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A common thing I see most craft whiskey producers struggle with these days is continuously releasing older and older whiskey. The first thought that comes into your head might be “why wouldn’t they?” but it’s not as simple as allowing barrels to continue to age for longer while business just hums along. Production limitations are a thing and I don’t think many people know just how hard it is to make a lot of bourbon in a short period of time. For a lot of new distilleries, they release a 2 year, then a 3 year, then a 4 year and then… another 4 year. It’s like an airplane that climbs too high, too fast and just stalls.
What’s the reason? Unfortunately, it’s money. These distilleries have invested a ton of money into their product and the sad truth is that they only have so much time before their investors want to see a return. Therefore they are forced to sell all (or almost all) of the barrels they have made as soon as they’re deemed drinkable. They need the cashflow and excess aging won’t bring the profits in fast enough.
I’m not saying any of that is the case with Mile High Spirits, a distillery centered close to the heart of downtown Denver, Colorado. I’m sure they’ve found how hard it is to keep some barrels set aside for further aging. But somehow they are making it work. Case and point: this bottle I have today. It finally hit the 6 year old mark in the late fall of 2023. The contents are a rye whiskey that uses three different kinds of rye grain (and a smoked, malted barley). One of the rye grain types has been malted, which is becoming increasingly popular with even mainstream brands these days (just look at the 2023 Shenk’s/Bomberger’s, New Riff and Basil Hayden Malted Rye). The other two rye grain components aren’t malted.
Mile High has a fairly straightforward pot still operation for making their whiskey. When it is complete, they put it into 53 gallon, Char #3 barrels sourced from Kelvin Cooperage for aging in their warehouse that’s also located in Denver. Then they let the wild weather swings of Colorado do their thing.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed Mile High’s Rye Whiskey and enjoy how it has developed as it continues to mature. I’m hoping for an increase in tannins along with some more mellow characteristics. Let’s dive in to see if all of that is happening. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Sometimes craft distilleries have a hard time with astringency impacting their whiskey. Luckily, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Soft oak and tannins come into their own, but never get astringent. The main stars of the show are the plethora of herbal notes. Fresh cut grass, forest floor, wildflower bouquets and mint. There is some bubblegum too. Baker’s chocolate scents are also present.
Palate: Sometimes craft distilleries have a hard time with astringency impacting their whiskey. Luckily, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. There is a hint of alkalinity that seems to follow the chocolate around. Otherwise, I like the fact that Mile High’s rye whiskey is turning a little bit more spicy. I am finding much more red pepper flakes, clove, black peppercorns and cinnamon, stick than ever before. Mint mingles with rye bread and the whole mouthfeel is incredibly oily for the proof.
Finish: There is a soft dryness at the end that is pleasant. It’s like eating the hot chocolate powder straight from the packet. Floral and herbal notes remain, giving each sip a pleasant “Springtime Fresh” sensation in my mouth long after the sip is done. Clove and cinnamon also hang around for a while too. The sweetness isn’t the centerpoint of the finish, but that doesn’t mean it suffers because of it.
I noted all the way back when I was tasting the 3 and 4 year old versions of this rye whiskey that Mile High Spirits had figured out how to create a rye whiskey that didn’t carry the astringent notes that are so common in craft rye whiskey. This note – above all else – is what drives a lot of new enthusiasts away from enjoying rye whiskey. I know that the malted rye component is responsible for why this is and I wonder if other distillers have taken note recently with the influx of malted rye products on the market.
I’m going to make a comparison to Pikesville Rye Whiskey only because it hit me that Mile High Spirits has created a rye whiskey that is the same age while being only a few points lower in proof. The Pikesville is more of a bourbon-y rye that doesn’t want you to be too overwhelmed by rye flavors. That’s fine and all, but the Mile High version is far more interesting to drink. I don’t find any chocolate or rye bread notes with the Pikesville and the herbal notes are also few and far between. Fireside Rye has all of that and is remarkably easy to drink with virtually no proof sting. It’s different in a good way.
The last time I reviewed a bottle of Fireside Rye Whiskey, it was a 5 year old version that was in a bottle with a screw cap. Mile High’s products have changed a lot since then – adopting a new (and beautiful) bottle shape complete with a real cork. This bottle sits proudly on my shelf not just because I like the taste, but because it’s so eye-catching. And while I know many of you are asking yourself “who cares what it looks like?” I think that it’s a very important part for craft whiskey producers to get right. If their bottles don’t look good – even if the whiskey inside of them is – people who are unfamiliar with the product will not pick it up to drink. The vibrant colors and intricate details make it a bottle you’ll gladly put front and center on your shelf. The fact that the rye whiskey inside is also great is just the icing on the cake.
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