In today’s whiskey world, there are two main lanes—big corporate distilleries and craft. Sometimes the lines are crossed, like when a craft operation is acquired by one of the giants but continues production relatively unfettered. And sometimes the industry giants dip their toes into the world of small-scale, experimental distillation, as is the case with this new rye whiskey from Heaven Hill.
It’s not like these terms haven’t been used before by the big boys and girls—the James B. Beam Distilling Co. (home of Jim Beam) opened its “craft” distillery a year ago, the Fred B. Noe Distillery, named after Beam’s longtime master distiller and overseen by his son Freddie. In the case of Heaven Hill, the distillery has had an “artisanal” distillery at the Evan Williams Experience on Main Street in Louisville for several years, with the first bourbon from this location arriving last year. This is really a tourist site, not a big production facility, but I’ve visited and there is indeed a small still there that has the capacity to make one barrel per day. While there’s no legal definition for small batch, that certainly seems to fit the bill.
The latest release from this micro-distillery is Square 6 High-Rye Rye Whiskey. Distiller Jodie Filiatreau is the man behind the whiskey, and he is no novice having been with the company for nearly 40 years. “Square 6 High-Rye Rye Whiskey is a totally unique product, not only because of its high rye content, but also because of how it is hand-crafted on a copper pot still,” he said in a statement. “We are excited for whiskey lovers to add this latest Square 6 release to their collections and for them to enjoy a new Heaven Hill mash bill.”
That mash bill is 63 percent rye, 24 percent corn and 13 percent malted barley, which according to the brand is a new one for the company. The main Heaven Hill rye whiskey mash bill is 51 percent rye, 35 percent corn, 14 percent malted barley, so this is indeed “high rye” for the distillery (while not reaching the levels of MGP with its 95 percent rye whiskeys). Square 6 is bottled at 95 proof, which seems to be a happy zone for this particular expression—not too hot, but enough alcohol to make its presence known. No age statement is provided on the label, but according to a rep for the distillery it’s six years old. On the nose, it does read as younger than that, with green wood notes along with a bit of apple and lemon. Splash some on your fingertips and rub it around, and you get the same aromas you’d experience if you’ve ever visited a distillery—grainy, malty, nutty scents that are quite pleasant. Of course, it’s more fun to drink whiskey than to touch it, and this rye is a pretty good time in the mouth. Again, it reads as slightly immature, but there’s a nice viscosity to it and the palate explodes with brown sugar, caramel, stone fruit and honey, layered with spices like black pepper, nutmeg and a hint of anise.
This is truly unlike other Heaven Hill whiskeys, and that’s a good thing. The whole point of having an experimental distillery is to, you know, do experiments. And this young but tasty whiskey is no gimmick, and thankfully neither is it Frankenstein’s monster or some other endeavor run amok. Whiskey fans, particularly devotees of Elijah Craig, Evan Williams or other Heaven Hill brands, should take note and give this bottle a try (as well as the high-rye bourbon released last year). It’s available now at the Evan Williams Experience and Kentucky retailers for $89.99, but you might be able to find it on the secondary market for double that in your neck of the woods.
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this
Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review