If you asked me to put rye whiskey in to two categories, I would probably say: LDI ryes, non LDI ryes. Back in the 1800’s, there were two categories of rye whiskey that were actually pretty similar: Pennsylvania Rye and Maryland Rye.
The standard straight rye whiskey that we are used to today is more in line with what used to be called a Pennsylvania Rye, or a Monongahela Rye Whiskey. Much like the LDI rye which is 95% rye, these ryes commonly contained upwards of 70% rye, were very sharp, and were destine for shot glasses, not whatever the colonial equivalent of a glencairn was.
On the other hand, the Maryland style rye whiskey aimed to achieve a softer profile by using a lower rye content. This style was also known for adding some dark fruit juices to contribute a certain level of depth. If you consider that this was going on in the 1800’s, you can really start dating “craft whiskey” back to a time when our doctors were still bloodletting, and the test for diabetes was sipping on some urine.
The only regulation defining a “Maryland Rye” is that it must be made in Maryland to be called a “Maryland Rye”. Every other rye made outside of Maryland that is attempting to obtain the Maryland Rye profile must be called a “Maryland Style Rye”. After a quick Google search, it seems as though one of the only Maryland or Maryland style ryes in production is made right here in Colorado. If you want a deeper education on Marylad Rye, check out John Lipman’s site which goes deep into the topic.
The Denver based Leopold Bros. Distillery has been one of Denver’s premier craft distilleries for a long time. I have always felt that their Maryland Style Rye has long been one of the most underrated ryes on the market, and it is one of the only non-sourced ryes in the $45 price range. I have a feeling that their rye has gone unnoticed because most of the Leopold Bros. shelf space is used for their flavored whiskies. That means that the bourbon and rye drinkers either don’t see their rye, or dismiss the rye due to the close relation of something peach flavored. If you are hesitant, you will have to trust me, you do not want to write off this rye simply because the distillery makes flavored whiskey.
Instead of using fruit juice to obtain the lost profile of a Maryland Rye, Leopold Bros. took a page out of the Four Roses playbook and attempted to obtain that fruit profile through the use of specific yeast strains and species of bacteria. While this is nothing new to whiskey, it is however pretty unique to the rye whiskey market. It seems like most ryes from large distilleries are afterthoughts, destine for the bottom shelf, requiring little attention and even less adjustment. The idea of manipulating the yeast strain to pull certain acids from the rye distillate is a rare effort for any rye whiskey, but seeing it come from a small distillery is pretty exciting.
In a StraightBourbon thread from 2012, Todd Leopold breaks down the mashbill (65% rye, 15% corn, 20% malted barley), the average age (four years), and the theory behind the yeast they use. He also admits that they add a handful of chocolate malt to the distillate which reminds me of the profiles from the high rye bourbons and straight ryes from Heaven Hill. Not a bad profile to chase if you ask me.
Leopold’s rye started out as a seasonal release, but has since become a year round offering in Colorado. Right now the number of barrels released is up to the 30’s, and you can get an 86 proof bottle for about $44. In another thread, Todd Leopold hinted towards the possibility of some ten year and twenty year Maryland Style Ryes in the future. I would guess that a ten year rye from Leopold is about five years away, but when those casks fully mature, you can expect Denver to become synonymous with Maryland Style Rye.
Color: In the bottle, there is some burgundy and dark purple. In the glass, the rye shows its age and lightens up quite a bit.
Nose: A bit young, some people might say it is a bit “white-doggy,” but what it lacks in wood influence, it more than makes up for in depth. Tons of rich cinnamon, clove, licorice root, and rye almost smell like a piece of hard root beer candy tastes. There is quite a bit of red berries and orange rind, as well as a faint spearmint that really display the thought that went in to the profile.
Sip: Decent texture for the proof and age. Upfront, the sweetness is short, with a small vanilla, toffee and a light honey which quickly fades to the vivid red berries and sharp citrus from the nose. The back end does all the heavy lifting. Loads of clove, cinnamon, dark bitter chocolate, and a smoky rye that takes the entire profile much further than you would expect a four year whiskey to go.
Finish: The finish is exquisite. Long notes of dark chocolate and red berries make one of the most desert-like finishes of any rye I have had. Some sharper spice notes linger about, but the finish definitely belongs to the chocolate and fruit.
Overall Grade: B+
If the Leopold Bros. Maryland Style Rye had a bit more sweetness from a longer spell in the barrel, this could easily be one of the best ryes on the market. Most notably, there is an absence of caramel which normally makes younger ryes pretty sharp, but somehow the palate does very well without it.
The craft rye market may not be a very competitive with only Copper Fox, Anchor Distilling and Fort Collins’s Feisty offering ryes that are worth noting, but anyone that tries to break in to the rye market will certainly have a pretty high bar to clear after this rye from Leopold Bros.