange, like a fruit compote blending cherries and apricots

NOSE

FALL 21 – bright rye and pinewood spices, behind which a thick caramel emerges, then faint baked cherry and tart marmalade

SUMMER 22 – those rye and pinewood spices a notch darker, and behind them thick rich cherry syrup poured over thick caramel

TASTE

FALL 21 – syrupy, rich and dry at once, the caramel and rye/pine spices all nicely blended

SUMMER 22 – strong and velvety cherry notes balanced perfectly with the grittier rye and pinewood spices, drying maple syrup, then a wash of the caramel at the end

FINISH

FALL 21 – a really nice warmth, with lingering rye spice, oak spice, and tiny glints of the cherry coming and going

SUMMER 22 – caramel, dried cherry pie juices and syrups, maple, a soft but thick warmth

OVERALL

FALL 21 – the drier and sunnier sibling, leaning back

SUMMER 22 – the richer and darker sibling, leaning forward

Seven months into the Fall 21 batch and just over a week into the Summer 22 batch, they are for me not currently as distinct as Steller indicated. But of course I can’t say under what various conditions he was sipping them. And it’s worth noting: this bottle of the Fall 21 batch has evolved over these past several months. It’s more complex now than during its pine-heavy early days. As I wrote previously, even in those first few days after uncorking it was already evolving. So I suspect the Summer 2022 batch will evolve as well, and future comparisons of these two bottles are forthcoming for as long as the Fall 21 bottle lasts…!

What I appreciate about the Summer 22 batch is that it has those wonderful cherry notes that I so enjoyed in the 2019/20 “standard” releases I’d had. These notes are, to my sense memory, not as fully present here by comparison, yet strong enough to make a decisive impact.

By contrast, the Fall batch—true to the season of its release—is drier. The Summer batch seems to retain more of Spring’s sweet and fruity bounty. These are purely metaphors, of course, inspired by associations with the release dates. And they are likely as much projection on my part as they are the nature of these two barrels. In all respects, their aging processes were the same, save the individual oak barrels.

And that would seem to be the key, yes? A distiller can never predict exactly what an individual barrel will do to a distillate. Time and experience narrow the odds. But the exact tree or combination of trees that make up a given barrel’s collective staves—each stave a branch of history in the long life of an oak—will always carry in the contours of its grain a certain mystery.

I’m tasting these whiskeys on a sunny afternoon with a view of the San Francisco Bay. The air is dry, the breeze gentle, and the sun bright. I can see the beige and charcoal colored Oakland Hills across the slate-blue bay. These two variations on a Northern California rye whiskey make a perfect accompaniment to this weather and view.

I think back to January 2022 when I first uncorked the Fall 21 batch of Rubicon. I was in Placerville, seated outside among the pines. The breeze was moving through them en route to Dry Diggings Distillery in El Dorado Hills, just a short drive away over the rolling Sierra Nevada foothills. Here in San Francisco, as I sip at these whiskeys, those ancient pines are with me again. Time and place converging.

That may sound a bit romantic. Something I appreciate so much about whiskey is its ability to transport us. This is also the chaos of it—just like with theater, my other passion and filter for understanding the world. Theater and whiskey are at once objective and subjective, the tangible and verifiable in perpetual dialogue with the ephemeral and mysterious. And so I can sit here by the San Francisco Bay, sipping these whiskeys, and feel one foot on the objective ground beneath me and another on the subjective ground of my many memories of El Dorado County. It’s an opportunity to reflect on two regions, two terroirs, that have shaped both my life’s path and my perspective on life.

Thank you, Dry Diggings Distillery, for this leg of my journey. Much appreciated.

Cheers!

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