Skip to Content

Raconteur Rye Whiskey Review

Raconteur Rye Whiskey Review

One of the hottest names in the whiskey scene right now is David Jennings, AKA Rarebird101. He’s a success story in the whiskey review and influencer scene that shows you can work your way to the top by learning and sharing your passion with others and being relatable to your audience.

After the release of his first book, his following has exploded. He’s recently branched out from being solely invested in Wild Turkey and has put his name on multiple barrel picks as well as some recent small batch blends like Bourbon Lore’s Ben Holladay Blend. It’s a well-known fact that when David’s name get puts on a bottle, it’s going to sell out quickly.

But influencers as large as him are finding out that single barrel picks are a very inefficient way of keeping his fans and patrons satisfied. Then there’s the dilemma that all of these influencers are picking through the same barrels from the same distilleries. So how can you make sure that your brand stands out from the rest without starting your own distillery?

Raconteur Rye is invented

An opportunity from Non-Distiller Producer (NDP) The Woodwork Collective was presented to David. What would it look like if he had full creative control over making his own product? They had accrued enough barrels from various distilleries that he could go in a few different directions. Interestingly enough, he decided to go in the direction of a rye whiskey rather than a bourbon.

By David’s own admission, he’s a fan of MGP’s 95/5 rye whiskey. Specifically, he likes the distinct flavor that comes from a rye that doesn’t use any corn in the mash bill. In fact, he would use his love of Smooth Ambler’s famous sourced rye whiskey (like the ones bottled around 2015-2016) as his primary inspiration for the taste profile.

The Woodwork Collective had plenty of 7 year barrels of MGP rye to choose from, but there was a problem with bottling it up and shipping it out. The market is already saturated with lots of other NDP’s bottling up the same kind of 7-year-old 95/5 already. And while the Rarebird101 name would probably give a product like that enough weight to sell all of the bottles, he knew he had to give it a signature touch that nobody else has done. The only two options would be blending it with other whiskies or finish it in secondary barrels.

While I do not have firsthand knowledge of his thought process, I’m assuming The Woodwork Collective didn’t have rye whiskey other than MGP’s to blend with. So the idea of finishing barrels was explored. Thankfully, the Collective had experience with barrel finishes. In fact, one particular barrel caught his eye: a recently dumped Mizunara Oak cask that previously held bourbon (from the infamous “Beam Totes”) for a year.

Mizunara Oak is currently having a moment in the whiskey scene. Producers everywhere are exploring the options of using this rare and exotic wood. If you want more info about it, check out my article here. David also explored the option of finishing a portion of the blend in a new toasted oak barrel.

By his own admission, Raconteur Rye is a proprietary blend of straight unfinished MGP rye whiskey, MGP rye whiskey finished in a toasted White Oak barrel (with staves seasoned for 2 years) and MGP rye whiskey finished in the previously-used Mizunara Oak cask. The ratio is undisclosed, but he claims that the toasted barrel component is the smallest of the three. Once the final blend came together, it yielded 520 bottles.

Why “Raconteur?”

The final product now needed a name. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fan of his choice. The definition of Raconteur is literally a person who tells interesting and funny stories or anecdotes. David’s years of writing has certainly gained him the reputation of a raconteur which makes it a perfect choice. He says that the old timey man in the top hat is loosely based on an image of Bill the Butcher.

The label was influenced from posters commonly found in the 1800’s as well as the movie “Gangs of New York.” Printing it was a challenge due to the raised surface and golden inlays. It required the use of a printer from the 1950’s. There were issues with the labels that resulted in the first batch being scrapped shortly before the initial release date. So it was pushed back another month while new ones could be made. But finally on May 10, Raconteur Rye was released for sale.

So what is it like? Thanks to my friend Mike at Mostly Peaceful Bourbon, I get to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Each sniff reveals a very fruit forward nose. But there’s also the unmistakable scent of sandalwood right behind. The fruits come by way of strawberry/rhubarb crumble and a vanilla milkshake with maraschino cherry on top. The nose is complex and brimming with summertime baked goods and desserts. Then there’s cinnamon spice, toasted oak and brown sugar – no doubt from the spicy rye underneath. I am also picking up on fresh herbal notes, faint pine needles and a very light scent of incense.

