Whiskey Review: New England Distillery’s Gunpowder Rye Whiskey - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: New England Distillery’s Gunpowder Rye Whiskey

Gunpowder Rye

Photo by Aaron Knapp. Image copyright of The Whiskey Wash.

Using an old mash bill recipe that was once a regional claim to fame, Gunpowder Rye Whiskey is among a number of whiskeys part of a small movement to revitalize Maryland-style rye.

While this Maryland-style rye comes from New England Distillery in Portland, Maine, the recipe comes from the distillery founder’s family recipe dating back to the mid-19th Century in Maryland’s Hunt Valley, according to the bottle.

In a history more fully detailed by The Huffington Post, Ned Wight opened New England distillery in 2012, rekindling a family tradition that began in the 1850s when his ancestor, John Jacob Wight, took over a failing distillery. The family managed to survive Prohibition and opened a new distillery on the banks of the Gunpowder River northeast of Baltimore, but the distillery eventually closed as Maryland-style whiskey “all but disappeared in the 1960s.”

What makes Maryland style rye distinctive from Monongahela-style (Pennsylvanian), Kentucky-style, or any other kind of rye? It’s all about the mash bill. It must be made of at least 51 percent rye, with barley making up the rest of the mash – absolutely no corn – to reportedly give a spicier, herbal quality (though at least Colorado-based Leopold Bros. isn’t so picky about the no-corn rule with its Maryland-style rye).  For Gunpowder Rye, the mash bill is 70 percent rye and 30 percent barley, according to distiller.com.

Beyond that, Gunpowder is made with New England grains and distilled in small batches in a “traditional copper pot still” before being aged for less than two years in American oak barrels, reportedly resting racks that were “rescued” from the family’s old facility in Maryland, according to Caskers.

Tasting Notes: Gunpowder Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: Mash bill of rye and barley (reportedly a 70-30 percent ratio), aged in American oak for up to a year, 43.5 percent ABV and sold in a 750-milliliter bottle. Only available in stores around in New England and Washington, D.C., but one online retailer has it priced at $45.99.

Appearance: While Gunpowder Rye looks like a darker whiskey in the bottle, perhaps due to the bottle’s more unusual, though chic, rectangular design, in the glass it appears like a fairly average amber.

Nose: For this one, I encountered a great example of how the aromas can be dramatically different depending on what you’re drinking (or sniffing) from. While catching a whiff out of the bottle took me to a campfire – vanilla, toasted marshmallow and a hint of smoke – in the glass (I typically use a Glencairn glass), it took on a far less sweet scent. Initially, there’s a faint scent of vanilla with notes of clove and nutmeg, but that transitions to a wood-dominated bouquet, mostly oak with a blend of tropical sandalwood, smoke and spices.

Palate: Gunpowder Rye slied onto the tongue like simple syrup – sweet, smooth and fairly nondescript. However, after the flavor very gradually builds in complexity as it sits on the tongue, some of the flavors in the nose slowly work their way onto the palate, first with a slightly smoky vanilla, then cloves, then nutmeg, and a touch of oaky smoke. Swallowing leaves an earthy, smoky vanilla flavor that tingles the tongue like cloves and faint base of rye.

Final Thoughts: While I was a little skeptical at the first sniff and first taste, Gunpowder Rye won me over with its complex blend of sweet, earthy and spicy flavors that build on one another like a musical canon in the mouth. It’s still not the most complex whiskey I’ve tasted, but it’s certainly worth a spot in my whiskey collection.

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