Woodinville Cask Strength Rye

I wasn’t an immediate fan of Woodinville, but after tasting multiple private barrel selections and (spoiler) their cask-strength rye, consider me converted. Thanks to generous friends, I received two samples of this distillery exclusive. This batch is my favorite of the pair.


Pour: Woodinville Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey
Proof: 115.12
Age: 5 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: candied pear, dried apricot, sliced orange
Taste: fruit cocktail, vanilla cookie, tea, herbal spice
Finish: long w/ sweet cayenne, cinnamon, Altoid mints


Overall: There’s something about a 100% rye done right. Be it Alberta, Frey Ranch, or in this case, Woodinville Cask Strength Rye, there’s an unexpected fruitiness that cradles the rye’s grain-inherent spice. At $70 it’s not cheap, but it’s damn sure flavorful.

Rating: Ryet on.

Thomas H. Handy (2021)

Of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection expressions, Thomas H. Handy rye is the undisputed underdog. One could even say it maintains a cult-like appreciation, with some veteran enthusiasts claiming it’s the best of the lineup. But is 2021’s release up to snuff?


Pour: Thomas H. Handy Straight Rye Whiskey (2021)
Proof: 129.5
Age: not stated (reportedly 6 years)
Color: copper
Nose: ripe pear, dried pineapple, vanilla frosting
Taste: lemon cookie, boozy fruit rollup, sweet herbs
Finish: long w/ zesty citrus, vibrant oak, cayenne pepper


Overall: A fantastic example of what a six-year, barrel-proof rye should taste like – vibrant, complex, and dynamically spicy. If found at its $99 retail price, Handy is worth a purchase. Outside of that, there’s considerably better options.

Rating: It’s good, but settle down.

Barrell Seagrass

Unless you spent 2021 under a rock, you’ve surely heard of Barrell Seagrass. On paper, it appears as if the Swedish Chef decided to craft a whiskey. Get this. KY, IN, TN, and Canadian rye finished in Martinique Rhum, Madeira, and apricot brandy casks. Bork, bork, bork!


Pour: Barrell Seagrass
Proof: 119.12
Age: not stated
Color: amber
Nose: orchard fruit, almond pastry, floral honey
Taste: candied pear, spiked fruit cocktail, sweet spice
Finish: moderately long – vanilla creme, syrupy citrus, delicate oak


Overall: Well, I’ll be a Muppet’s uncle. This is delicious! “Whiskey of the Year?” Ehh. $80 well spent? Arguably. But no doubt delicious. If you’re looking for a uniquely sweet rye with loads of orchard fruit and elegant spice and oak, this is your jam.

Rating: Chef’s kiss.

Frey Ranch Bottled-in-Bond Rye

I’m a sucker for well-crafted rye whiskey. Unfortunately, the list of disappointing rye releases is endless. At least this Frey Ranch Straight Rye has a lot going for it – 100% ground-to-glass winter rye, aged 5 years, and bottled in bond. Sounds like quality, but is it? 


Pour: Frey Ranch Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey (b. 5)
Proof: 100
Age: 5 years
Color: copper
Nose: buttercream frosting, cherry candy, Fruit Stripe gum
Taste: lemon cookie, zesty oak, vibrantly sweet spice
Finish: moderately long – cinnamon, Snapple fruit tea, white pepper


Overall: Wowza! This is one helluva rye. And to think it’s a bottled-in-bond expression. I can’t imagine what Frey Ranch’s rye whiskey is like at barrel proof. But given a single-barrel rye TTB filing last October, I suppose we’ll soon find out. Count me in!

Rating: A-Frey-zing.


Bottle courtesy of Frey Ranch Distillery.

Castle & Key Restoration Rye

I couldn’t help but find myself impressed with Restoration Rye’s bottle. It’s hefty, well-designed, and sports a weapons-grade stopper. Unfortunately, the stated age of “3” looks deceptively like an “8” and it’s not labeled straight. Let’s hope these are simple oversights.


Pour: Castle & Key Restoration Rye (2020, b. 1)
Proof: 103
Age: 3 years
Color: light amber
Nose: grain, pie dough, ethanol
Taste: peppered pear, Pledge polish, salt
Finish: moderately sour – bitter toffee, astringent oak


Overall: Look, I accept that youthful whiskey seldom tastes like well-aged whiskey, but Restoration Rye suffers from more than immaturity. It’s thin, lacking in sweetness, and wholly unpleasant from nose to finish. Restoration … it’s what your palate will need.

Rating: Rough.