High West Rye throwdown

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High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Mike » Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:48 pm

High West is now offering three Rye Whiskies, priced at about $50, $70, and $100. None of these whiskies are chill filtered, perferring HW says, to keep the whiskey's natural oils.

The first is called Rendezvous and is 92 proof and is a blending of a 6 YO 95% Rye and a 16 YO 80% Rye. My bottle is No. 930 from batch 23. It is claimed on the label that Rendezvous mash bill contains a portion of unmalted rye, which I presume means that is a flavoring component and provides no fermentables to the mash.

The second is a 92 proof 16 YO Rye made with 80% Rye, 10% corn, and 10% malted barley. I have bottle No. 541 from batch 4

The third is a 92 proof 21 YO Rye made with 53% rye. I have bottle No. 611 from batch 3. It was aged in reused barrels. The label on this bottle notes that this is (and the other HW whiskies as well) a 'rare' find and, as has been pointed out on this site, was originally destined for Canadian whiskey.........until the luminaries at HW tasted and took possession of it.

COLOR: The 16 YO is darker than the others and the Rendezvous is a degree lighter. The 21 YO is almost straw colored..........the used barrels no doubt limiting the influence of the wood.

NOSE: The Rendezvous has a nice dash of ripe fruit (peaches, oranges), rye, caramel, vanilla, mint, leather, nutmeg, and cinnamon. One would expect it to be on the sweet side........it has a wonderful nose. The 16 YO is more distinctly rye whiskey, with only a hint of any sweetness. It has a grainy/earthy aroma with some leather and sharper spices. The 21 YO has a softer and more subtle aromatic presence. There is a bit of the wood and some mild citrus and allspice. It is oily, yet delicate.

TASTE: The Rendezvous taste is as the nose predicted, a round robust sweetness with cinnamony spice with a slow-developing bite at the back of the mouth. An excellent whiskey, with lots of rich fruity and spicy flavors. The 16 YO offers a bit more wood and a soft but deep sweetness that I believe comes from the barley malt more than from the barrel. The spice is subdued compared to the Rendezvous. The 21 YO is sophisticated and delicate, with softer sweetness that speaks of the corn and time in the barrel. The flavors have melded with the years in the barrel, and the rye teases, but does not bite, because the dryness of 21 years tells the spice where to stop.

FINISH: The Rendezvous has a marvelous juicy fruit spicy finish that has a good bite at the end. The 16 YO has a more moderate finish, but is more balanced and drier. The 21 YO does not go deep for the finish, neither does it tiptoe. It struts with the confidence of an old fellow who cares little for how well he is liked. While he may not dance on the head of a pin, he can balance there.

CONCLUSION: High West has offered three great whiskies. Over the long haul (cost not being a factor), I would probably choose the 21 YO, because of its delicacy, dry leavening, and soft sweetness............it is soothing and just what I want most in a sip. Still, the other two have serious attractions of their own from a ripping fruity sweetness with plenty of spice for the Rendezvous, to the slightly less rambunctious, but still saucy, 16 YO.

COMMENT: Sipping the whiskies side by side over an afternoon is a real treat, and an education in rye whiskey. If you can find them, and are willing to pay the freight, I recommend them to you with no reservation.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Rughi » Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:08 pm

Nice review. I've had a couple of different Rendeszvous, but not the others.

Mike wrote:...It is claimed on the label that Rendezvous mash bill contains a portion of unmalted rye, which I presume means that is a flavoring component and provides no fermentables to the mash.


The text on the Rendezvous label has always confused me. Unmalted rye is standard. I believe Old Potrero is the only american rye with malted rye.

Roger
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Mike » Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:33 pm

Rughi, I assume that like with barley, rye (or wheat for that matter) must be malted to produce the maximum amount of fermentable sugar for the mash to be effective in producing alcohol. In the case of beer, unmalted (or over malted - e.g. chocolate malt) grains are used for flavoring, not in producing fermentables. I was assuming the same is true for rye whiskey mashes. If I am wrong, someone with more knowledge than mine will quickly correct me.

Seems to me that if you took rye (or wheat) grains and added them to the mash without malting them you would have a very poor return on the sugars necessary to produce a mash worth distilling. Corn is not (so far as I know) malted, but contains enough sugars in its mash state to be a worthwhile sugar producer???
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Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Rughi » Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:27 pm

Mike, I think you're you're confusing malting and mashing.

