By Kenrick Thurston-Wilcox
Leopold Bros Three Chamber Rye is the culmination of research, patience, and the idea to look to the past to see what could be done differently. This is an attempt to create something that has not been on the market in almost a century; to transport people back to a different time, when rye was king in America, not bourbon.
Does it deliver? In one word: yes. It is quite unlike any other whiskey I’ve tried. To truly understand this whiskey, one must also know the backstory, and the innovations that went into making it.
The heart of what makes the whiskey is in the name: the Three Chamber Still. It allows for a more heavy bodied, oily, mouth filling and aromatic whiskey. The example at Colorado’s Leopold Brothers is also the first still of its kind to operate in over fifty years, a true innovation for the industry. Todd Leopold discovered the still type while perusing old tax documents (as one does in their free time), and discovered that many Pennsylvania distillers were using this type of still before prohibition.
To make a truly pre-Prohibition style whiskey, Leopold Bros also had to look to the grain of the past. Working with local farmers they brought back an old strain of rye, abruzzi. Compared to modern grains abruzzi has less starch, resulting in more flavor. Leopold Bros are also one of the few American distillers who malt their own barley, another call back to pre-Prohibition days. That practice helps explain why their liquors are typically considered malt forward. All of this work and preparation results in a whiskey quite unlike any other on the market. So how is it?
The whiskey has a beautiful, deep color of amber. The nose is a lot to take in; a lot of peppercorn and heat in the front (the whiskey is bottled at 100 proof), but supported by a beautiful bouquet of lavender, cinnamon, and baking spice. The mash bill is 80% rye, 20% malted barley, resulting in some maltiness coming in the rear. Just from the nose you can tell this a different beast, with a very deeply layered, complex aroma.
The palate is just as complex and does not disappoint. The initial reaction when sipping is a lot of heat and spice (you can really feel that 100 proof), a warming sensation that fills and coats the inside of your mouth in oil. Lavender comes in behind the spice, balanced with some candied orange, chamomile and bitter black tea. The finish is long and oily, courtesy of the still, with chamomile and black tea dominating the palate. This whiskey punches you in the face in the flavor department and as such may be a little overwhelming at first. Once you adjust though, it is an extremely enjoyable experience. A couple drops of water tame the spiciness on both the nose and mouth, leaving room for the lavender and fruity notes to come forward and balance out with the peppercorn. Still a lot of flavor, yet tempered just enough to enjoy more of the subtleties the whiskey has to offer.
As the first whiskey of its type in over one hundred years, Leopold Bros has distilled history in a bottle. I’m hopeful more distillers take note of this historic whiskey and maybe in ten years we’ll see more of its type, along with different variations. Though if you’re looking for something that harkens back to simpler times, look no further.
Officially, this item is $250 a bottle, and that isn’t too far removed from what it commands on the store shelf. Retailers seem to be asking between $240 and $270.