Twice-barreled whiskeys—that’s the practice of finishing an aged whiskey within the confines of a second, freshly charred barrel—is a hot trend in bourbon and rye at the moment, with popular bottles such as Old Forester 1910 commanding premiums on the secondary market. And it’s pretty easy to see why these brands have come into the vogue—the sudden exposure to a second wave of fresh oak seems to “re-energize” the aging process, routinely creating decadent and over-the-top bourbons that can boast intense char, richness and spice notes, all aspects that play well in a market where big and sweet is currently prized. But it’s worth noting that although these bourbons and ryes are currently a popular trend, they’re not a brand new one.
In fact, Ancram, NY’s Hillrock Estate Distillery has been making its Double Cask Rye since at least 2014, something I was surprised to learn. In doing so, they foresaw quite a bit in terms of where American whiskey was headed.
This is a unique spirit in a few ways. It’s a 90 proof (45% ABV), 100 percent rye whiskey, made with a “field to glass” philosophy that sees its rye grain grown, milled, distilled and aged in one location in New York. With that kind of pedigree, it’s difficult not to make the comparison to the likes of WhistlePig, who have a similar 100 percent rye, grown-on-site ethos in Vermont, while simultaneously sourcing a portion of their product. But regardless, Hillrock’s rye whiskey is part of the small number of difficult-to-produce, 100 percent ryes that you can find in national distribution.
In tasting this whiskey, we’ll be looking to assess the question of how the “double barrel” aspect of its aging impacts a 100 percent, non-age-statement rye.
On the nose, this immediately seems similar to some of the other double-barreled bourbon and rye I’ve sampled in the amplification of its caramel, brown sugar, baking spice and char notes. It smells deeply caramelized, with hints of bitter dark chocolate, pepper and cinnamon.
On the palate, flavors diverge in unusual directions. This is a bold, demonstrably sweet dram, with residual sugar that first seems a tad overwhelming before adjusting to its presence. It’s an unusual rye whiskey, in the sense that it has one of the clearest delineations between “front end” and “back end” flavors I’ve ever experienced. The initial rush is one of spice and fruit; candied ginger, cinnamon and stone fruitiness, but those flavors cut off abruptly into a “back end” of milk chocolate, toast, malted milkballs and tannic bitterness, in a way that seems a bit inorganic. The char is there on the back half as well, and it seems to have brought a bit of astringency out of the wood along with it. The final profile, then, is both complex and strange.
Ultimately, this whiskey feels like it’s trying to do a whole lot of things at once, and to its credit it succeeds at some of them—but not all. It’s sweet enough to categorize as a “dessert” rye, and initially redolent of fruit and spice, but finishes with a tannic dimension that suggests it was overwhelmed on some level by its secondary exposure to the wood. Still, those who are exploring the world of twice-barreled whiskeys may find a lot to like in its intensity and richness.
Distillery: Hillrock Estate Distillery
City: Ancram, NY
Style: Rye whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $90-99 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.