I may be putting words into the mouths of Deerhammer Distillery’s founders when I say that the methods and mashbills that they use are unique on purpose. There are a ton of new craft distilleries that have opened up in the last 10 years and most are doing the same things with the same grains. Deerhammer needed to be different on purpose so that their products would stand out.
I’ve already reviewed their single malt whiskies (one was finished in a Mead barrel) with much enthusiasm and now I’m ready to look closer at their rye whiskey. Just glancing at the spec sheet shows me that this is going to be quite different because one of the grains that they’ve used is oats. The official mashbill is 70% Colorado Rye, 20% oats and 10% roasted malt. I’m not quite sure what effect roasting has on malted barley, but maybe drinking it will show me.
The mashbill is not the only unique thing about this rye whiskey. The label also indicates that the barrels used for aging were first heavily toasted before receiving a #2 char level. The char level is unique because more traditional distillers use a #3 or #4 char for their barrels (and most do not elect to toast the barrel at all due to cost). This particular sample is from a single barrel that went to Total Wine and was bottled at 116 proof. So now that we’ve thoroughly analyzed the stats, all that’s left is to find out what the end product tasted like. Let’s dive in! I sampled this neat and in a Glencairn.
Nose: The nose is unlike any rye whiskey that I’ve smelled before. There is the scent of wet wood (possibly leaning towards wet cardboard) that is constantly present and smothering. The toasted barrel effect seems to have worked because underneath the wet wood is plenty of vanilla bean and marshmallow. Strangely enough, I’m getting a whiffs of coffee grounds and some dried fruits. There is virtually no traditional rye whiskey scents that I’m picking up on.
Palate: The 116 proof really helps to show off the thick, chewy and oily mouthfeel. This seems to be a trait that stretches across all Deerhammer products I’ve had so far. Just like the nose, there are very few traits that tell my tastebuds that this is a rye whiskey. I get a small amount of mint and herbal tea, but that’s it. However, the pervasive coffee bean note that I found on the nose is back along with nougat, cinnamon and nutmeg. There is also a flavor much like bran muffins topped with dried apricots pieces.
Finish: I kid you not, the most dominant flavor after the sip has been complete reminds me of long-grain wild rice. It’s incredibly unique but not exactly palatable. The ever-present coffee grounds continue to stick around along with some chocolate and a little bit of mint. There is also the lingering taste like I just ate an English muffin.
Before I dive into my conclusion, I want to reiterate that I’m a reviewer that is typically captivated by new and interesting things. But as I was drinking this rye whiskey and experiencing many of these odd and unique flavors, I had to stop myself and think “Is this really what I would want to reach for when I’m in the mood for a rye whiskey?” Sadly, the answer was no. As much as this whiskey was challenging and totally unique from anything that came before it, it was just so “out there” that I could not enjoy it.
In a rye whiskey, I would expect to find a good amount of spice. This had close to none. I would expect herbal, botanical or fresh flavors and scents. It also lacked in this regard. At the very least I would expect some citrus fruits or brown sugars. But again, none. This was as unique as I expected it to be, but I just could not get behind it.
All signs point to the oats in the mashbill having a lot to do with the strange flavors I picked up on. It likely smothered many of the standard rye notes I was searching for while increasing ones that did not belong. Had I been poured a glass of this blind and asked what kind of spirit it was, rye whiskey would not have not been in my top 3 guesses. This bottle will likely find people that enjoy it for its uniqueness, but if you’re looking to satisfy an itch for rye whiskey, this probably won’t do it for you.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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