EH Taylor Straight Rye is perhaps one of the strangest labels produced at Buffalo Trace (or maybe Barton? More on that later). It is one of the only whiskies that does not share a mash bill with any other product in the Buffalo Trace lineup or anywhere else in the Sazerac portfolio for that matter.
Speaking of Sazerac, they’ve always had a policy to never reveal the mash bills for any of their whiskies. So how do we know this whiskey is unique? Because the people at Buffalo Trace have periodically mentioned that EH Taylor Straight Rye contains no corn in the mash bill.
Rye whiskey lovers familiar with MGP’s famous 95% rye whiskey might think that’s not unique, but in Kentucky, rye whiskey typically contains at least some corn. Instead, Sazerac claims that EH Taylor Straight Rye contains a very large percentage of malted barley in it. Most reviewers have theorized the mash bill to be somewhere around 65% rye and 35% malted barley.
The EH Taylor Line of whiskey is born
The EH Taylor line gets its name from the father of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897; Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor. Taylor was essential in championing the legislation necessary for this new standard of purity regarding American whiskey.
So (almost) every bottle of EH Taylor is Bottled-in-Bond to acknowledge his contribution. However, it was because of the additional rules of the Bottled-in-Bond Act that many whiskey enthusiasts have been confused at the way older batches of Straight Rye were labeled.
Sharp-eyed enthusiasts spotted the fact that there are two DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) numbers listed on the back of bottles of EH Taylor Rye. The first distillery is DSP-KY-113 which is the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
The second one is DSP-KY-12 which is Barton’s Distillery located in Bardstown, KY. This led to a confusion as to where these barrels of rye whiskey were distilled, aged and bottled. Many thought that since it was such a small part of the Buffalo Trace portfolio that they probably didn’t waste their time distilling it on their Frankfort campus.
In this regard, Barton Distillery may have made sense. But Buffalo Trace came out on the record to say that the rye was, in fact, made, aged and bottled on site. They never really gave an answer as to why Barton’s DSP was listed on the label but I’m going to take their word for it because Buffalo Trace rarely makes an effort to clarify anything. Ultimately, I think they’re telling the truth.
Most enthusiasts already give high praise to the various bottles of rye whiskey made by Buffalo Trace such as Sazerac Rye, Thomas H. Handy and the modern version of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. But EHT Straight Rye’s mash bill makes this a completely different beast.
I personally think that Buffalo Trace’s rye whiskey tastes about as close to a bourbon as you can get, which must be why so many people love it. My question is “does the absence of corn in the mash bill mean that this bottle leans more towards a malt whiskey? Will it maybe give off MGP rye whiskey vibes?” There’s only one way to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The high percentage of malt is abundantly clear on the nose with soft notes of fruit and cooked cereal. Vanilla custard topped with blueberries and wildflower honey can also be found.
Apricot jelly smothered on fresh-cut bread give two of the most expected notes I was thinking I’d find in a whiskey with only rye and malted barley in the mash bill. Overall, the nose is much lighter in body than I was expecting.
Palate: A sweet and creamy mouthfeel greets me upon the first sip. I could taste the underlying rye notes, but it didn’t come off as an “in-your-face” kind of rye like Indiana, Candian or even an Old Forester Barrel Proof rye would give.
Pepper flavors pop on my tongue like but it’s not like they’re setting my mouth on fire. Mint and oregano couple with a very slight chocolate note (similar to a York Peppermint Patty). Citrus flavors (usually my most favorite part about distilled rye) are somewhat dulled compared to the orchard fruits and red raspberries/blueberries I am finding.
I think this has a lot to do with the high malted barley percentage. There are cherry juice flavors too. The oak is a bit on the “bitter” side of things, but it doesn’t ruin the drink. Most noticeable to me is that there is way less cinnamon that I’d normally find in a rye. Instead, I’d say that clove is the most dominant spice note here.
Finish: The finish is somewhat peculiar because it ends on a note that is much more “light” in taste than the palate. Residual notes of peppermint, fresh fruits, tobacco, cinnamon can be found but frankly they’re not as satisfying as I was hoping for.
Maybe the low(ish) proof is to blame? Orchard fruit skin, vanilla syrup, marjoram and a honey sweetness wrap everything else up leaving me thinking this has more in common with an American Single Malt Whiskey rather than a rye whiskey.
While not a disappointment, EH Taylor Straight Rye is also not the amazing bottle that its scarcity might have you believe. After my session with this bottle, I found it to be perfectly average and even that it drank somewhat younger than expected.
While many people may blame this on the low proof (which will soon be remedied by the annual release of a barrel proof version of EHT Straight Rye), I would lean more towards the high percentage of malted barley in the mash bill as the culprit.
Craft Distillers have latched onto the concept of using higher amounts of malted barley in their mash bills as a way to conceal any harsh or astringent flavors in their young whiskies. This is because malted barley usually imparts very soft and gentle sweetness even at a young age.
But it can backfire on distillers by smothering the natural flavors that stem from distilling corn, rye or other small grains if used in too large of an amount. This seems to be what happened here.
Buffalo Trace may have been trying to introduce a rye whiskey that would have a more agreeable taste for those who are still unsure about rye whiskey.
A sort of “training wheels” approach if you will. But enthusiasts that love rye flavors in their whiskey don’t want training wheels.
What they’re really after is the explosion of spice, the crisp scent of botanicals and herbs and the zest that citrus packs. This rye shields drinkers more from these bold flavors and offers a more gentle approach.
A majority of my enthusiast friends who have tasted EH Taylor Straight Rye tend to think it’s boring and unworthy of the increasing struggle to find a bottle. Many of those friends would even pick a single barrel of Sazerac Rye Whiskey (also known as “Baby Saz”) over this as well.
After tasting this, I can see their point. What Buffalo Trace has produced is a rye whiskey that is more suitable for new rye whiskey drinkers than the adventurous types that can’t wait to get their next hit of that wonderful spice.
That’s not to say that Buffalo Trace missed the mark when they released this bottle. It’ll find its audience and people will sing it praises. But if you’re a whiskey drinker who already has converted to the dark side (i.e. you love the punch of heavily ryed whiskies), you’ll find this bottle doesn’t do much for you.
So if you’re struggling to find a bottle of EHT Rye in all of the whiskey hysteria that’s going on, take solace in the fact that this is one bottle that’s okay to skip.
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