Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
Bend, Oregon’s Crater Lake Spirits (Bendistillery) prides itself on being “among the oldest small-batch distilleries,” having opened its doors in 1996. Best known for gin and vodka, their Crater Lake Rye is a relatively recent addition to the lineup. The distillery markets it as a throwback to the pre-Prohibition days when small distilleries across the country produced their own rye whiskies, leading to a range of widely varying local versions of the spirit.
This 80-proof whiskey is a high-rye expression, with a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% barley. Additionally, unlike most modern whiskeys, it isn’t chill-filtered, leading to a cloudy appearance and, some would have it, preserving flavors that are lost with filtration.
Though no age statement is given on the bottle, it’s aged only a year, according to the distillery, a decision they say also helps preserve the spicy, fruity character of the grain. In short, it does look like a fairly unique rye, both on paper and in the glass.
The label notes “deep toffee notes and a peppery spice.” Here’s how my impression stacked up against that description:
Appearance: Deep gold in color and quite cloudy.
Nose: The nose is distinctly hot, with white pepper notes and a hint of smoke. Underlying everything, though, is a pervasive chemical burn I can only compare to nail polish. After some time in the glass, the nose opens up, and warmer notes like honey, ginger, and cinnamon are more noticeable.
Palate: This whiskey is definitely less harsh on the palate, though still hot. Cinnamon and oak mingle with white pepper and some dark fruit.
Finish: Smokey oak and cinnamon pervade the surprisingly smooth finish.
The overall impression this whiskey leaves is a level of heat surprising for such a low-proof spirit. However, it opens up after some time in the glass, and is considerably more aggressive on the nose than on the palate: while the nose borders on harsh, it comes across as merely peppery on the palate. I find I don’t dislike this whiskey, though it’s certainly a little rough around the edges.
I give the Crake Lake Rye whiskey a score of 82. You can hunt down a bottle of it through some different online retailers here.