Let’s get this out of the way up front. Redemption Rye is one of those whiskies that are distilled at MGP, the former Seagram distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, a massive operation that also produces some other rye whiskeys you may have heard of including Bulleit, Templeton, and High West. Let’s also get this out of the way: I don’t give a shit. What’s good is good, no matter where it’s distilled. I agree that there are a lot of misleading labels and false advertising amongst supposedly small batch craft whiskeys, and that is a problem (Redemption’s label actually says “Distilled in the Indiana Heartland,” which is as close to indicating MGP as most whiskeys will get). But as someone who has sampled countless whiskey, both truly small batch and big factory operation, I feel confident saying that many of the start-ups just don’t create as good a product as the brands that are getting their whiskey from places like MGP. This is due to a number of factors, including lack of experience, process, tradition, and rushing to get out a product that could stand to be aged a few more years. But again, what’s good is good. Which brings me back to Redemption Rye.
Dave Schmier and Michael Kanbar started the company together in 2010. They currently truck the barrels from MGP to a small bottling facility in Bardstown, Kentucky. According to Schmier, their batch sizes are usually about 10 barrels, depending on the age and proof of the whiskey, because that’s all their tanks can accommodate at the moment (they plan on getting some bigger tanks later this year).
I recently sampled three different Redemption Rye expressions. The first was their flagship 92 proof rye, a blend of various barrels aged an average of two to three years. The mash bill for this, as for most of their products, is predominantly rye; a mixture of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. It’s fruity, spicy, and really good for a rye that you can get for less than 30 bucks. This is perfect for a Manhattan, and it’s also a quality sipping whiskey.
The next expression I sampled was something I’d never tried before, the White Rye. I’ve had plenty of white whiskey throughout my drinking career, which is whiskey that has not touched a barrel yet, completely un-aged, and I’m not usually a huge fan. But this White Rye is something very different. It’s slightly sweet with a hint of cherry, but the bold rye flavor that hits you instead of the corn you are expecting is delightful. You can drink it on its own, or substitute it in any whiskey cocktail. I decided to experiment and made up a cocktail (or at least I think I made this up, I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I’m wrong) that I like to call White Noyze.
3 ounces White Rye
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
twist of lemon
Directions: Combine rye, vermouth, and Chartreuse in shaker full of ice and shake until cold, pour into cold coupe glass, and garnish with a twist of lemon.
The last expression I sampled was something special, the seven-year-old Barrel Proof Straight Rye. This also comes in six and 10-year versions, and depending on the barrel, ranges from 110-123 proof. My bottle was at the very high end of alcohol here, but drinks smooth and lovely all the same. Barrel proof means that the whiskey is essentially what you would get if you were drinking from the actual barrel it was aged in. They filter it to remove bits of wood that might have been dislodged over the years, but this is a pure whiskey experience. If it seems a bit on the strong side, add some water and lower the proof a little. The Barrel Proof isn’t cheap, retailing for around $70 a bottle, but it’s an excellent whiskey-drinking experience.
I asked Schmier why he prefers rye to bourbon, and he had this to say: “[It has a] little extra dimension of spiciness. Try a rye Manhattan versus a bourbon Manhattan. A bourbon Manhattan is a great drink, but the rye is bolder.”
I couldn’t agree more. I also inquired about the decision to bottle a white rye. “White rye was originally bottled just to showcase the quality of spirit off the still,” he said, “but we have found many bartenders like to use it for brighter versions of classics, and also in fruitier drinks that don’t normally utilize rye. It’s also favored by some who make barrel aged cocktails.”
What does the future hold for Redemption Rye? They are in the process of securing as much aged rye as they can get their hands on, and Schmier told me they found a large stash of aged rye that has become the center of the Barrel Proof expression as well as some even older ryes, including a 17-year-old rye and a 36-year-old bourbon which they are going to blend into “something really special.” They also plan on riding the ever-growing whiskey wave, or as Schmier puts it, “reaching more people as mainstream appreciation for all things whiskey continues to grow.” Sounds like a good business model.