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Category: Rye Whiskey

A Midwinter Night’s Dram Rye Whiskey Review

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a store and seen A Midwinter Nights Dram sitting on the shelf, the alluring packaging commanding my almost undivided attention while the $80 price tag stares me in the face saying, “I dare you.”

I’m not typically a gambling man. Sure, I’ve pulled the trigger on bottles I probably shouldn’t have, but in all honestly I’ve always preferred what I call the sure bet. That is, opting to purchase a cheeseburger and a beer instead of succumbing to the temptation of going overboard making across-the-board and trifecta-box bets because I have cash burning a hole in my pocket. Anyone who has been to the track with me knows this is an ongoing dilemma that I both embrace and embellish. I’m getting off-topic, but see you in April, Keeneland.

To me, this bottle was a gamble I wasn’t willing to make. I had attempted to split bottles of this with others (to save my money for fancy Scotch) but never actually got around to actually doing it. Thankfully, Sam (@bourbonchaser) was kind enough to send me a very stout sample of this whiskey to try it out.

Thank you Sam, you saved me from having to make a potential confession on a random Sunday morning years into the future. You’re a true gentleman.

The Whiskey

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram Bottle

High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys finished in Port and French oak barrels and bottled at 98.6 proof.

The two mash bills used are 95% Rye / 5% malted barley for the 6 year rye from MGP in Indiana, and 80% rye / 10% corn / 10% malted barley for the 16 year rye from Barton Distillery in Kentucky. I don’t know the exact ratio of the blend, but more details can be found on High West’s website here.

This sample is from Act 2.8, Scene 1405.

Tasting Notes

An extremely thick, rich vanilla nose harkens back to many older whiskeys. Not older in the sense of an age statement, but older as in produced decades ago. Very few contemporary whiskeys I’ve tried have the thick and creamy nose this has in full force. It’s beautiful.

Plums, berries, and more vanilla float out of the glass backed by a slight alcohol sharpness to produce a big and pleasant bouquet. The character of the MPG rye is an unmistakable presence, but instead of running wild as it does in many younger bottlings (think Willett 4yr FE Rye) it’s relaxed and complimentary.

The Port finish also plays prominent and complimentary role in this drama, imparting and amplifying a pleasant mixture of candied dark aromas. For me to say this is typical of the genre would be misleading as I am admittedly not well-versed in Port wines or finishes, but its cameo appearance is noticeable and a welcomed addition to an already fantastic narrative.

The palate entry begins warm and cozy, and settles evenly, incorporating an almost endless list of holiday spices and flavors you can spend abundant time pinpointing. Clove, cinnamon, and citrus (mostly dark orange) are prominent, but beyond that there are traces of cardamom, pepper, mint, and more.

I must note that as the whiskey has had ample time to mingle with air in an open glass, a faint sourness can be detected along with toasted, dry oak, but it’s not anything that would lead me to reach for a rotten tomato. It’s quite the opposite, actually. The oak throughout the palate doesn’t overpower the entire act; instead it lends to a complex and enjoyable, much wetter palate than your typical American rye.

A strong flavor of cola emerges toward the back of the palate and melts into the finish. Mint attempts to take its time moving off-stage, but overall it’s an abrupt conclusion that leaves a little more to be desired.


I can’t help but dream of what this whiskey would be if it had a finish that exudes as much intricacy as the bouquet and palate introduce. I won’t say that it would be a truly great whiskey, but I will gladly go on record to say it would be a fantastic pour to keep around whenever you want something as different as it is approachable.

As much as I’ve downed and ultimately equivocated notes on the finish, my lingering and general sentiments are less negative and more a result of wishful thinking. That’s a good thing. The imperative and honest comment is that every time my glass became almost empty I poured a little more in to keep the experience going. Continually wanting more is a certified mark of interest in my book.

I’m a little upset I didn’t gamble on this–I’d love to have a full bottle–but at $80 I can’t say its absence on my shelf is a tragedy. If you’re on the fence go for it, you won’t be disappointed. You might not be amazed, but you will certainly enjoy.


