By Andrew Graham
Bend, Oregon-based Crater Lake Spirits is a distillery that’s been on my radar since I reviewed its Black Butte American Malt Whiskey, produced in partnership with Deschutes Brewery, last fall.
I was happy to get my hands on a bottle of the Reserve Rye, because I’ve come to expect a bit more than most drinkers do from young, affordable whiskeys, which is exactly what this expression is. It has a mash bill of 95 percent rye and five percent malted barley, which is aged for three years in new American oak with a medium char and bottled at 96 proof.
Notes of spearmint and lemon peel are what’s most apparent on the nose. I found the aromas light and subdued rather than filling-the-room bold, but nevertheless nice. The lemon peel scent was appealing.
On the palate, the whiskey layers an immediate rush of white pepper, charred vegetables, and more mint on top of traces of roasted peanuts. There are notes of agave syrup that register very subtly at first and then become more dominant on the mid-palate and the finish. Pepper is reintroduced on the finish, but this time it’s in the form of coarsely ground black pepper flavors, which I found deeper and more earthy than what’s at the front of the palate.
Whiskey drinkers who really like rye will probably enjoy this particular rye. The flavor notes of deep pepper set against a unique, not-quite-bourbon sweetness is the high point of this whiskey. The producer markets it as being a cocktail workhorse, but I preferred to drink it neat to experience the peppery spiciness of it. My suspicion is that the higher proof of this rye serves it well, and I wonder if a yet higher proofing would further accentuate some of the sweeter notes that I enjoyed.
Crater Lake Reserve Rye has a recommended price of $30.