All grains do indeed need to steep in an environment at +/- 150F to mash, which is the process of converting starches to sugars. Either some malted grain or some enzymes need to be added to the mash as well to provide enzymes that do the mashing.

Malting is partially sprouting and then halting the sprouting. This develops the enzymes that will be used in mashing.

The rule of thumb has been 10% malted barley produces enough enzymes for a complete mash, although I note that both current Four Roses and accounts of George Washington's distillery both call out 5% malted barley. I believe Barton uses much more in 1792, and Old Taylor historically had a high malted barley content (both of these for flavor, not because of enzyme necessity, I think). Fritz Maytag uses 100% malted rye because he got it in his head that distillers did that in previous centuries, although I've never read anything backing that up. It also let's him call his 100% rye spirit a 'single malt.'

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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Mike » Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:52 pm

Rughi wrote:Mike, I think you're you're confusing malting and mashing.

Malting is partially sprouting and then halting the sprouting. This develops the enzymes that will be used in mashing.

Roger


In brewing beer and in making Scotch, malting the barley does more than develop the enzymes, it changes the barley to a more sugar rich form. You may very well be right about the mashing process for bourbon and rye...........I do not know about that with any certainty.......and your explanation makes a lot of sense.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Rughi » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:06 pm

It's tradition that Scotch has 100% malted grains and it's tradition that American whiskies have a small percentage of malted grains, but exactly why? Perhaps a satisfying answer could be found in the Irish Whiskey traditions, where distillers consciously decide the percentage of malted to unmalted they want. Only, I don't know enough about what the distillers are looking to achieve with their mashbill to speak to it.

Hopefully, someone will jump in on this, because it fascinates me.

Roger
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:37 pm

Mike, Roger is correct. The unmalted grains in a bourbon mash are converted to fermentable sugars by the enzymes in the barley malt - there is enough diastatic power, as it is called, to convert not just the starches in the malt but those in the unmalted grains. Indeed, some raw (unmalted) grains carry enzymes which assist this process, rye does for example, but the heavy work is done by enzyme in the malt component (or artificial enzyme sometimes as Roger noted).

As to why some mashes use all-malt and some do not: the reason all-malt mashes are used is the flavour is better when you are making beer. Indeed a raw grains-based mash traditionally would become sour before it could make good beer. It doesn't sour when used for whiskey because it is distilled off really quickly, it doesn't have to be clarified and last a decent time before sale.

Now today, with refrigeration and such, you can make a raw grains beer, but you won't want to because the taste just isn't right. You can use some in the mash (some wheat beers do) but generally you want malted barley because it was kilned which helps produce the rich rounded taste you want in a beer. In whiskey though, while flavour is still affected by using raw grains as the base, you can do so. Irish pure pot still is made this way but it results in a very oily, pronounced palate - one that few people can accustom to neat. Whereas all-malted barley produces a rounded and softer spirit, aka Scots malt whisky (once duly aged). Why does bourbon not taste like a very oily Irish pure pot still? Because (in my view) of the cleansing and aging effects of charred new oak barrels. The Irish don't use these containers. They use reused wood, generally, which means you get the untrammeled effect of a raw grains distillate - not for shrinking violets. Just as some 3 year old bourbon, with its oily raw grains-derived palate, isn't.

Gary

P.S. Some cheap beer, especially mass market brands, use raw grains as an adjunct. E.g., you might have a mash of 60% malt (from barley), 40% corn grits. The corn element is not malted. It shows in the palate, in my opinion.
Last edited by gillmang on Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Mike » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:48 pm

Roger, I stand corrected. My assumptions were wrong and it is good to know the correct answer.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Chinpo » Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:24 am

Apropos mashing; is it true that 6-row barley is the dominate malt used in (American) whiskey?
I have always assumed this to be the case since it appears to be difficult to convert a mash
using only 2-row malt in the typical (10% - 20%) proportions. Historically has this always been
the case? The reason I ask is that Irish/Scotch whisky is typically 2-row (I don't think 6-row is
even grown much outside of N.A.) and I wonder if there is any impact on taste. I have read
that the barley malt contributes little to taste, but find this hard to believe. The difference
between the taste of 6-row and 2-row beer is sure obvious to me, but then malt makes up way
more than 10% of the mash bill of beer.

