Rittenhouse Rye BIB Review (DSP-KY-1)

Rittenhouse Rye

I felt that 2013 was a pretty sad year for rye. The further explosion of small brands using the term “craft” for “their” 95% rye whiskies was less frustrating since it has become commonplace, but the new trend of “American rye whiskies” sourced from Canada took the wind right out of my sails. We like to push Canadian whiskey into the corner over there with Irish whiskey, but when an American company buys and bottles a Canadian whiskey, it goes on the top shelf with a monster price tag.

We wouldn’t pay $200 for an eighty-something proof Canadian Club, ever, no matter what the age was, so why are we so eager to do it when it is bottled as Jefferson’s? The 21 year Collingwood only sells for $65 here, which is something like $60 to $80 cheaper than the 21 year Jefferson’s rye, and they are both 100% rye whiskies from Canada. The 25 year, 86 proof Jefferson’s rye sells for upwards of $200, but a 30 year, 80 proof bottling of Alberta Premium, which is what we assume to be the same exact whiskey sold for $49.99. The fact that all of these Jefferson’s ryes, as well as the WhistlePig ryes are sold in the domestic section is all the more frustrating.

Jefferson’s says, “North American Rye,” which narrowly avoids using the term “Canadian”. WhistlePig says it is “made in Vermont,” which is to say that they bottle their Canadian rye in Vermont. Both of these ryes belong on the same shelf as Crown and Collingwood, not Wild Turkey and Rittenhouse. That is not to say that Canadian whiskey is bad, or undesirable, but there is a huge difference in perception of value because American rye is monitored and Canadian rye, not so much. That is why a 21 year Canadian rye is $140 when it sits on the domestic shelf, and only $65 when it is on the Canadian shelf. 

If it wasn’t for Willett getting one year closer to bottling their own rye, the return of Wild Turkey 101 Rye, and the anticipation of the DSP-KY-1 Rittenhouse, I probably would have sworn off rye all together. Instead, the first bottle I finished this year was my Leopold Bros. Maryland Rye so I decided to try one of the two new/old ryes. Wild Turkey jumped up to $45 from the old $24 price range, so I went with the $22 DSP-KY-1 Rittenhouse.

In case you aren’t sure why a DSP-KY-1 Rittenhouse is notable, the brand has been distilled at three different plants in the last eighteen years. Before the infamous Heaven Hill fire of 1996, Rittenhouse was distilled at the Bardstown DSP-KY-31 plant. The DSP-KY-31 plant was destroyed in the fire, along with tens of thousands of gallons of whiskey, which forced Heaven Hill to outsource their rye production to Brown-Forman while they regrouped. That is why the recent era of Rittenhouse has had DSP-KY-354.

Rittenhouse Rye

A few years after the fire while Brown-Forman was handling Rittenhouse, Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim Distillery from United Distillers (in 1999). This plant was built only seven years earlier in 1992, so it was a pretty smart move made from necessity on Heaven Hill’s part, but they still didn’t have enough output to make their own rye. This is why the ten year old Henry McKenna was able to use a DSP-KY-1 label before the four’ish year old Rittenhouse.

Around 2008, Heaven Hill was able to add some space to start making their own rye again. The Rittenhouse we see now is the result from that 2008 DSP-KY-1 production.

There will always be the people loading up their basements with cases of discontinued bottles of whiskey, but I would wait to try the DSP-KY-1 Rittenhouse before scouring the earth for every remaining DSP-KY-354 Rittenhouse. In the end, all that matters is how the whiskey tastes once it is in the glass. History can be charming, but alone, it cannot make a whiskey taste better.

Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye Review (DSP-KY-1)

Nose: Big vanilla, molasses, clove, dark chocolate, menthol, and a light honey and floral note.

Sip: Much sweeter than the nose leads on. Molasses, vanilla wafers, and caramelized pecans, with a short black tea note in the middle. The back is loaded with baker’s chocolate, tobacco, clove, and a deep spice box. The oak is mild and delicate, far short of bitter, which allows the spiciness to do the heavy lifting.

Finish: Slightly bitter, but longer than the medium texture leads on. Cocoa, vanilla, clove and a light bouquet of spices linger with a modest vapor of mint.

Overall: B+

It has been over a year since my last bottle of the Brown-Forman Rittenhouse so I cannot compare them with any certainty, but this Rittenhouse is no slouch. It has a great, albeit simple nose, a super deep back end profile, and the price is about 50% of the fair market value. This ranks pretty high up there on my under $40 ryes, with the old $22 Wild Turkey 101 as the high water mark.

Even if you fell in love with the Brown-Forman version, I can still see this satisfying your needs for a low cost, high value rye.

Drink this, not that: Having just had the new Wild Turkey 101 Rye at a bar, I think the Wild Turkey edges out this Rittenhouse in quality, but it is probably not $20 better.

Old Overholt is a fantastic rye for $15, so there is a viable option that is even cheaper than Rittenhouse. The sweetness is somewhat flat, it lacks the tea, and the tobacco is replaced with a dry leather, but it will do in a pinch.

If you want to go up in price and get a reasonable return in quality, E.H. Taylor Rye might be the only option that is worth a jump over $50.

