This 49.5% rye is not an easy one to find in the wild. I got lucky and stumbled upon one in Memphis, Tennessee, and enjoyed it mostly in nicely iced Old Fashioneds that provided considerable relief from the sweltering summer heat there. But on a later, rather joyful occasion, we had the chance to taste it properly as a rye whiskey with all three of us present in the same room. Being in such a setting can certainly tilt one’s judgment in a dram’s favor. Nonetheless, we tried to be impartial.
For us, the nose opens with green pepper foam from a gastronomic cooking school for precocious 12 year olds. [Bill: Damn! Why did my kid have to go to Circus Camp instead?!?] Give it a second, and notes of perfume, apples, and old rain barrel emerge. Then it becomes clear: it’s Gardenia & Apple Perfume designed exclusively by Yves St. Laurent’s partner Pierre Bergé for the American Girl® doll range. John also got notes of fabric softener and youth. Bill and I weren’t sure if he meant that the whiskey itself tasted young or that the derivative YSL perfume did (which would be understandable, given its target demographic)–nor did we bother to ask.
John, in his note-taking for this dram, felt it necessary to identify two distinct mouths on this particular rye. I think he was trying to convey development over time, rather than a Picasso-esque jumble, but again, it was hard to tell, and neither Bill nor I followed up, so here we go:
Mouth #1: Dank and spicy, and for wusses like John, moldy and harsh. A Mexican bar in full humidity, where your elbows stick to the bar. I found it meatier than that, albeit perhaps a bit mushroomy or fungy-earthy (the first part there being the adjectival form of fungi, of course).
Mouth #2: Brighter on the second sip, and a lot nicer. Perhaps the dankness blew off, John notes. But we all found good spice and body that reminded us a bit of Mortlach. It presents on the second sip as a deeper and more substantial dram.
Then we all added a little water. John found some of the harsher notes he’d found washed away with a little dilution. Adding water reminded John of Martha Stewart: it’s a good thing. We all thought the taste got cleaner with water, but it lost a bit of its meatiness. In the end, we deemed the addition of water an alloyed partial good, which is probably also true of Martha Stewart (I only came around to this view thanks to her public relationship with Snoop Dogg).
The finish offers a grassy note evocative of yellow flowers. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Could mean dandelions–they are easy enough to find in grass. Could mean buttercups lining a well-manicured lawn. Could mean any number of things–we are not in the habit of interpreting our own work. But in general, this is one of those whiskeys that improves in the glass over time. It really comes together rather than falling apart, and we’re all for anti-entropic forces.
For the finish, the best bank in the world has peat lollipops for the grown-up customers, in which repeated lickings allow a sweetness to emerge, like the rasp of a cough softened by Swiss throat lozenges. I got also honey, produced by jimsonweed-deranged bees. Also: Allen Ginsburg’s Howl, read in tandem by Tom Waits and Jeremy Irons. Also: Smoked Oysters, slip-sliding down the throat as if they lived their mollusky lives hoping for nothing other than an apotheosis in my belly. A life well-lived, smoked oysters! proudly proclaims my tum-tum.
On the scale of anti-entropic forces–
The Castle and Key Restoration Rye 2020 Batch 2 is the role of art in our lives–Open to much more subjective judgment and interpretation than the other main candidate here (rationality), art often tries to impose order–or even make us more aware of the disorder–we encounter in reality. The degree to which it succeeds is left to the beholder. But try hard this one does–and for many it will succeed.