One thing I do know is that different grain starches gelatinize at different temperatures, many
above the temperature at which the malt enzymes are destroyed, so the corn, for example, is
cooked first before being added to the main mash (double mashing.)
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:28 pm

I would think 6 row barley is used in bourbon mashes because its cost is less than 2 row. I am not knowledgeable on the differing diastatic capacities of each type, but would hazard a guess that so little barley malt is used in most whiskey mashes that probably enzyme is frequently added to assist the process. Clearly in brewing 6 row offers a different taste to 2 row, not as full and sweet (more "husky", wrote the late Micheae Jackson). I agree that more barley malt makes for a better bourbon - and one old time practical distiller agreed. Here is Charlie Thomason, former master distiller at Willett Distilling Co., writing in the 1960's:

"There is nothing that resembles the fragrant bouquet of mellow old-time bourbon whiskey, it has a bouquet distinctively its own. This distinctive bouquet is acquired only through the proper amount of small grain, especially barley malt, which is the most expensive grain in the whiskey and the large distilleries cut it down to the minimum...".

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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby tmckenzie » Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:34 pm

All of the distillers malt in this country, or at least the malting companies that I deal with, are 6 row. They produce a higher diastatic power, and are cheaper than 2 row. Enzymes are what you want when selecting a malt if you are making bourbon or rye. But I argue that malt does add flavor, even at low percentages.
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby bunghole » Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:00 pm

tmckenzie wrote:All of the distillers malt in this country, or at least the malting companies that I deal with, are 6 row. They produce a higher diastatic power, and are cheaper than 2 row. Enzymes are what you want when selecting a malt if you are making bourbon or rye. But I argue that malt does add flavor, even at low percentages.


I now wonder if the very high 25% barley malt that Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. used in his Old Taylor recipe was two row? What year was six row hybird barley malt introduced?

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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby cowdery » Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:59 am

Here is another way of looking at the difference between making a malt wash and making a American beer. Malting produces enzymes that immediately start to convert starch to sugar, but the process is very slow when the starches are still in solid form. It's supposed to be slow to provide for the growing plant. To speed things up, the malted grain is ground and mixed with warm water. With malted barely, warm water is enough to dissolve the starches, which lets the enzymes get at them faster.

Corn is a much tougher nut to crack. You have to grind it and then cook it at very high temperatures to dissolve the starch. Rye is only a little easier. With the corn and rye well dissolved, the temperature is reduced to the warm water stage and the malt is added. It's usually about 10 percent of the mix. Some American producers use less malt and make up for it with enzymes. Regardless of their source, the enzymes make fast work of the dissolved starches.

In an all-malt process, the grain solids (husks, etc.) are removed leaving a liquid called a wash. Yeast are added to produce distillers beer.

In America, we don't do that. We take the whole mash, residual solids and all, as mash into the fermenters, and as beer into the still.
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby tmckenzie » Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:18 am

I do not think, I will check, that 6 row is a hybrid. It is just a different variety, or type. There are also 4 row barley. When Taylor was making his stuff, the dp on the malt was probably pretty low. He may of had to use that much to get the job done. I agree with Chuck, making a wash, like some of the micros, is not part of american tradition, and should be stopped, in my opinion.
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Re: High West Rye throwdown

Unread postby Leopold » Thu Sep 24, 2009 1:23 pm

tmckenzie is correct. 6-row is a variety, not a hybrid.

6-row came to dominate American farms because of the post WWII demand for it from the mega brewers who were adding adjuncts (corn or rice, usually). As gillmang pointed out, 6-row has more diastatic power than 2-row under the same malting conditions....this is mainly because 6-row is a smaller grain, and has a higher endosperm to kernel ratio, and the endosperm is where those enzymes reside. You need this DP if you're a brewery that uses a lot of adjuncts (sometimes 60% of total grist). 6 row quickly became king in the US. 2 row stood tall in Europe...better yield, better flavor.

I have found that a slightly higher amount of malt really helps to bring out the flavors and oils trapped inside of the corn. So imho, it's not the malted barley that's giving the whiskey more flavor per se (although I totally agree with tmckenzie that malt does indeed add flavor to the finished whieky), but that the breakdown of the corn is a bit more complete. Further, added malt leaves some FAN (nitrogen) in the fully fermented mash (something exogenous enzymes don't do), allowing lactic acid bacteria to do a bit of work before distillation...which also adds to flavor and complexity.

The TTB has different Standards of Identity between malted rye and unmalted rye....the only such distinction for the grains in whiskey. To them, they are two different animals. Don't know why this is.
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