Try and get to far beyond those and you will be swimming in a deep pool of LDI and Alberta ryes that look attractive on the shelf but offer little beyond Bulleit and Beam.

16 responses to “Rittenhouse Rye BIB Review (DSP-KY-1)

  1. I love a good discussion. I think Rittenhouse has a very complex nose. So much jumps out of my glass that it takes time to get it all written down when taking tasting notes. Everyone’s nose is different I guess.

    I do agree though that the LDI/MGPI ryes have come full circle, and Canadian sourced ryes, though good, lack a good back story. Rittenhouse has long been one of my favorites. Several years back I tasted several drams of the wild turkey rye 101 next to the Rittenhouse and gave a slight edge back then to Rittenhouse. Now that WT101 is back, if you can find it, with a hefty price increase I am staying with my old standby. I can get it in my town for about $16.

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    • Hmm, what DSP did you find with a complex nose? I wonder if it was a different DSP than mine? I found the nose on this one to be nice, but rather simple as rye goes. I will admit that my nose is more tailored towards bourbon. Maybe I am missing the depth of rye in general.

      I fell like the American brand, Canadian ryes lack any story at all. Who is to say why a 25 year Jefferson’s bottling of Alberta is worth $100 more than a 30 year bottling of Alberta Premium?

      If I could get Rittenhouse for $16, I might never drink another rye again. I had the WT101 rye the other day, and it was as good as I remember. I have another bottle f the old WT101, so I am going to do a side by side when I find a bottle of the new stuff. I think you will like the new stuff, too. Certainly hate seeing it for $10 a pour/$45 a bottle though.

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  2. Big fan of your reviews but you said something that rather bothered me in this review. Talking about AP ryes and that we wouldn’t pay $200 for Canadian Club. I’m as American as the next guy. More so usually, but their is nothing wrong with the AP we are getting. Your comparison to Canadian Club is misleading at best. Yes, Canadian whiskey is bad, but that doesn’t mean everything that goes into it is bad. Canadian whiskey is low proof blends. They put straight high rye ryes into the blends. One such plant used to be owned by Seagram’s and is known now as LDI or MGP. Another is AP (Alberta Premium). As stand alone ryes these are great products.

    No, I am not a big fan of MGP. I think waaaaay too many brands use their juice. I shy away from all of them except the occasional Bulleit. The Bulleit is very good juice and seems to be a bargain compared to more expensive labels using the same juice.

    As far as the review itself, thank you. Isee Ritt BiB on the shelves all the time but have never pulled the trigger. I did learn of the DSP’s and decided I’d pick up some 354 but haven’t found any. I see too many people saying this is great…as a mixer. Not as many saying it is great neat. Thanks to this review I think I’m gonna go ahead and grab a bottle. Thanks…

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    • Hey Jeff, thanks for the comment. I see what you are saying. I am not hating on Canadian ryes, or any whiskey not made here, just that Canadian ryes have almost no regulation and people assume that this $150 and $200 Jefferson rye and WhistlePig expressions are right there with the 21-23 year Rittenhouse, high age Willetts, and Vintage ryes.

      If we have learned anything from Jefferson’s over the last few weeks, it is that nothing they say or do can be trusted. I feel, and maybe I am alone, that by using the term “North American Rye” instead of “Canadian Rye” that they are trying their very best without a blatant lie, to trick unassuming buyers into thinking their rye is in line with those American Ryes.

      When WistlePIg says their whiskey is “produced” on their farm in Vermont, they are also deceiving customers in the same manner.

      Not all termed whiskies are made the same. American made ryes have strict regulations, only slightly less rigid than bourbon. We assume that the high aged Jefferson’s are 100% rye (Alberta) because at least they 10 year has been confirmed to be, but we don’t know the super aged, super priced offerings are Alberta, or all Alberta.

      We certainly don’t know that all of it is. We don’t know if it was aged in used barrels, new barrels, or just toasted barrels. We don’t know the point of distillation or barreling, or aging conditions, and we don’t know if it is a whiskey blended from a half dozen distilleries. Because it is a “North American Rye”, which means absolutely nothing, and because it is produced in a place where no assumption of quality can be made, both Jefferson’s and WhistlePig have absolutely no credibility or justification for the prices they are offering, in my eyes.

      Canadian Club is a Beam brand, and Beam owns the Alberta plant. If you want a high aged Alberta, you can cross the boarder and get an 80 proof, 100% rye, 30 year bottling of Alberta for something like $50. Thats right, a 30 year Alberta rye from the same 100% rye (or at least we assume) bottled at roughly the same proof is only $50 in Canada, but you repackage something 5 years younger here in the states in an American bottle, and it is $200.

      There is no scenario in my head where Trey Zoeller or Raj Bhakta go up to Alberta and pick out barrels that warrant what they are charging. The only difference, Alberta is selling to a market that doesn’t spend hundreds of dollars on whiskey, and Zoeller and Bhakta sell in a market with no ceiling. Whether it is 21 year Canadian Club, 21 year Collingwood, or 21 year Alberta Premium, it would never sell for $150 in Canada, and even the Collingwood 21 is only $65 here in the US. Repackaging it in an American bottle, and all of the sudden we are to assume that the quality of the source of this Canadian whiskey is worth five times the asking price?

