1512 Spirits, operating out of San Francisco's North Bay, raised the bar for white whiskey last year when they introduced their Barbershop spirit - a 100% rye mashbill recipe that was being produced clandestinely until Sal decided to bring it to the legal retail market. While the geeky consumer base had begun to sour a bit on the idea of white whiskies, there was a lot to love in the flavor of the Barbershop. It was clear that Sal wasn't just another upstart distiller - the whiskey was serious stuff. Unfortunately, he appeared to be masquerading as one by being the 10th person on his block to bring white rye to K&L. Sure, the rye was delicious and obviously better than almost every other white rye we'd previously tasted, but would that expressive flavor be enough to make his aged whiskies stand out? Would it even make a difference? We're about to start finding out.
After using smaller barriques to accelerate the process, Sal is finally releasing his first ever batch of barrel-aged rye. While we would all realistically like to taste something around ten years old from a charred, bourbon-sized barrel, 1512 doesn't have that luxury. They can't afford to simply sit back now and wait. Purists will complain that Rittenhouse can be had for $22 a bottle, but there's no point in comparing the 1512 aged rye to something like Rittenhouse because it's just not the same type of whiskey. This isn't a 60%-ish rye made on massive copper column stills at a couple-hundred-barrels-per-day pace. This is a 100% rye mashbill (something very tricky to work with as I have seen first-hand) and it's made in batches on a small pot still. The hearts aren't measured off by a computer - it's done by Sal on the spot. It's difficult to make and it takes a long time. It's not a streamlined, eco-efficient process. The attention to detail shows in the quality of the spirit, but perhaps no one will truly appreciate what it takes to get there. It's undoubtedly a better white whiskey than other producers are working with, but it costs more to make it. The time, the effort, the materials, the necessary bottom line - it's very expensive. The question is: are people willing to invest in that kind of effort?
So what does it taste like? The nose is fantastic - smelling it out of the bottle is definitely the best way to capture its essence. The aromas just seem to get lost in a glass. Unbelievably pure rye bread/grain aromas mesh into rich vanilla and wood. It's really a spectacular balance. The palate offers some of what the nose promises - lots of grainy, yeasty rye flavors with powerful wood. They made the right move bottling it at 50%. The color is dark amber - it really looks like it's 10 years old or more, even though it definitely is not. The finish is where the 1512 falls short and it's a common problem with rapidly-aged whiskies. Like a soup that is boiled instead of simmered, the flavors just haven't had enough time to congeal. Still, it's quite an enjoyable whiskey - especially for what it is.
I know exactly how old the 1512 is. I know which type and size of barrel it was aged in. However, I'm not going to disclose those facts because I know for certain it will only lead people to blow it off without trying it. There's no age statement on Black Maple Hill, or Sazerac, or most other American whiskies, so I definitely agree with their decision to leave it off the label. I'm sure Sal will tell you if you ask him because they're not trying to hide anything, but I know how fickle the public can be once they've made up their mind about something in advance. The 1512 aged rye is a whisky that must be tried before judging its proper place in the genre. Even after consumers do recognize its quality, however, the same querries are bound to arise. Do we really need a $60-per-half-bottle, 100% rye mashbill, hand-crafted, rapidly-matured rye whiskey? Why would a guy go through all that trouble to make a rye whiskey if it costs that much? Do we want to find out what a five or ten year old 1512 rye would taste like? Only you can answer those questions for yourself.
I personally really like the whiskey. We all have to keep in mind that there are very few high-rye mashbill whiskies out there with the exception of products like Anchor's Old Potrero or the 95% rye whiskies from LDI. You have to compare it against those whiskies, not against Sazerac 18 or Pappy 13. I'll say this - the 1512 aged rye is better than any young rye we've tasted from LDI and it was actually made by the guy who bottled it. That goes a long way in my book. It's also more balanced than Old Potrero, which always bothers me with its jarring pepperiness. 1512 Barbershop raised the bar for white whiskies. I believe the new aged rye raises it for 100% rye aged whiskies as well.