Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Beam Suntory. 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.
Old Overholt. Whether you’re familiar with it as your favorite mixing rye, part of your beloved bartenders’ language, or just another whiskey stocked below eye-level, you know the name. You’d probably recognize the bottle from across the room. If you thought of it, you probably thought it would never change.
Well, it has.
Old Overholt has had less of a reboot than a thorough massaging. The label’s a little different, the proof, a little higher. It got off at the non-chill filtration station. Abraham Overholt, the legendary creator of the brand, is said to have lived by three standards: work hard, stand fast and don’t waver. That makes me wonder, why change the whiskey now when it already had so much love?
Old Overholt has been a staple of bar life and cocktail menus for decades. It’s loved for its versatility, consistency, ability to pair with other ingredients, and its margin-friendly price point. When whiskey in general, and rye whiskey in specific, were at their lowest popularity (the 1960’s) Old Overholt was the only nationally distributed straight rye whiskey.
According to Beam Suntory, the aesthetic changes were made to bring the brand more in line with its Pre-Prohibition roots. Changes in the liquid were both for historical fidelity and to make the rye even more useful behind the bar. Incidentally, the ABV bump also puts Old Overholt back to where it was before the nascent international conglomerate scooped them up in 1987.
In truth, Old Overholt has been going through changes for its last 200 years, there just hasn’t been one to the core product in more than thirty. With the Bottled in Bond Act (1897), the proof went up to 100. Shortly thereafter, as the Temperance movement gained steam, their marketing pivoted to the whiskey’s medicinal effectiveness, with ads proclaiming it “the premiere whiskey for medicinal use in the home,” and “the choice of a large majority of hospitals.” That campaign was effective, too, as Old Overholt gained one of only two medicinal permits in Pennsylvania once Prohibition did hit. (Perhaps having a majority owner who was Secretary of the Treasury also might’ve helped. But still.) During the Second World War, Old Overholt released an 86 proof version for bars, and the 100 proof remained part of the line for home use.
Tasting Notes: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey (86 Proof)
Vital Stats: Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is 86 proof, made from an undisclosed mash bill and aged for three years. Find a 750mL bottle nationwide for about $18.
Appearance: This liquid is a very clear, pale amber that coats the glass and slowly forms thin tears.
Nose: The nose is light: white flowers, peach skin and grass, fresh with spearmint and underlaid with cigar box and toffee.
Palate: On the palate, this whiskey is sharp with allspice and white pepper. Apricot hits the mid-palate with cereal sweetness rounding it out. Allspice returns on the finish with a slight herbal bitterness.
This new proof will hold up well in cocktails, since, let’s be real, that’s why you have a bottle of Old Overholt in your hand. It’s still a decent whiskey at an approachable price, even if Ol’ Abe is wearing a scowl these days.
User Review3.27 (11 votes)
In 2014 I founded Portland Bitters Project with the vision to create the best bitters on the market. Now our bitters are enjoyed around the country and internationally to make expressive, delicious cocktails. I teach at two Portland colleges and visit private groups, distilleries and maker's spaces to spread the...