Rye Tasting VI: Hirsch

(part of a series of posts on a recent panel tasting of 18 American rye whiskies that starts here. For more information on rye whiskey and additional tasting notes, pick up the January/February 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine.)

Unlike many of the other ryes in this tasting — which came accompanied by some press materials from the distillery or a short phone conversation with a distiller — the sample of Hirsch Selection 21-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey came unencumbered by any information beyond a general reputation for excellence. (It also came unencumbered by a whole bottle; hence, there’s no photo to accompany this whiskey, unless you want a shot of the dinky little sampler bottle that had a sticker pasted on the outside).

Clocking in at 93 proof, the Hirsch rye was the second 21-year-old in the tasting (the other was the Rittenhouse), and for the most part it wore its age well. The nose wasn’t too promising, with a touch of acetone followed by a hot, spicy note. On the palate, the whiskey became more agreeable, with bright, peppery notes coming on strong up front, followed by a sourdough-like tanginess that lingered a good long while. The whiskey’s age was evident in its robust mouthfeel and long, lasting smoothness. One panelist found the Hirsch particularly noteworthy, saying “it’s smooth; I’m not that fond of the nose but it has a medium finish. It’s a good sipping rye,” a sentiment agreed to by two other panelists; the four panelist wasn’t so impressed, finding the finish too short and sour.

Verdict: At prices starting at $125, you’d expect this whiskey to be excllent, and all but one panelist found this to be the case.

One panelist chose the Hirsch as among his top three choices, and while that was the best showing for this whiskey, all but one panelist found it really remarkable (if overshadowed by a few of the other excellent whiskies in the tasting). With its longer aging and serious price, this is a whiskey best enjoyed neat — but if you come across it, you’re almost certain to enjoy it.

Next: The Sazerac family of ryes

2 Responses to Rye Tasting VI: Hirsch

  1. Interesting.

    I just have a hard time with any American Whiskey, (or any liquor, really,) above around $75 a bottle. When I see those prices, I just think I could be buying two bottles of Sazerac 18. I wonder if I will get twice as much enjoyment out of it, and somehow my wallet always stays in my pocket.

    Dunno what it is. I have no problem driving up to Sonoma and spending that much on a case of wine or in the course of a month or two, spending it on various bottles of liquor and liqueur.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Almost all the high-end booze in my cabinet either arrived in my home as a gift, or as a sample. With only a couple of exceptions, every time I’ve gone to the liquor store with the idea of buying something special and expensive, I’ve had second thoughts–like you say, I keep wondering if I’ll enjoy it twice as much as a lower-priced item, or if I’ll keep thinking of the price tag every time I take a sip, regretting that I didn’t save the cash to buy some stuff I could play with and enjoy more freely.

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