2015 Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye -The Mystery Tasting

I love a good mystery. This goes back to the second grade when we started reading the Boxcar Children (where the real mystery was how those kids managed to survive eating nothing but bread, milk and clams). Add to that the board game Clue. Guessing who shot JR. A litany of well written novels. Even the Lost program on the ABC television network. I love not knowing what will happen next, trying to figure it out myself, keeping mental notes on who did this, who did that, who seemed suspicious, whats the deal with the dog and the smoke monster, on and on.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love sipping and writing about bourbon so much. Every pour is a bit of a mystery, or at least that’s how I approach it. I go into each glass like a detective/WWII code-breaker, ready to decipher the flavors, see what new secrets have been revealed with air and age. I try to imagine the barrel the liquid aged in, and what the Master Distiller must have been thinking when he tasted the contents and said “Thisn’s ready”.

So when I got a cryptic message, basically saying “I’m sending you a sample, but I’m not telling you what it is. I want you to do a blind tasting and tell me what you think.” lets just say I was a little more than intrigued, and gladly accepted the assignment. Of course, I trusted that this sample wouldn’t be a joke or trickery, the kind that just meets the most basic requirements of what can legally be called bourbon….

Again, all of these notes were made prior to me knowing I was drinking 2015 VWFRR.

The package arrived, and inside was a little bottle with the letters “BIN” scrawled on painters tape and affixed to the side. That made me chuckle.

Pouring out the juice, I was immediately greeted by an aroma in the nose comprised of symphony syrupy char, like molasses, mixed with a hint of vanilla (yum.) There was also a fresh fruity component, citrusy. It was bourbon-ish and I would have not thought it was anything else, but……In the back of the room sat a familiar fellow I know too well, that I can only describe as “Brut”. If you have read my past works, there is one in particular where I basically break down my feelings on the old school Brut aftershave, and compare it to the scent I detect in ryes that render them all but undrinkable to my palate. In this pour it’s faint, and I try to make myself believe otherwise, but it’s undeniable. I say outloud to myself, “This is a rye.” However, the Brut it wasn’t as overpowering as some that I’d had. So it must be high aged. Many of the younger ryes are so heavy on the Brut that they send me into a near migraine of head spinning nausea.

No, this was softer. The Brut was definitely there, but farther in the background, like a necessary component, even if I don’t like it. I call this “Chef’s Intention”. Allow me to explain: I dislike certain things in my food, certain flavor profiles or textures. Pickles for instance, or large pieces of onion. I will always ask the kind girl at Chick-Fil-A remove the pickle from my sammich, because it’s disgusting. Infact, the “no-pickle” sticker was created by CFA corporate just for me. Or if I go to McDonalds, I start to ask them to do this or that to their burgers, but I end up asking them to remove me from the establishment. However if I go to a really nice restaurant, I leave it be, I don’t ask the chef to take it off the plate, because he intended for it to be there. It has a purpose in the dish, and without it, the composition fails, like the Mona Lisa with no smile, or worse, buck teeth. So that’s the frame of mind I was in when I detected the Brut in this pour. Leave it be.

The next thing I noted was how soft the nose texture was. This was certainly not a high proofer. To me it didn’t even seem to push 100 proof.

On the sip, there was a decidedly citrus flavor, like grapefruit peels. The obvious oak as well. And it had some nice spice, a component of cinnamon candy (rye.), and ever so slight Fleer bubblegum mixed in there. Basically it was sweet. The citrus was the most prevalent slice of the pie chart for me. I was unaccustomed to this component. There was also the mild Brut flavor again. Just let it go I kept telling myself. The mouthfeel was light and airy, summery in a way. There was a layer of cool mintyness dancing around in circular pirouettes.

Everything was just so well balanced. This was one delicious pour.

The finish was mild and spicy. Not a hot, high-proof alcohol burn, but rather just natural spice. A little sugary, even. That was nice, something I don’t often get with my love of atomic high proofers. It wasn’t super long lasting, but it didn’t need to be. It was just right.

The post nose really stood out on this one. So heavy with the carmelized oak that I crave, billowing up and out of the glencairn like a pillow of syrupy wind. Delicious.

And looking back now at my notes, at no point did I write any disgusting comments about the Brut aftershave. It was in there, an important layer. I still don’t know what puts me off about the Brut, or even what ingredient actually creates it, but as long as it’s built into a recipe as tastefully as it was in BIN, I’m cool with it. Its just perfect.

Here were my final thoughts before learning this was 2015 VWFRR: So there you have it. It’s rye. I don’t like rye. But I do like this. What is it? No idea. But I want it. Let’s hope my gracious benefactor sees fit to send me another sample (or the remainder of the bottle!).

In closing, I guess I do like rye, at least the ones that keep the Brut in check and are aged to perfection. The 2015 VWFRR is special…..



2 thoughts on “2015 Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye -The Mystery Tasting

  1. I am not a big fan of Rye’s either. To me, many of them have a sickening sweet taste. Never have described it as Brut. I may have to think about that next time. But I do like the Woodford Reserve Rye, Sazerac Rye and the Pikesville Rye.

    Liked by 1 person

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