The resurgence of rye whiskey in the United States has been a slow climb for the drink, but in recent years it has experienced an explosion. The Thomas H. Handy Straight Rye Whiskey, in my opinion, has reached the pinnacle of excellence in the rye whiskey category and while other rye whiskeys come close, none have reached the greatness of this particular creation. This has also been the toughest and most challenging whiskey I have sampled to date. I have been sampling and appreciating whiskey for a number of years and can honestly say this entry may be a bit beyond me. That being said, I did the best I could describing my experience and hope you enjoy what I have to say.
Whiskey- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
Complexity- Complex To date, this truly is the most complex whiskey I have sampled.
Type- Straight Rye Whiskey, no age statement givien, 64.3% ABV, Uncut/Unfiltered, bottle code K228118:11
Appearance- This expression spans three color levels which is a first in my experience. At first glance I obviously pick up strong Old Sauternes but the more time taken inspecting it the light catches what I would describe as “thick strings of color.” Old Gold and Copper interplay and can easily be overlooked if time is not taken to appreciate the varying levels of color saturation. The tears, as one might imagine at this ABV, are slow and thick with the oiliness of this whiskey being blatantly obvious! Almost imperceptible bits of matter are present in the whiskey, but I am leaning more towards the oil deposits interplay with other elements being the contaminant rather than any true impurities, but being unfiltered I may be wrong. Typically the visual appreciation of a whisk(e)y is a quick subject for me, but this expression has shown there is another level to this category and makes me question if I have not been giving it the proper attention I should in earlier samples.
Aroma- SO MUCH IS GOING ON HERE! Heavy dark spices! Cinnamon, cloves and pepper envelop the senses and instantly take me to baking a pumpkin pie (yes, a touch of pepper in the pie adds some wonderful flavor). The dark theme continues with chocolate around the 75% range. The bitter mixes with some sweet syrupy molasses, and then fruit enters. Bitter re-surges with tart orange peel but again softens to sweet and tasty prunes. More dried fruits play with the palate, but other than raisins and figs I have trouble picking them out. It is not all about the spices and fruit however. The grain is delicious and tempting. A truthful and hearty rye bread is exquisite and if you have ever baked bread in your place of residence, imagine those fresh aromas coming from a whiskey! The fresh-baked bread however quickly transforms to buttered raisin toast and the aroma is just as crisp as biting into that first bit of toast. Exciting, complex, and alive, this creation has topped my list and has not been matched by another whisk(e)y yet in my exploration. I have found so much and yet I feel like there is more waiting to be discovered.
Taste- 64.3% ABV! Yeah it is that high, but not to worry, it compliments the whiskey so well and once you adjust, not only does it even out you are expecting it and want more! Alcohol plays little in the actual taste and is easily lost in the multitude of flavor. Sweet, but not in the processed sugar way. A natural sweetness abounds and is tempered by the welcome spiciness of the rye. Brown sugar mixed with light but present pepper. Molasses touched lovingly with cloves. Cinnamon is there, but once the whiskey is in the mouth the cloves are more present than cinnamon, something I am happy about! The grain is again a warm hug on a winter day. Buttered rye toast melts on your mouth. Other spices play with dried fruits, but in all honesty, I am a little lost and am having trouble picking out exactly what I am tasting. Powerful, bold, and in need of respect. Nothing I have sampled yet has come close to the oily mouth feel. It is coating and enveloping in the nicest way, and so very much appreciated!
With Water- Sorry, not adding water to this one.
Finish- The finish is a whole new monster. Without a doubt it is warming! Bitter sweet chocolate is present as is the heavy rye bread and spice, but new taste sensations develop and take center stage. Missing in the nose and palate, vanilla has poked its head out and said “Hello! I’ve been here the whole time! Where were you!” Holding hands with the vanilla is licorice. To continue with the new, coconut and some tasty almond extract evolve in the depths. The raisin toast in the nose and butter toast in the mouth are now replaced with honeyed toast! I am amazed at how the toast flavors have actually changed with each stage of appreciating this whiskey! So much more is going on, and the finish last for quite a while but is a complex whirlwind of flavor and I again am out of my league!
Verdict- Something Special
WOW! Really, WOW! This is an experience I am trying to master but it continues to best me. As I said, this whiskey is out of my league and I have tried my best to describe it, but it is one every fan of whiskey should experience. Buy a bottle when you can! But be warned! This is a wild animal and must be approached with respect. It will reward you but if taken to quickly it will burn you. Quite simply it is a world class whiskey. I also have samples from the 2008 and 2012 bottling and hope very much the other vintages equal or surpass this one, but I need to grow as a whiskey drinker to fully appreciate what I have and any others I buy in the future. I however can not see this whiskey falling from grace too much and give it my highest possible recommendation!