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