Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Bendistillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
In the old John Wayne western “Stagecoach,” a hard-drinking frontier doc played by Thomas Mitchell (for which he won an Oscar as best supporting actor) grabs a bottle from a whiskey peddler, takes a healthy pull and declares himself satisfied by yelling out “Rye!” I’m an old movie buff, and that scene helped cement rye in my mind as the whiskey of the Wild West – where cornfields, presumably, were rare but rye grass plentiful as a source of grain to distill.
Bendistillery in Bend, Ore., shares a high-desert setting with many of the old westerns I enjoyed. And as with other arid locales, the Bend area has very little corn but a fair amount of rye grass available for distilling. It’s no surprise, then, Bendistillery’s whiskies bottled under the Crater Lake Spirits label focus entirely on rye.
I live in Oregon and come across Crater Lake Straight Rye regularly in bars or friends’ personal stashes, and will admit to being lukewarm on it for the most part. It’s a serviceable rye and affordable at less than $30 a bottle, but I never thought it had the stuff to hold up next to the whiskies I enjoy most in the category.
The Crater Lake Estate Rye, however, is something I’d never before tried. Whereas the Straight Rye is aged 24-30 months, the Estate Rye receives a minimum of five years in oak barrels. (And in a hotter climate than in Kentucky or Tennessee, which has the potential to amplify the aging effect further.)
So I don’t know about taking long pulls straights from the bottle or yelling out my satisfaction, but I was very much looking forward to opening this one.
Tasting Notes: Crater Lake Estate Rye
Vital stats: Mash bill of 100% estate-grown rye, aged at least five years; 93 proof/46.5% alcohol; limited annual release; $54.95 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Considerably darker than the Crater Lake Straight Rye, as befits the additional aging. Dark amber color, with legs that hold up decently on the side of the glass.
Nose: The rye spice is secondary here to the wood notes. I get honey, brown sugar, apricots, and brazil nuts – but not a lot of spice.
Palate: The ryegrass is much more evident in the mouth than in the nose, but it’s still subtle all things considered. Interestingly, I taste candy corn, along with cinnamon, pecan pie, and what comes across as a mesquite-wood flavor.
For this review, I went back and sampled the Crater Lake Straight Rye again, as well. I quickly realized I haven’t changed my mind about that one. But the Crater Lake Estate Rye is a whiskey of a different order: It does have the stuff to stand up next to the ryes I really enjoy. At $54.95 a bottle, considerably less than some of the ryes I keep around, this is one I’ll be adding to the regular rotation on my home bar in the future.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. Scott works in higher education these days, but he previously spent 22 years as a journalist, covering 9/11 in Manhattan, crossing into Iraq with U.S. Marines and contributing to The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual...