Whiskey Review: Calhoun's Rye Whiskey - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Calhoun’s Rye Whiskey

Charleston Distilling Co. takes its approach to farm-to-table spirit production rather seriously. Calhoun’s Rye Whiskey, for example, begins with South Carolina-raised Wrens Abruzzi rye which is milled at their on-site millhouse in Summerton, SC. The grist is then transported down the road to their distillery in Charleston, where the brewing, distilling, and oak-aging all happens.

Stephen J. Heilman, founder of Charleston Distillery, was yet another cubicle prisoner who dreamt of a more relaxed and hands-on independent career. A past family history which included an ancestral distiller and a fact-finding mission to South Carolina ultimately culminated in the 2014 opening of Heilman’s distillery in Charleston.

With a true passion project succeeding with four years in, can his inaugural and longest-running product hold up to a marketplace flooded with American craft whiskey? Only a true taste will tell.

Calhoun's Rye

Calhoun’s Rye (image via Jim Bonomo/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Charleston Distilling Co. Calhoun’s Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: 88 proof. Made from 100% locally sourced Wrens Abruzzi Rye. Fermented with American whiskey yeast strain. $48/750ml.

Appearance: This whiskey pours beautifully, achieving a solidly rich hue reminiscent of sunsets and shiny copper. The darker center brings to mind grilled peaches, while the slightly lighter outskirts show a soft hay-like tone. Legs on this pour are intimidatingly layered and viscous, and the droplets and cascading waves cling to the glass’ interior.

Nose: First sniffs are delicate and fruity, with a lack of any stinging punch. Candy corn aroma wafts up first, followed by notes of wood, cardboard, and apricot pits. Deeper inhales bring to life an undercurrent of bruleed banana with some vanilla bean and orange zest hanging on by a thread. Overall, the smell of this whiskey is mild with desserty notes and a bit of balancing dry dustiness.

Palate: The first sip is so solidly cohesive that its swallowed without thought, like an old friend that requires very little vetting. Upon closer inspection, more can be drawn out of this sultry dram. The three major elements here are heat, spice, and smoothing sweetness, all which seem to fall together very appropriately. In slow-motion, each sip transpires thusly: first, a wash of thickness punctuated by a creamsicle-like sweet note which allays the initial palate burn.

Next, a grassy, peppery zip draws a bee-line across the tongue from front to back, leaving behind some tannin, prune-like bitterness, and a bit of szechuan peppercorn zing. A warming sensation remains trailing down from my mouth to my stomach. Warming, balanced, and pleasantly drinkable.

The Takeaway

With the exception of some yeasty hiccups in the aroma, this rye whiskey is unbelievably drinkable and surprisingly balanced at the hand of a (somewhat) novice whiskeymaker. It bears enough familiarity to hang with the big boys in this category, and boasts a reasonable price tag making this appropriate for both sipping and mixing. It may be a little short on bold rye character, but there are enough intense ryes out there to satisfy those who also pile on hot sauce and love extra sour candy.

4.5
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Jim Bonomo