I’ve sampled a lot of sourced MGP of Indiana ryes from small craft distilleries over the years. I mean a LOT of them, to the point that I could probably sort those sourced MGP ryes into various subcategories by strength, age statements and whatever post-purchase maturation the distilleries may have attempted. Most, though, simply cut the MGP juice to their desired proof and send it out to the market. It’s not that there’s something inherently wrong with that—MGP makes excellent bourbon and rye, but it does result in a lot of the MGP ryes in the market being noticeably similar to one another. As a result, I find I’m often partial to the companies that take MGP’s rye whiskey and then go a step further in transforming it.
Today, I can happily report that there’s another young distillery out there doing exactly that, and doing a better job of it than most. Buzzard’s Roost Rye Whiskey is based in Louisville, the brainchild of Jason Brauner, a longtime Kentucky whiskey industry booster. Brauner is the co-owner of Bourbons Bistro, a staple restaurant and whiskey bar that presaged the brown liquor revival and boom of the 2000s, becoming one of the more influential Louisville whiskey destinations in the process. There, Brauner pioneered now common concepts such as whiskey flights, while dreaming of one day launching a whiskey brand of his own. Now, he has one in the form of Buzzard’s Roost, which focuses entirely on rye.
This is a small company of modest means, tightly focused on their proprietary process for taking MGP rye and turning it into something that is more uniquely their own. Currently, they’re doing this across three similar brands Buzzard’s Roost Rye Very Small Batch, Buzzard’s Roost Rye Single Barrel (both are 105 proof), and Buzzard’s Roost Rye Barrel Strength, which is closer to 115 proof. All share one key distinction: They’re younger (around three years old), sourced MGP ryes that then go through a second maturation period in Kentucky, aging in the company’s proprietary toasted barrels designed by Independent Stave Company—the same company that designs proprietary staves for Maker’s Mark. As Buzzard’s Roost puts it:
We start by sourcing the best aged whiskey we can find, but the real magic is in our barrels. We use only brand new, 53-gallon white oak barrels that are carefully toasted and very lightly charred. Each one is designed from the ground up to deliver a specific flavor profile. We work closely with our cooperage to tweak every parameter of the barrel—from the seasoning to the charring to the development of our custom toast profiles. All of our barrels are unique and proprietary to our company, giving Buzzard’s Roost a truly one-of-a kind flavor.
This is a process you’ve likely seen before at this point, as “double oaked” bourbons and ryes have become increasingly common and popular. The closest direct comparison would likely be Sagamore Spirit’s Double Oak Rye Whiskey, which is likewise MGP whiskey that is nicely transformed by a second maturation in a new barrel. With Buzzard’s Roost developing its own proprietary barrels, though, they can make an honest claim on having a product that no one else can exactly replicate. The 105 proof point of the Small Batch and Single Barrel variants is also interesting—higher than the vast majority of other “baseline” ryes on the market, and only 10 points lower than their own cask strength example, which makes one wonder if those separate brands can really distinguish themselves enough to be distinct.
Regardless, today we’re tasting the entry level Buzzard’s Roost Rye Whiskey Very Small Batch, which has a moderate MSRP of $50.
On the nose, I’m first getting some classic MGP notes—rye grain and herbaceous, with hints of the trademark dill, and something fresher and more resinous and piney. It then makes a nice segue, however, into more caramelized sugars and hints of darker and richer notes, especially cocoa. It seems to promise a rye with a bit more under the hood than you might expect.
On the palate, this is quite a pleasant surprise—one of the more luxurious MGP ryes I’ve tasted in recent memory. It’s quite sweet—surprisingly so, really, because many MGP ryes can be pretty dry—and slightly savory, with a profile that swings between caramelized sugars and confectionery notes and more savory ones. On one side I get candied nuts and cocoa, with something that is like a combination of marzipan and butter toffee, likely contributed by the toasted barrels of this rye’s second maturation. On the other hand, I also get more of a resinous-into-tobacco quality which is nice, combined with herbal impressions and black pepper.
Also quite notable: The heat on this is very gentle for the 105 proof, and the flavors are so composed and rounded out (no sharp edges) that you’re likely to forget entirely that this is only a three-year-old spirit. I can’t imagine that most whiskey writers would peg this as such a young spirit, if their first sample was in a blind tasting setting. Its reach is definitely exceeding its specs in this capacity, and for this particular brand I can only conclude that the proof point works very well.
All in all, this definitely feels like the start of something great. As Buzzard’s Roost continues to refine its process and perhaps selects some older barrels over time, it seems like only a matter of time before word starts to get out that this is one of the best uses of MGP rye the industry has seen in a while. At $50, and $70 for the same-proof single barrel variant, these aren’t exactly cheap in comparison with the likes of Heaven Hill and Pikesville Rye, but they represent a new process that some whiskey fans will no doubt find worth their attention.
Distillery: Buzzard’s Roost
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Straight rye whiskey (double oaked)
ABV: 52.5% (105 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.