Friday, July 20, 2012
Dad's Hat is a new rye whiskey. It's mission is to return Pennsylvania rye--the orignal rye--to its former glory. Rye was once made primarily in the Northeast, but died off during prohibition. Some brands were salvaged, most of which by the Kentucky whisky industry. Thus, Rittenhouse Rye, with its Philly name and "Pennsylvania style," is made in Bardstown, Kentucky by Heaven Hill. Philadelphia distilling, makers of my favorite gin, Bluecoat, released a rye vodka a number of years back, and I remember some message boards lamenting the choice, suggesting that they should have re-introduced PA rye (they now sell a white whisky called XXX Shine). Well, Laurel Spirits in Bristol, PA has stepped in where others hesitated. The website tells the story of how the founder, a former chemical engineer/businessman named Herman Mihalich--used to live in an apartment above the family bar years ago (Dad's Hat Rye). I first heard of the project from Craig Laban, Inquirer food critic. He reviews the whisky here. I read on Drink Philly that Mihalich did not want to release a white whisky, but due to their rise in popularity and faster trip to store shelves, he decided to release both a white and an aged version. The whisky is aged in quarter casks for 7-9 months. I wrote in my review of Hudson Four Grain about the small versus large barrel debate, and am always skeptical of upstarts. Yet I am so excited about the prospect of local rye whisky that I am hoping it can hold its own. Okay enough jibber jabber I can smell the pour as I type, let's get down to brass tacks.
You may be able to tell from the picture that it is light in color, almost like a vienna lager. It had more contact with the wood due to smaller barrels, but for only less than a year.
It smells very young to me. Not a lot of vanillins or oak influence. It smells, oddly, like corn syrup. Odd bc/ there is no corn in this one, just local rye and malted barley. There is some pepper, and some floral element to it. It smells nice, at this point I am accustomed to more cinnamon, vanilla, and barrel in the whiskies I drink, and this youthfulness is a bit aloof to me. Or am I aloof to it?
Initially I get a burst of rye spiciness and I am pleased. As it washes over my tongue, the youthfulness hinted at on the nose is there in fruity, pleasant form. Craig Laban feels it has some candied apple, and there is an element of that that reminds me ever so slightly of one of my all time favorites, Woodford Reserve. I'll have to try it in a Manhattan to see how it holds up, there, but I imagine it might be just fine.
The bottle says "not lingering or heavy handed in its finish." It's funny bc/ that description is a turn off to me, as I love a long finish. Also I don't feel it's entirely acurrate, maybe it's not heavy handed but it is certainly substantial enough to be noticeable. Not like a cheaply made whisky that leaves a slight sweetness in your mouth but nothing else.
Here is the problem for me. This bottle costs just a shade under $40 in PA liquor control board stores. As always, I could rattle off a number of better whiskies at comparable or even cheaper price points. But I do feel that this product has a lot of love in its production, and I understand that they cannot compete with behemoths like Heaven Hill and company in terms of output and profit margins. I like that they support local farmers and are trying to revive a legendary product, and I plan to support them in their efforts. To that end, Cheers! Hopefully as they move forward, they will have more entries onto the market, and turn enough of a profit that the value part of the equation is a bit better.
I am probably a bit biased, as I have ripped other newbies for being young or rushed to the market. That said, I think I can objectively say that this is a promising, interesting product that has a niche market to grow and improve into. I plan on visiting the distillery for a tour soon. I also like the story behind it, including the concept of Dad's Hat being the perfect fit.