Heh. Surly Rye. Heh. *cough*
Ok, so Redemption isn’t exactly on my nice list. Not because there’s anything wrong with the company or the whiskey, but just because I try not to give too much airtime to NDPs (non-distiller producers) who don’t add something original to the marketplace. Their bourbons and ryes are just repackaged MGP whiskey with a thin veneer of story on top. So color me surprised when I found exactly that on the shelf – an innovation! From an NDP! I felt duty-bound as a blogger (now there’s a phrase) to spring the $60 – more than I generally spend on untested bourbons or ryes – to find out if this was just more thin story.
Redemption has taken MGP straight rye (mashbill 95% rye, 5% barley) and matured it longer in their own warehouses to at least a minimum of 3 years of total age, with mash lees added to the barrels. Lees are the leftover bits of solid material – rye, barley, and dead yeast cells – that are filtered out of the fermented mash (the beer) before distillation. They complete this French winemaking practice by also rolling the barrels periodically to redistribute the lees and (in theory) inhibit the production of sulphur byproducts, and by barrier (not chill) filtering the whiskey before bottling.
Quick linguistic note. In French, sur lie means the practice of aging wine in the barrel with fermentation lees (bits of grape, skin, stems, seeds, and yeast). Sur means “on top” and lie means lees. Thus, Redemption has decided to go with … uhm … Franglish here, mixing the French sur with the English ‘lee’. I’m assuming it was intentional, but to a French speaker it would sure look stupid.
Ok, but does throwing some distillation trash into a barrel of whiskey they didn’t make warrant a $60 price tag? Allons-y find out:
Nose: Fruity as all get-out. Wine grapes, grape skins, passionfruit, fruit punch, apple blossom, gummi bears, and juicy fresh plums. Wow. Reminds me of Barrell Seagrass, which is crazy because the fruit notes here come – presumably – from the yeast in the mash lees and not from various wine and spirit barrel finishes. A fascinating aroma with a ton of depth.
Palate: Syrupy body. Fruit notes continue through the palate, adding a sweet layer of taffy and apricot jam. A tinge of anise (licorice), cardamom, and almond extract round out the complexity.
Finish: Medium-long. The same fruit flavors spill over into the finish, now accompanied by a dose of cocktail bitters and mouth-drying barrel tannins. Fades without evolving.
With Water: Several drops of water initially muddy the aroma, bringing a half-baked chocolate note to the detriment of all the fruit. A rest in the glass fixes this, but I’d skip the water here unless you’d like to experiment. It does make the palate and finish a little livelier and more tart.
Overall: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a $60 rye from an LDI/MGP repackager with no age statement, but this stuff is legit. It is bursting with fruit, complex spices, and possesses a depth that I feel could warrant deeper exploration. I would love to see other whiskey producers attempt this technique.