Grade: B




Willett Exploratory Cask Finish Rye Whiskey Review

After spending a cool April day at Keeneland enjoying the horse races, I woke early the next morning to embark on the hour-long drive from Lexington to Bardstown. It sounds like an epic journey, and it always is.

As I pulled off the Bluegrass parkway, I drove past the towering rick-houses and large-scale bottling operation at Heaven Hill and continued down Loretto Road to Willett Distillery, which is just up over the hill.

A photo posted by Brock™ (@dbrockmanw) on

If you’ve never been to Willett, it’s a strikingly small and charming place in comparison to what’s just down the road. It feels very much like the family operation it is, and that’s because they treat you like you’re one of the family.

  A photo posted by Brock™ (@dbrockmanw) on

When I arrived at the Whiskey Shop I was ahead of my group. While I waited for them to arrive, Drew greeted my small group and invited us upstairs to try something special.

He sat the glass on the table and pulled out a hand-labeled bottle that was almost empty from underneath the bar and explained that it was something new they’ve been working on. The XCF was our first taste of the day at Willett and it was great way to kick things off.

I don’t have any notes from that day because reveling in the experience, during and after, was much more important to me than scribbling something onto a piece of paper, but I do recall that I expected the orange profile to be much more prominent than it actually was at first. While it did contribute to an alluring nose and profile, it wasn’t until comparing with the unfinished rye side-by-side that the complexity arrived in full force.

We didn’t spend too much time with the XCF then, as there were other things on the agenda (read more about that with some beautiful photos of the distillery here), but today I’m extremely happy to be reunited.

Willett XCF Exploratory Cask Finish

Willett-Exploratory Cask Whiskey Hand

The Whiskey

An Indiana-distilled small batch rye whiskey aged in Kentucky for 7 years in American white oak with a #4 char, finished in Grand Marnier casks and bottled at 103.4 Proof (51.7% ABV). A total of 6,912 bottles were produced.

From the label: For this first release of our Exploratory Cask Finish Project, we have taken select barrels of seven-year-old American Rye Whiskey and finished in Curaçao casks sourced from France. Our family hopes you enjoy this rare release whiskey.

About the Finish

Grand-Marnier, originally known as Curaçao Marnier, is a blend of cognac and tropical fruit that derives it’s original name from the Laraha citrus native to Curaçao. A descendent of the Valencia orange transplanted to the island from Spain in the 1500’s, it’s said that goats would rather starve than eat the fruit due to its bitterness. While these are not a delicious, sweet snack, their aromatic peels create a wonderful bitter essence of orange when dried, which is what’s important in this particular case.

Before being blended with cognac to later become Grand Marnier, the bitter orange peel is macerated, distilled, then aged in bourbon barrels for two years. From Sku, “The Willett rye is aged in the bourbon casks that were used to age the orange distillate before sweetening, so it’s not as if the casks has Grand Marnier in them.” Hence the “Finished in Curaçao Casks” on the label, which seems more accurate, but also is could be due to trademark issues preventing the use of the Grand-Marnier name. Don’t take my word for the details on the label it as it’s just speculation.

Wilett XCF Rye Whiskey

Tasting Notes

The nose is very clean and crisp, and lends to the expectation of a light body. It’s sharp, almost like an orange cleaning solvent, if that could be considered a good thing. You can pull characteristics of rye or Curaçao out separately depending on what you’re going for, but the finishing is obvious. The whiskey takes the Curaçao barrel very well.

Big sweet flavors come through the front, especially fruit stripe bubble gum. The nose is complex, and the rye notes are relaxed and deep once the whiskey begins to settle, but it’s still sweet overall.

There’s a beautiful fig brûlée note resting underneath the debut, as well as dried and candied fruit zests in the style of a very tasteful clove and cinnamon potpourri.

My girlfriend, who is more experienced with wine, notes honeysuckle and a blooming cotton field, with a hint of fresh tobacco. The honeysuckle is spot-on, and since I’ve never experienced a blooming cotton field, I’ll take her word for it. 

The front of the palate is very light and sweet, but abruptly turns warm. Not hot, just enough rye heat to loosen the tie. Burnt orange comes through on the palate, and the heat continues to rise, oddly enough only on the middle and back of the palate into the throat.

