A Lackluster Rye Shows What Cask Finishing Can Do

A Lackluster Rye Shows What Cask Finishing Can Do
Courtesy of Distiller‍

A Kentucky distillery is usually a big favorite of our whiskey critic, but not this time.

Similarly to hoppy beer or private jokes among friends, cask finishing can be overdone when it comes to whiskey. As a result of the practice of maturing whiskey in different kinds of casks in the past few years, American distilleries have divided opinion. Cask finishes can be short and concise, or they can be meandering and try to correct a whiskey that was already imperfect. 

It would appear that Kentucky's New Riff's Sherry Finished Malted Rye Whiskey is unlikely to fall into this latter category given the distillery's history of producing excellent whiskey.

The core lineup of New Riff is 100 proof, aged four or more years, and bottled-in-bond bourbons and ryes. The mashbill for bourbon is composed of 65 percent corn, 30 percent rye, and 5 percent malted barley; the mashbill for rye is composed of 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley. The company also produces "Whiskey Riffs," experimental releases that experiment with mashbills and distillation processes.

It is now possible to purchase a Sherry Finished Malted Rye whiskey as a follow-up to the 100 percent malted rye whiskey released last year. Cofounder Jay Erisman believes this is not a rye whiskey, but rather a malted whiskey, similar to how single malt whiskeys are finished in Scotland. New Riff imported 12 53-gallon Oloroso casks as well as three Pedro Ximinez casks from Spain and aged them for another year with five-year-old malted rye whiskey. The whiskey was vated and married for a few months before being bottled at 112.7 proof.

In general, I am not opposed to sherry bombs, but in this case, the sherry influence overtook, controlled, and forced the wonderful New Riff character to the back of the line. Although there are notes of raisins, vanilla and spice on the palate, the rye whiskey's core identity is lost to sherry to the point that it is almost lost. Perhaps the goal is to transform whiskey here. In spite of this, I would have preferred to have tasted this whiskey after only a few months of cask finishing, perhaps a more subtle effect would have resulted.

It was available to New Riff Whiskey Club members and select retailers for $65. To find a bottle, check your local stores, or reach out to the distillery directly. In addition, there is the regular 100 percent malted rye, the wonderful straight rye whiskey, the single barrel rye, or literally any other New Riff whiskey you want. You can finish it without sherry casks, too.

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