Over the last two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to follow Mile High Spirits in their journey of whiskeymaking. In those early days, the bourbon and rye whiskey they had distilled was released at a little over 3 years old.
Then in 2021 they finally reached 4 years old which was celebrated with by dropping a new Bottled in Bond label. As of late 2022, they proudly released 5 year old versions of their bourbon and rye whiskey.
Allowing a good amount of barrels to reach this age shows restraint and forward thinking. I am continually impressed by the maturity that their products are showing year after year. Sometimes, new distillers need some time to work out the bugs or start over completely. Just look at the early days of Wyoming Whiskey.
They brought Steve Nally on board to help their operation get a leg-up. Yet they still had to scrap some significant procedures after a year or two of production (like raising the barrel entry proof and changing the yeast variety). Also not to be discounted, the dry and extreme climate of the High Prairie requires a much different approach to distilling than the temperate climate of Kentucky.
Mile High Spirits Malted Rye Whiskey
Mile High faces these issues too. But they’re innovating and learning along the way. Take this 5 year old version of their rye whiskey. They elected to use malted rye along with 2 varieties of unmalted rye for this bottle I’m reviewing today.
Malted varieties seem to get a lot of love from smaller producers as a way to set themselves apart from the rest. New Riff, out of Northern Kentucky, is maybe the most famous one using this type of grain with their 6 Year Old Malted Rye (which is now a permanent addition to their lineup). But New Riff doesn’t tell us which kind of rye grain they’re using. Mile High does: Midwest, Colorado Field and German (malted) rye all went into this mash bill.
They even took one of the varieties and had it smoked with beechwood prior to fermentation. No percentages are given, but for what it’s worth the last bottle of rye whiskey that I reviewed (which was 3 years old) contained 93% malted German Rye and 7% malted German Chocolate Rye. It’s interesting that they have already moved onto a new rye whiskey mash bill – or maybe they’re going to keep using two separate ones.
If you’ve never had a whiskey made with various malted grains that have a flavor designator in front of them, let me tell you that they are typically true to form when it comes time for that first sip. For Mile High, I like that they did not only use chocolate malt. If you’ve ever had a whiskey with chocolate malt (or rye) in it, then you know that a little goes a long way.
Mile High ages all of their new-make in 53 gallon new charred oak barrels. This barrel has been aged for 5 years in their very own warehouse in the Denver city limits and was bottled at a clever 52.80% ABV (a nod to the city’s altitude – 5,280 feet above sea level).
They’ve also had to switch over to this new type of bottle shape after their previous “Giraffe Neck” (I nicknamed it that, I don’t know if that’s really what they called it) bottle became impossible to get after the global glass shortage. The good news is that the new bottle shape is proudly made in America unlike its predecessor.
Let’s dive in and see what secrets this multi-rye rye whiskey has inside. As usual, I am sampling this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: One of the most identifiable features you’re going to see me keep mentioning is a coffee bean note that still is noticeable after all of those years in a barrel. I assume at some point it will lose its strength, but it’s still identifiable when you give the glass a sniff.
Being malted also brings with it an earthy note that is not off-putting, but rather unique for a whiskey. There are brighter notes to counter it such as bubblegum and vanilla.
The wood notes come off more like cedar wood than (charred) oak too. I dig it.
Palate: I’m happy to report the whiskey has continued to age very well. The most obvious trait that jumped out compared to the 4 year old version was an increasing amount of richness to the mouthfeel. The rough edges that once existed are becoming increasingly smoothed over.
Notes of coffee cake and chocolate mix with fennel, mint and bubblegum. Additionally, spices like allspice and anise are present too. That flavor combo may not be for everyone, but it makes for an exotic overall taste, kind of like a fusion Middle Eastern Chocolatier, Spice Shop and Coffeehouse.
Finish: The finish is summed up like saying you just drank a sip of coffee liqueur with a chocolate rimmed glass. One of my main complaints from its younger version was the finish lacked some sweetness, but I feel like with this bottle, it’s here now. The herbal notes kind of trail off early and that leaves only the aforementioned flavors to linger in your mouth for a while.
Mile High’s Rye Whiskey continues to improve as the age goes up. As I mentioned inside my tasting notes, one of the first things I noticed was how much more polished of a product it tastes compared to the previous 3 year old bottle I reviewed.
The odd thing about this malted rye whiskey is how the “rough edges” of the 3 year old version weren’t the typical astringent notes that you get with young rye whiskey. Instead, it had flavors like chalk or dry oak that felt like they would disappear with more time in the barrel. Well it turns out that 5 years could be the length of time needed because those off-notes were nowhere to be found.
Remembering back to 2020, it was almost unfathomable that a craft distillery was releasing anything over 4 years old that they had made. Now in 2023, we’re starting to see all of these great distilleries finally showing us what some age can do to their whiskey.
Mile High is leading the pack with some great barrels of whiskey that, frankly, doesn’t taste like anything else out there. Out of the two known malted rye whiskies on the market right now, I’d gladly take this one over New Riff‘s. So if you’re a rye whiskey lover or a malt whiskey lover, this one should find a spot to your heart if you can find a spot for it in your whiskey cabinet.
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