Swishing this around brings out more fruits, but it dances rather than rests, similar to an intriguingly awkward marriage where the couple’s first dance isn’t technically spectacular, but it entertains just the same.

The darker notes of bitter orange rest on the palate as more rye character creeps forward to dry things out a bit. We’ve gone from fresh fruit to dry essence in exactly the fashion the process intended, or so I’ll claim. There’s a slight bitterness that is slightly off-putting to me, but an explanation of why that isn’t such a big deal are up next in the comments.


Anyone between the ages of 0 and 50 who has lived in or visited Charleston, South Carolina is probably familiar with the nose, warm palate, and bitter finish of Grand-Marnier. This is because it’s been the go-to shot in almost every bar and restaurant for as long as I’ve been around here, which for the record has been about 8 years off-and-on.

I try to avoid shots at all costs, but this town loves them to the point that if you venture out of the house you’ll likely be offered at least one no matter where you go. What I consider to be a dirty trick played on unsuspecting friends, shots of “Grandma” are almost unavoidable. To me, there’s nothing more disgusting than diverting course from a cocktail to down a warm liqueur, but it’s rude not to oblige when offered, right?

Because of this, the thought of Grand Marnier alone leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, but in terms of the XCF it’s a nice touch, and likely won’t conjure any bad memories for anyone outside of Charleston.

With a price tag of about $150, I can’t say that this is necessarily a great value, but it is a quality product that isn’t exactly inexpensive to produce.

Overall, this is a bittersweet whiskey that is more fiting as a dessert whiskey or digestif. For my tastes one small glass is about all I want to enjoy in a single sitting, but it is very much a pleasant experience. For that reason, it’s possible to stomach the high price knowing that the bottle will last a little longer on your shelf. Or Will-it?

Grade: B+

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old Rye Whiskey Review

It’s the middle of October, which means it’s 80 degrees and sunny here in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s appropriate weather for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and since I’m the only one I know not cooped up on a couch or hanging out in a sports bar drooling over a football game, I figured I’d pour a sample of Jefferson’s 21 year Rye, head to the park, and revisit a whiskey I’ve been on the fence about for almost a year.

Jefferson's Presidential Select 21 Year Rye Whiskey

The last, first, and only time I’ve had a pour of this whiskey was last winter with friends and family back in Kentucky. It was an exceptionally brutal winter where tending to horses outside in the cold led to an agenda of opening some strong winter warmers. Of course, rye was the top priority on that list.

This Jefferson’s whiskey didn’t leave a lasting impression then, but it was also unfairly mixed up with some more–dare I say–sophisticated company that stole the spotlight (more on those in posts to follow). I imagined an isolated tasting in a more serene setting might prove beneficial to its cause. Let’s get to the notes and find out.

The Whiskey

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey. This sample is poured from Batch 2 at 90.4 proof.


Light notes of smooth caramel jump right out of the glass in a big way as a tiny burn hits the back of the sinuses. Syrupy and sweet. Others have noted maple, but I’m not getting much of that here. As it opens up, darker notes emerge and the nose relaxes into subtle clove and anise. A very pleasant first act after a sweet introduction.

This whiskey drinks a little hotter than you’d expect at 90.4 proof, but it’s not aggressive. The sweetness of the nose doesn’t follow to the palate, and the caramel is almost lost, but that isn’t necessarily not to be expected. The mouthfeel is a little thin and dry. Toasted oak notes hang out with hints of black cherry. Not bad.

Faint traces of anise hit the back of the throat just before a bitter finish introduces itself. There’s a lingering funkiness that calls for a sip of water. In the same fashion as mentioned before, the funky finish isn’t aggressive, but it’s definitely there.


Overall I’d say this would be a solid grab at a price point in the range of $40-$60, but at well north of $100, not so much. The nose is as fantastic as it is misleading. Definitely a good pour, but nothing special in my opinion. The finish just doesn’t do it’s job and that’s where I’m left making the final call.

Grade: B

I suppose my initial sentiments stand, but I still had an enjoyable sip in the park with beautiful weather. Perhaps that’s worth a B+?