Palate: Each sip delivers unmistakable MGP rye flavors. It’s bold (you can’t hide that 120+ proof), but not too bold that it will chase away the casual drinker. It’s also very citrus-forward (orange creme candies) and herbal. The oak is very noticeable with every sip on my tongue – something that I don’t say often when it comes to 7 year old 95/5 rye.  The fruit continues with notes of Cherry Twizzlers and the spice of clove interwoven with it. Then it becomes somewhat dry on the back palate.  A little bit of leather and straw follow. The palate is many different things at once, but it’s mostly a riot to drink.

Finish: Out of all the flavors I can taste on the end, cherries and anise linger the longest. Strangely, Watermelon Jolly Ranchers come out of the woodwork. I would have described that on the palate, but the sharp sourness of rhubarb made more sense. And speaking of “wood”work, I am finding a decent amount of oak and potpourri hanging around. This tastes much older than it is. 

Score: 8.4/10

My hopes and expectations for this rye was to find all of the things I love about MGP’s 95/5 recipe with a moderate amount of sandalwood and coconut shell added in to keep it interesting. But after tasting it, I can confirm it was so much more than that. The fruit notes came off extremely juicy throughout and was one of the most surprising aspects. The only thing I can think of that was responsible for them was the original barrel selection of rye whiskey. Sure, the Mizunara and Toasted Oak helped where they could, but I suspect the rye whiskey was rather exceptional to start with.

Following closely on the heels of all that fruit were the wood notes. At times I found it to be mildly drying, but for the most part I was shocked to find so much influence in a 7+ year rye. If you normally find tannins in your 7 year MGP rye whiskey, then lucky you! But my experience has been it’s typically lacking. Not that I ever expect much oak and tannins in younger rye whiskey, but when I do, it’s something I immediately notice. The finishing barrels were the right call here.

Final Thoughts

Raconteur Rye was a great success. I initially balked at the price ($130) when I saw it. Too many whiskies are breaching the $100 price point that have no business being there. But much to my surprise, Raconteur Rye delivered on the hype. Honorable mention must be made to the base rye whiskey because I honestly believe that the full experience could have been much more mundane if lesser barrels were used.

The star of the show is probably how expertly the final blend was fine-tuned with the finishing barrels. I’m glad David didn’t go for a “Mizunara Bomb.” I like that wood, but it would have come off amateurish if that’s all I would have tasted. Instead, I’m proud to say this is a really great rye whiskey instead of a really great Mizunara-finished whiskey.

David has left the future open for more batches of Raconteur Rye if the demand is there. Judging by the sales success of Batch 1, he’s going to get the green light. He also mentioned working on a 16-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (likely the same Beam Totes that saw time in that lone Mizunara cask) with the same NDP. RIP his free time. But when you meet and exceed everyone’s expectations, that’s the price you pay. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Featured Products

  • Neat Traveler
  • View Larger
  • Description:The Aged & Ore Neat Traveler is a complete travel kit for spirits. We combined our widely praised Neat Glass with one of our 3oz Flight Bottles and housed them together in a custom EVA travel case. Perfect for a night away with your favorite pour. The tie
  • Bottle Flight
  • View Larger
  • Description:The Aged & Ore Bottle Flight is a premium set of 4 custom silicone wrapped glass bottles designed to transport and share samples of your favorite spirits. The flight bottles come in a custom EVA travel case that fits perfectly in any small bag. An Aged &
  • Travel Bundle
  • View Larger
  • Description:This Bundle combines two of our crowd favorite products, creating the ultimate travel bundle to bring along your favorite spirits and glassware. Bundle Includes: Neat Traveler (Gray) Bottle Flight (Gray) Note: This bundle is only available in gray and col

*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.