Origin: Brooklyn, NY (USA)
Type: Rye Whiskey
Ageing barrels: American Virgin Oak
Added coloring: Yes
Owner: Kings County Distillery
Average price: $ 55,00 (375 ml)
Official website: kingscountydistillery.com
Today I present another unusual bottle, outside the usual Scottish coordinates of our tastes: Kings County Empire Straight Rye Whiskey, the first Rye whiskey reviewed here and one of the hottest of the moment. As you probably know, for some time now Rye whiskies have finally made a well-deserved return to international tables and, above all, to the most advanced cocktail bars, both for their greater intensity compared to traditional Bourbons and for their greater ductility compared to the more rigid scotches.
One example for all is the now legendary Bulleit Rye Whiskey (which sooner or later will also appear on these screens). I can’t hide my passion for these typically American spirits which, despite the fact that they are at the opposite end of the spectrum to my beloved peat-based spirits, always offer an interesting drink with great character.
So I begin by saying that this Rye isn’t only no exception but also offers a discreet leap in quality compared to the competition. This leap is unfortunately also reflected in a significant jump in price, especially on our side of the Atlantic, which makes it a little less attractive, but no less good. This Rye is a kind of cru, as you can tell by its name: Empire Rye is in fact a category of Rye spirits produced in the State of New York, the Empire State, which since 2015 has grouped together in a production consortium various distilleries in the area that are committed to following a scrupulous specification (you can find more info here).
Among them, Kings County started in 2010 as a neighbourhood micro-distillery in Brooklyn, dedicated to supplying its local audience of passionate customers with small sizes of 200 and 375 ml. All base grains are sourced from New York State, to which a 20% proportion of English barley is usually added to fine-tune the mash. This Rye is no exception and spends 2 years in new toasted casks after distillation. It has a minimalist and somewhat hipster aesthetic, but in the end very refined: between the characteristic bottle format and the label made from an old typewriter, the cool effect is assured. It has to be said that on the wave of success in recent years, the distillery has started a new 750 ml bottling line which will be available soon. My sample, however, is still from the old format.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s not a cheap product for its characteristics, but it’s cared for in every detail, and the micro-distillery follows a maniacal quality control process that you can see and feel.
In fact, the caramel colour, not too dark, has lovely amber reflections that already promise lots of spices and sweetness, and the first approach to the nose does not contradict the visual impression.
The alcohol is very present at 51%, but it immediately gives way to a powerful peppery taste that alternates with a whirlwind of what the Americans like to call holiday spices and Thanksgiving desserts, in other words everything you can imagine in the most lavish of US banquets: cinnamon, ginger, orange peel, vanilla, nutmeg, candied sugar and so on. All on a strong note of crunchy red apple and burnt caramel. In short, an explosive, smoky, peppery apple pie. Not bad at all!
But it’s on the palate that it is really surprising.
Those who expect a typical American whiskey to be pandering will be surprised by a nice mix of roasted and caramelised flavours: sugar and cream in a smoky and peppery version, more cinnamon, nutmeg and candied apple that envelop the mouth in a full, enveloping and long-lasting sip. The alcohol holds up well against the aromatic structure, which offers plenty of satisfaction in terms of persistence and breadth. The youthfulness of ageing is betrayed by a slightly excessive hint of wood extraction. In short, there are a little too many tannins that remain at the end of the sip, but in the end they are also those that so nicely characterised the initial opening. You know what? If they bother you, have a nice Manhattan or an Old Fashioned and you’ll see that this Rye will give you even greater satisfaction.
Obviously, the future promises even greater things: only time will tell what surprises this distillery will have in store for us with products that are a little older.