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.
Ranger Creek is a combination brewery/distillery in San Antonio, Texas, the brainchild of three business school grads sharing a disillusionment with corporate life. Since selling their first keg of beer in 2010, the small operation has garnered a handful of awards from the likes of the American Craft Spirits Association, not to mention the expansions they’ve made to keep up with demand on the brewing side.
Named for a real creek that flows through San Antonio, Ranger Creek takes a distinctly Texas-centric approach, smoking their malt over mesquite and using locally sourced ingredients in their beers whenever possible. In keeping with their Old West aesthetic, the distillery likes to name their whiskeys after historical firearms. Ranger Creek’s .36 Texas Bourbon is named after the .36 Patterson Colt revolver, and the .44 Rye is named for the Colt Walker, a .44-caliber repeating handgun first built for Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker.
As many young distilleries do, Ranger Creek uses extra-small barrels to age most of their whiskeys, dramatically speeding up the aging process. Those small barrels are the namesake for the Small Caliber Series, which the website describes as “an award-winning line of creative, limited edition whiskeys aged in small barrels.” Each is sold in extra-small 375-ml bottles as a nod to those sized-down aging casks.
The .44 Rye, one of three entries in the Small Caliber series, is a 100% rye whiskey aged 19 months in used bourbon barrels, and bottled at 94 proof.
Tasting Notes: Ranger Creek .44 Rye
Color: Deep gold
Nose: Sweeter than I’d expect for a 100% rye expression, opening with caramel and vanilla. Peppery spice quickly follows, along with fruit notes like apricot and apple. Sawdust and hay are also noticeable.
Palate: Warm nutmeg mingles with some darker fruit—currant or black cherry. I get more vegetal flavors, like hay or even fresh grass, along with a nice bready, grainy note. There’s a fair amount of wood on the palate, though it’s not overly tannic.
Overall, I like this whiskey quite a bit. Given the mash bill, it’s a surprisingly smooth, mellow rye, a characteristic perhaps imparted by the bourbon barrels, and it has a pleasant, unique flavor profile. At over $30 for a half size bottle, it’s not cheap, but this is a strong showing for a truly grain-to-glass expression from a relatively young distillery.