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Colorado’s Old Elk Distilling has, among its bottlings, a Cask Finish Series. This reviewer had the pleasure of tasting a rye whiskey finished in 14-year-old Barbados Rum Casks. The whiskey isn’t aged for 14-years, the rum barrel previously held 14-year-old rum. It’s possible no one else misunderstood this, but I felt compelled to make that point clear.
“I’m excited about the newest addition to the Cask Finish Series with our Straight Rye Whiskey Rum Cask Finish, which puts a new twist on our award-winning rye,” said Greg Metze, Old Elk’s master distiller. “We selected freshly harvested barrels from some of the most exclusive Caribbean producers and are looking forward to adding a new and exciting character to our Old Elk family of whiskies.” The base spirit of each product is aged five to six years, then rested in secondary finishes for six months before being bottled at barrel proof.
“We had great casks in our inaugural year, so we’re bringing back two of the four with Port and Cognac,” said Old Elk CEO Luis Gonzalez. “And for our new Rum Cask Finish Rye, some might have heard select single barrels of this finish were sold. Now, there is a chance for more retailers to enjoy this stellar combination.”
The mash bill contains 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The mash bill is identical to the rye mash bill MGP makes and other distilleries like Redemption and Bulleit have used. This would make sense – Metze of Old Elk did work for MGP for decades before branching out on his own.
Rye whiskey is commonly referred to as spicy with earth tonalities. It is easily differentiated from bourbon by these characteristics. I am not saying all rye whiskeys are this way, but it is a common way to differentiate the rye style. Rum is a different spirit all together. Rum varies wildly by the producing country. Barbados (a small island nation north of the border between Guyana and Venezuela) is a sugar cane based rum. Barbados rums are a blend between the pot-still and column still styles, to create a complex and sweet rum.
This sweetness may help calm the rye spice while allowing the robust flavors to come through. Old Elk has not disclosed who the rum distiller is, but an educated guess would say Mount Gay or more Foursquare. However, there is no definitive answer, at least none that I could find.
In the end, it will be curious to see how this comes together. Old Elk produces a large quantity of finished whiskeys; examining their portfolio you quickly see a willingness to take risks with finishing casks. If they are sourcing most of their whiskey, this is a great way to change the narrative and bring something different to the table. I’m curious to see if rye and rum are a good partnership. With that, we turn to the glass.
Tasting Notes: Old Elk Straight Rye Rum Cask Finish
Vital Stats: 95% rye and 5% malted barley, 101 proof or 50.5% abv. Suggested retail price of $99.99.
Appearance: Old gold, almost an amber color.
Nose: Alcohol jumps out immediately, it took me a moment to readjust. After the initial alcohol burst we find sugar cane sweetness, molasses sugar, and mangos. There is a subtle nuttiness, but overall this is very dark rum forward with a pleasant whiskey afterthought.
Taste: This was very dry. I had to ride the first sip out to allow my mouth to adjust. A lot of rum notes off the bat like molasses sugar, coconut, and jerking spices. However, as the jerk spices started to mellow, I found the rye spice, vanilla, caramel, oak, and charcoal notes typical to whiskey.
The finish held to the tongue and palate while maintaining the dry overall feel. I wouldn’t describe the mouthfeel as rounded, but it wasn’t particularly sharp either. The rum notes came back to overpower the whiskey in the finish and I found molasses notes mixed with charcoal and smoke.
Whiskey Review: Old Elk Straight Rye Rum Cask Finish
The rum did exactly what I had hoped – it took a young rye whiskey and mellowed out some of the harsher notes. It is interesting to drink. The rye notes build quickly but right before they crescendo the rum mutes the profile. The rum sweetness and tropical profiles help round the notes without destroying them.
I couldn’t determine if the rye whiskey was too young to compete with the rum, or if the rum was too old to allow the rye to express itself. If you happen to be a fan of rum finished whiskey, I do believe you will like this. Even if you’re interested in finishing casks, you might enjoy this.
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Charles Steele is a Portland area attorney, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His legal education affords him an analytical approach to understanding whiskey and other aged spirits. Traditionally a legal writer, freelancing for The Whiskey Wash will prove a unique opportunity to flex his writing skills. Although he...