It’s always a bit odd when you pour yourself a dram of whiskey into a Glencairn glass and are immediately confronted with an appearance different than expected. We do, after all, taste with our eyes in addition to our nose and tongue, and an unexpected appearance is capable of coloring one’s entire perception of a whiskey. I’m not saying that happened as I sipped my dram of Redemption’s High-Rye Bourbon, but the appearance did immediately give away something I didn’t necessarily know about the product before pouring it: This whiskey is quite young.
There’s simply no other reason one normally sees a bourbon with this sort of yellow-gold, straw-like color. In the glass, Redemption High-Rye looks more like scotch than it does American whiskey. And when you actually get around to reading the marketing materials and see that it’s aged “no less than 1 year,” that starts to make sense. Redemption, in its current high-rye bourbon guise (it used to be aged no less than 2 years), is clearly aiming to make the best of what they can with young whiskey. At this, they’re fairly successful.
On the nose, this 92 proof bourbon is a bit boozy and brash, with pronounced ethanol that thankfully fades out a bit after it spends a little longer in the glass. It still reminds one a little bit of the alcohol character of high-rye moonshine. Those notes are supported by some red berry fruitiness, light vanilla and sour oak. The more one comes back to it, the more that oaky woodiness pops on the nose—the wood itself, rather than the char or caramelization, which is what you would expect from such a young whiskey.
On the palate, things turn for the better. The mash bill here is 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% barley—quite rye-heavy indeed and while retaining enough corn to keep the bourbon classification. The alcohol/ethanol presence doesn’t come out as strongly here, and the product rather reminds one of a light, young rye whiskey rather than a classical bourbon. Thinnish of body, it hits the tongue with spicy, woody and especially minty notes. There an almost fennel-like note of light licorice, and lots of black peppery spiciness from the rye. It drinks fairly easily, except for a bit of heat from the booze, and it’s not the kind of whiskey that one would ever describe as elegant. Rather, this stuff is brash and unrestrained.
Of course, the natural reaction to that is to wonder what the same mash bill/liquid might mature into if it was given an appropriate amount of time to age. 1-2 years simply isn’t enough time for this whiskey to really become what it wants to become. As is, there are plenty of applications where it would work well for mixing and cocktails, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of profile that many drinkers would want to drink neat. At the $25 price range you’ll find it in, well-aged whiskeys such as Elijah Craig are more obvious choices for neat drinking. Even the ubiquitous Bulleit Bourbon has a high-rye mash bill with significantly more age on it, for a similar price, although its palette of flavors isn’t as unique as those found in Redemption.
Ultimately, I’d be very interested in tasting the same liquid that has simply had more time to mature.
City: Distilled in Indiana (MGP), bottled in Bardstown, KY
Style: High-rye bourbon
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $25
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer and whiskey guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks coverage.