RIEGER’S BiB RYE
MASH BILL – 96% rye, 4% malted rye
PROOF – 100
AGE – 6 years
DISTILLERY – J. Rieger & Co.
PRICE – $71
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
This bottle is so utterly regal looking, with its old fashioned imperial red and gold labelling and ornate shield insignia, it commanded my attention from its place on the shop shelf where I saw it. A bottled in bond rye, aged 6 years, featuring a 100% rye mash bill that includes 4% malted rye, and coming from Kansas City, MO—not the first place one thinks of when it comes to whiskey… Well, I was properly intrigued.
J. Rieger & Company is among the many newer American craft distillery operations that benefitted from the expertise of the late Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller for Maker’s Mark and legendary whiskey guru. Pickerell helped so many new companies get rolling—Blackened, Hillrock, Nelson’s Green Brier, WhistlePig, Woodinville… The list goes on.
J. Rieger & Company revved up in 2014. They put out their first in-house bottled in bond products in 2021, so this 2022 release is their second. They offer it in tribute to Pickerell, and also to Kansas City, their home base not only since 2014 but actually 1887, when the original J. Rieger & Co. opened and pumped out whiskey until Prohibition closed them down. Between these tributes and the royal care given to the whiskey’s presentation, their pride in the product is clear.
And how is the whiskey itself?
Here we are, three and a half weeks after uncorking and five pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – medium to dark, murky and mysterious oranges…
NOSE – somehow both dry and syrupy at once, rich yet reserved, with rye grain and grasses, dark brandied cherries, smoothly sanded oak, fine baking spices, very faint creosote
TASTE – rye syrup (is that a thing?), those dark brandied cherries, faint baked apricot, the faint creosote note doused in thick dark caramel
FINISH – lingering dark cherry and creosote-caramel notes, syrupy chocolate, with a nice and gentle prickle from the heat
OVERALL – decadent, approachable, familiar and yet unique
When I first uncorked this bottle, the creosote note grabbed my attention right away on the nose, then more so on the taste. Creosote—a molecular compound found in rye grain that can come across like some kind of rubber or tar—is not a note I care for. At all. It can be a deal breaker for me. But here it miraculously manages to slip in between the dark cherry and caramel notes, all of them melded in the overall syrupiness of the whiskey’s flavors and texture.
Taken individually, all the aromas and flavors here are familiar. But together they achieve a uniquely dark, rich quality, and I dare say that creosote note might be the key. It adds an industrial edge to the otherwise desserty and herbaceous combination of fruit, candy and grain notes.
I know very little about Kansas City. My general impressions are of public fountains, Jazz music, BBQ, and the lyric from Oklahoma! stating that “everything’s up to date in Kansas City.” If this Rieger’s Rye speaks at all to the character of the place, I need to visit. The whiskey’s combination of the familiar and the unexpected is truly fascinating. Though the labelling and general decadent quality of it actually take my associative mind to imperial Russia, its rustic and industrial aspects ground it in a distinctly American midwestern sensibility.
I also greatly appreciate how this rye follows the current trend of smaller craft distilleries putting out bottled in bond whiskeys aged 6 years, 2 more than required by law. Redwood Empire has also done this recently, as well as Breuckelen and Bardstown Bourbon Co. While the big old joints in KY, TN and IN are largely satisfied with the 4-year minimum for their BiBs, smaller distilleries nationwide are distinguishing themselves by devoting just a bit more time. In combination with carefully selected mash bills, often lower entry proofs, non-chill filtering as a standard, and other finely tuned factors, the extra care is paying off with a range of genuinely interesting flavor profiles that together expand expectations of what American whiskey can be.
It’s not my impression that distribution for Rieger’s BiB Rye is widespread. But if you see it on a shelf and what I’ve described sounds appealing, go for it. It’s very worth the price. And it makes a great Manhattan!