Whiskey Review: Hewn Spirits Red Barn Rye

Whiskey-making (at its best) is act of love, of effort, and of craft. Certainly you can make a whiskey without any of those elements… but whatever you end up with is not going to be a good drink. Even in the age of mass production, a good whiskey requires something more than just following directions. A good distiller is intimate with the subtle elements. Can read the details, notice how drastically a product can change when you manipulate the smallest things. A good whiskey-maker is an artisan, and a good whiskey can be every bit as interact as, say, a beautifully crafted building or a lovingly restored boat. Or, in the case of Sean Tracy, founder of Pennsylvania’s Hewn Spirits distillery, both.

Sean Tracy has lived an interesting life. He spent 8 years on what he describes as a “spiritual odyssey” rebuilding an 80-year old Alaskan fishing boat. He spent 25 years traveling around the country, hunting down and then restoring wooden barns – and he currently hosts a reality TV show where he continues that restoration work on a national-scale.

Now, as most whiskey-lovers know, finding the right kind of wood for your barrels can make or break your whiskey. And that’s where Sean Tracy’s barn-building expertise becomes relevant. By traveling the country rebuilding old barns, Tracy has had the opportunity to source rare woods (such as American chestnut or hickory) that most distillers aren’t able to get their hands on.

Hewn Spirits currently sells several offerings: a rum, a bourbon, a single malt, a moonshine, and the topic of today’s review, a rye. All of these spirits are sold, save for the moonshine, in 375 ml bottles, reflecting the small-batch nature of Hewn Spirits’ drinks.

This week we take a look at the Zagat-reviewed Red Barn Rye, which Hewn Spirits added to their roster in 2014.

Hewn Spirits Red Barn Rye

image via Zack Braunstein/The Whiskey Wash

Tasting Notes: Hewn Spirits Red Barn Rye

Vital Stats: Hewn Spirit’s Red Barn Rye is sold in a 375 ml bottle, and comes in at 80 proof.

Appearance: In a glass the rye is a pale ale-yellow, with thin slow legs.

Nose: The Red Barn Rye has a really fascinating and layered nose… there’s hints of cracked black pepper, shoe polish, and ripe olives.

Palate: Mmm. This is a smooth one. A really lovely, subtle palate – rather surprising for a rye. It’s got a nice, silken texture in the mouth. A buttery taste, without any of the rancid after notes. A bit of green melon, and red grapes. In the finish you get a small taste of that spice one normally expects from a rye, but much more subtle than I’m used to.

The Takeaway

Hewn Spirit’s Red Barn Rye is a testament to the virtues of craft and intention. I find that a good rye needs to walk a fine line between sweet and spicy, and here Hewn Spirits has succeeded with aplomb. Be warned: this isn’t your traditional rye. But in this case, that’s a good thing. The flavor is smooth without becoming boring, and the finish leaves the tongue hungry for another sip. That subtle butteriness really is something special. Share with a friend who’s hesitant on rye, and watch as their reservations disappear.

The bottle might be small, but, as far as this reviewer is concerned, it is most definitely worth it.

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Zack Braunstein