A. Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey Review

Drink Reviews whiskey
A. Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey Review

When it comes to a storied American whiskey maker like Jim Beam, the place of origin–Kentucky, obviously–influences products in a wider, more pervasive way than one might initially consider. It is no surprise that Beam’s many bourbon brands all reflect its Kentucky origins, but consider the brand of rye whiskey that has functioned as the Beam company’s bottom shelf flagship for the last few decades, Old Overholt. Since that brand (along with Old Grand Dad) was acquired by Beam from the now defunct National Distillers in 1987, it has been a Kentucky-style rye, with a mere 51% rye grain in the mash bill. But the product Beam initially acquired didn’t hail from Kentucky at all–like many historic ryes, it had its roots in Pennsylvania, once a center of rye whiskey production in colonial America in particular. Suffice to say, the version of Old Overholt that Beam has been making for years is a pretty standard Kentucky-style rye, but it didn’t really reflect the history of the “Old Overholt” brand. But the company’s new A. Overholt Monongahela Mash Straight Rye Whiskey is intended to do exactly that.

We should first note that this is a line extension, not a replacement of the existing Old Overholt brand. Beam’s high-value rye whiskey brand had already been undergoing some evolution in recent years, adding a bottled in bond version and then even an 11-year-old expression of Old Overholt. The new A. Overholt brand, on the other hand, is a reference to original founder Abraham Overholt, and the “Monongahela Mash” refers to its origins in the Monongahela region of Pennsylvania, along the banks of the titular river, where much of the rye used in American rye whiskey was once grown. This product has thus been designed as a complement to the existing, Kentucky-style Overholt, with both set to exist independent of each other.

Notably, this includes a brand new rye whiskey mash bill, and a new mash bill for a company the size of Beam is always a notable undertaking. This is a much higher percentage rye product, with 80% rye in the mash bill, joined by an unusually high 20% portion of malted barley. Notably absent is any element of corn, the company seemingly want to make as clear a philosophical break from the existing Overholt recipe as possible. With that said, this is still reportedly fermented with the standard, house Beam yeast profile, so there is a philosophical throughline present there. The resulting rye whiskey carries a 4-year age statement, and is presented at 47.5% ABV (95 proof), with an MSRP of $40. That would seemingly gear it toward the cocktail market in particular, to compete against other high-value midshelf ryes from the major producers, a niche that Beam had been somewhat lacking. The official website includes several of those cocktail suggestions, though I must confess I couldn’t help but laugh at this particular “serving suggestion” of “pour it in a glass and drink it.” A real mixologist’s masterpiece, there.

Regardless, how will this new, rye-heavy mash bill differ from the familiar Old Overholt? Let’s get to tasting and find out.

On the nose, this is interesting and perhaps not what I was unconsciously expecting it to be. There is some dusty rye grain there, but what first is jumping out at me is a lot of semi-nutty cocoa, with warm cinnamon and cardamom spice, and browned butter. It’s a surprisingly rich nose for the 80% rye in the mash bill. Probing further it’s also a little bit floral and earthy, with something like cracked pepper, but that simultaneously conveys a honeyed sweetness even to the peppery dimension. It’s somewhat less evocative of “RYE” than I thought it would probably be.

On the palate, most of these same impressions hold true. There’s a whole lot of cinnamon here, with heavy baking spice character that melds with more woody spice, some black pepper and honey leading the way. It’s moderately sweet in terms of the overall presentation, with some malty sweetness, modest earthy rye and notable vanilla. Fruit begins to creep in as well, in the form of baked green apple. The overall impression is again sweeter than I would have expected, perhaps a factor of the higher percentage of malted barley in this mash bill. It also still reads somewhat youthful, not via graininess but because an older oak presence might yield some more balance for its sweeter/spicy components. The baking spice in particular here really coats the tongue in an unusual way for something of this relatively lower age statement.

Despite the “pour it in a glass” serving suggestion above, I think that the most obvious use case here for A. Overholt is in the genre of classic rye cocktails. At $40, it’s on the edge of the spectrum where higher-value bottles with bigger age statements begin to be available, but I think this would probably make an intriguing Manhattan at the price point regardless. I doubt it will end up supplanting the Kentucky-style rye in the Overholt family tree, but you never know.

Distillery: Jim Beam
City: Clermont, KY
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 47.5% (95 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $40 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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