      Quite frankly, I like the Collingwood more than the 25 year Jefferson’s rye, and in some states like Washington, the C’wood costs the equivalent of the tax you pay on the Jefferson’s, why? Because the C’wood is labeled as a Canadian whiskey, and sold off the Canadian whiskey shelf. Jeff and WP are bottled as an American company and sold from the American shelf. It is just as much a slap in the face to American rye as it is to Canadian rye.

      I drove a Hyundai for a while. If you were to put a Mercedes hood ornament on it, it would still be a Hyundai. Anyone that tried to sell it to you at the price of a Mercedes would be chastised, and that is how I view the “American” brands that sell Canadian rye at American rye prices. Even a high aged LDI would warrant over $100, but where is the jump in quality from the 30 year Alberta? How is it not a Hyundai?

      That is the long form of my thoughts on Jeff and WP, and I could have done a better job of explaining my position while making a somewhat derogatory remark towards poor Canadian whiskey. Thank you.

      Your thoughts on MGPI are mine exactly. After Bulleit at $22, there is no point in buying Templeton at $40, or Smooth Ambler at $45. You can get some different proof points, but even the age stated ones are within the general range of the Bulleit blend.

      I think you are really going to like Ritt. A guy on Facebook pointed out that it is one of the only (if not THE only?) American ryes which is bottled in bond. It is a wonderful sipper, but at $22 and fairly good availability, you can pour it in whatever you like and not have your eyes well up with tears.

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  3. My tasting notes were done on a bottle long since drained but all the remaining Rittenhouse in my bunker is of the same DSP that you mention above. Although I might detect slight changes from two years ago, it seems basicly the same to me. My notes don’t vary much from you own except that I get stewed fruits, apricots, coconut, and dark chocolate notes.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your take on sourced Canadian whiskies. Jefferson and whistle pig are definitely gouging on the whiskies they bottle. And, as an informed consumer, I completely agree that while these two bottlers may not be outright lying, they are quite deceptive in their marketing. (North American rye indeed!). Here in Oklahoma we are anticipating the eminent arrival of these old Jefferson bottles and the ocean aged as well. I am going to pass on all of them and spend my money elsewhere.

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    • Thanks Justin. I don’t notice a big difference either. It seems like Heaven Hill did their best to replicate the B-F rye. I got the chocolate as dark, which was very similar to the chocolate I found in the McKenna. Their rye profile is pretty great.

      Colorado has the Jefferson’s ryes and all three WhistlePigs. The Jeff ryes are flying off the shelf, but it seems like people got smart to WhistlePig. If the 21 year Jeff was $80, I would probably buy it. It was pretty good, but $140 to $160 is insanity.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with buying them, I just get frustrated with the thought process I imagine Jefferson’s having, which is “put out limited numbers, charge as much as possible, disclose nothing”. Obviously, it works, but it’s sleazy.

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  4. Once again a very informative post!
    Been delving into rye’s over the last year & currently have a bottle of Knob Rye, Old Overholt, & Russel’s Reserve Rye. Have tried the Bulliet Rye a few times at a bar but it really did not move me to buy a bottle. Enjoy the RR the best out of the Ryes I have tasted. I would really love to find the WT101! Almost pulled the trigger on Jefferson’s but would rather try it out than to fork over $39 on a bottle.

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  5. The EH Taylor Rye you mentioned is also Bottled in Bond, but at a much higher price point, of course.
    Thanks for the notes on the Collingwood 21 and the same sourcing. This one has me intrigued now.

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    • Right on. I had a feeling a BIB rye was eluding me. I should specify that Collingwood has the same 100% rye mash bill, not that it is distilled at the same place. Collingwood is distilled at Canadian Mist, Jefferson’s and WhistlePig at Alberta.

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  6. Great review. When I did my Rye review lineup a few months ago Rittenhouse placed favorably compared to its peers. I found many of the same influences and for the price it’s a star. I think that for the under $50 category it’s hard to beat Rendezvous, and the recent Willet 4 yr rye (MGP sourced) has some nice qualities and a proof that at least differentiates it from the rest of the market.

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    • I really liked the RR from High West, and I hear the latest batches have been really good. I have a 6 year LDI Willett at 110 proof, and it offers a great view of higher proof LDI. The stuff is good, so I don’t really blame anyone for using it, but below Willett and above Bulleit are about a dozen brands that offer about the same thing. Dickel uses the Lincoln Country process, and Smooth Ambler and Redemption have a new cask strength, but it is crowded.

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  7. I’m keen to buy Rittenhouse. Exported near me now. I’ve aways liked the meaty fiiling character you get from high proof from Bardstown Heaven Hill products. And that that smokey power to them to. What Ritterhouse should I get if one bottle has KY-1 and another has KY-354? I probably don’t want one with a shallow back palate drop and very mild power. You’ll find with demand and supply things can drop off in whiskies anyway.

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  8. Pingback: Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye - Review #33 | Whiskey Lately·

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