When a craft distillery first starts out, the main goal is to get their products to the market as quickly as possible to begin recouping costs. This can go in one of two directions. Either they begin to source whiskey for a period of time or they release a bourbon that is too young and hasn’t fully developed. The unintended consequence of that is that it can turn away customers from returning to the brand in the future if they didn’t like the whiskey. But craft distilleries have an option that won’t see them sacrificing taste for age: distilling rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey is one of the more difficult grains to distill with. However, one of the main advantages is that it comes to age more quickly than bourbon does. Starlight Distillery, located in southern Indiana, wasted no time in deciding that a rye whiskey was something that they needed to distill early on. They used a somewhat unconventional mashbill consisting of 90% rye and 10% malted barley and laid it to rest for 4 years.
Today I have a bottle that came from a single barrel and was bottled at 114.2 proof. This is my first time with any rye whiskey coming from Starlight, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would this lean more towards a sharp and herbal Canadian Rye Whisky? Or maybe something like MGP’s classic 95/5 recipe? There’s only one way to find out. I sampled this neat and in a glencairn.
Nose: This certainly smells like a rye. I find a large handful of fresh herbs to include dill, mint, fennel and some light pine needle notes underneath. The floral notes are right there next to the herbs, giving your nose the sensation that you’re outdoors on a spring day. Rye spice scents puts your tongue on notice that spiciness awaits, but the sweeter notes of brown sugar and fresh squeezed orange juice let you also know this won’t be a one-sided affair.
Palate: Caramel sauce greets my tongue on the first sip followed by some sweet oak and dry leather. It’s easy to think that this will have the profile of a bourbon at first, but that doesn’t last long as peppery bursts are accompanied by clove, cinnamon bubblegum and star anise. I even get some apricots and sweet mint as well. The flavors are quite pungent and I could easily mistake this for something 3-4 years older than what it is.
Finish: Upon finishing the sip, fresh mint and menthol begins to cool on my tongue. The oak turns into a sort of cedarwood plank flavor while the citrus comes out in waves (lemondrops and sour orange candies). Pumpernickel bread and light tobacco add extra depth while caramel adds some extra sweetness. The finish has all the right flavors in all the right amounts, but comes off as just a touch lighter than what I was expecting.
I will skip straight to the point: this is an extremely impressive rye whiskey. The layers of flavor and the lack of any harsh astringency (a common trait to find in young rye whiskies) impressed me. It flat-out tasted years older than its label reads. I am a big rye whiskey fan and this bottle impresses.
While the score I gave it comes up just short of receiving a rating of “excellent,” I think that Starlight can pat themselves on the back for usurping my previous young craft whiskey favorite: New Riff Single Barrel Rye. I am eagerly anticipating to see what this whiskey develops into in the years to come.
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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