I can only imagine that it must be difficult to see your company framed as the sole poster child for a lightning rod issue that affects an entire industry.
So it was for Templeton Rye back in the early 2010s, when it became the public face of the whiskey consumer’s outcry against non-distillery producers (NDPs). It wasn’t that Templeton was the only distillery sourcing their flagship rye whiskey from the mega distillery that is MGP of Indiana—far from it. That same, popular “95/5” (95% rye, 5% malted barley) recipe was being sourced by brands all over, including Bulleit Rye, High West Rye, Redemption Rye, Dickel Rye and many others. Nor were all of those distilleries being perfectly transparent about their sourcing. But Templeton drew particular ire for how committed it was to its ultimately fake Prohibition-era theming, and it resulted in an outsized public shaming for the brand, wherein it essentially took the heat from anyone who was unaware of how NDPs had long operated. A class action settlement announced in 2015 saw the company on the hook for $2.5 million in damages, forced to pay refunds to any consumer who felt misled by Templeton’s implications that their whiskey was a product of Iowa, rather than Indiana. Since that point, Templeton has soldiered on, adding “distilled in Indiana” to its back labels and removing references to its “Prohibition era recipe.” They’ve also been distilling their own spirit in Iowa for several years now, the first aged batches of which should appear in 2022 or 2023.
For years, this is the reputation that has dogged Templeton Rye. It’s understandably the first thing that many whiskey geeks think of when they hear of the brand, although I’ve always thought that the focus on Templeton as “dishonest” was sort of missing the bigger picture, given how many other distilleries were also skirting transparency in sourcing at the same time. In my eyes, Templeton was just another standard NDP bottling MGP rye, like so many others.
Which is funny, because I totally missed a legitimately more valid reason to be concerned about Templeton’s product—the fact that they’ve been adding flavoring to it for more than a decade. Announced in the midst of the legal proceedings, this fact slipped under the radar for many, including myself—Templeton Rye’s core offerings (the 4 year and 6 year) are technically flavored whiskeys, although it would seem the flavoring is much more subtle than the gaudy fruit flavors found in your typical bottle of Jim Beam ____. The unknown flavoring in a bottle of Templeton Rye is supposedly intended to help match the flavor of the “original recipe” from the company’s Prohibition-era lore, but its presence is the reason why Templeton Rye 4 Year or 6 Year are not labeled as “straight rye,” which would preclude such additives. If you look at a bottle of either of these flagship ryes today, you will see that neither is labeled as “straight rye” despite seeming to meet all of the requirements to do so, indicating that this flavoring is still present. Templeton is legally allowed to add up to 2.5% by volume of “flavorings or other additives” without disclosing it on the label, something that can’t help but make the purists a bit leery.
And so, when the company announces a new, 10-year-old, single barrel premium rye whiskey, it does pay to look quite closely at the fine print for any sign of trickery. What we find here is interesting, though—this new year-round product is indeed labeled as straight rye whiskey. In fact, everything about the specs here is the kind of thing that should theoretically excite whiskey geeks—single barrel MGP straight rye, with a 10-year age statement, bottled at 104 proof. What’s not to like? Launched alongside the company’s new Entrepreneur’s Grant Program, which will award three small businesses $10,000 each, this feels like a play to recapture some attention from the discerning whiskey drinker who may have previously written off the company. And well-aged MGP rye, presented near cask strength, is a pretty good way to capture attention. Its MSRP is $85—not spectacular, but not too bad for well-aged MGP whiskey either. It puts it in a similar position to Old Forester’s new, cask-strength single barrel rye (review incoming) at $80, which is stronger but lacks the 10-year age statement.
So with all this said, and noting Templeton’s brand refresh/new bottle designs that are intended to “refocus on a company that’s centered around where it comes from, as well as where it’s headed next,” let’s getting to tasting this single barrel rye and see how it performs on its own merits.
On the nose, Templeton 10 Year Single Barrel Rye is immediately enticing, showing restraint and composure for the proof point, clearly tempered by years within the oak. I’m getting lots of chocolate and roast on the nose, almost brownie batter-like, combined with mint and toasted sugar reminiscent of commercial palm sugar. There’s quite a bit of oak on the nose as well, but it’s a sweeter and spicier oak profile that is quite pleasant, with light cinnamon and star anise, combined with fruitier notes of caramelized/roasted peach or apricot. One thing that is not super present on the nose is rye spice or rye grain, as this overall profile feels quite influenced by the barrel, but in a very pleasant way. Perhaps this is even a so-called “honey barrel,” because it seems to have solely pulled the richer and more decadent qualities of the oak, rather than any of the downsides of extended aging. Ethanol, as previously stated, is extremely gentle here.
On the palate, the rye emerges in a significantly more tactile way, merging nicely with some of the same oak/spice profile found on the nose. Here, the rye spice forms a moderately assertive core for the flavor profile, combined with more herbaceous (mint, dill) and spice (anise, clove) notes, which play nicely with flashes of deeply caramelized sugars that imply richness without imparting a ton of actual residual sweetness. The rye finishes moderately dry and again drinks very easily for the proof point, allowing you to tease further impressions from the spicy oak profile, which is blissfully free from bitterness or overly tannic notes. Another feature: The mouthfeel on this is very viscous and full, making the whiskey feel even bigger than it is in terms of ABV on the palate—this definitely has the mouthfeel of a barrel proof whiskey, without the booziness.
All in all, I have to say that this one absolutely works for me—I don’t know if all the single barrels can live up to this particular standard, but what I’m drinking here is excellent, combining a beautiful oak profile with classic MGP rye notes in a way that is both decadent but approachable. It speaks to the quality of what Templeton has sourced—everyone knows that MGP makes some great whiskey, so this really shouldn’t be a surprise. And without any seeming misleading marketing involved in the brand, it’s a rye whiskey that the internet whiskey geeks may want to keep an eye out for in the near future.
Distillery: Templeton Rye (sourced, MGP of Indiana)
City: Templeton, IA
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 52% ABV (104 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $85 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.