Sazerac Rye Hailed as “Best Rye” in the MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM

The MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM has been a permanent fixture of our magazine since 2005. This past December the Forum reemerged in a new look and with new rules, and we’ll tell you why here. The first spirit the MTF testers put through the paces was rye whiskey, a current fave among bartenders.

Giffard Alkoholfrei

After an exhaustive process of tasting, whiffing and eyeballing, the first MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM conducted under the new rules announced the clear winner in MIXOLOGY issue 6/2014: Steeped in tradition, Sazerac Rye was a hit with the majority of testers and the only product tested to receive the truly impressive rating of “Excellent” with 95 out of 100 possible points.

Stiff competition

Following closely in 2nd and 3rd place with very high scores of their own were 1776 Rye (93 points) and Knob Creek Rye (92 points), both of which are relatively new to this market. While Sazerac received top scores across the board, Knob Creek and 1776 fell just that bit short in a few isolated categories. Having said that, both of these 100-proof US whiskeys still rose to the top of the crop with the rating of “Very Good”, outpacing most of the remaining field by a long shot. Impressive newcomers Whistle Pig Rye and Wild Turkey 101 shared 4th place with “only” 89 points and a rating of “Good”.

Berlin premier

The newly formed MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM (MTF) made its debut this past November at Berlin’s rivabar. Under the former “Taste Forum” structure the testing sessions were held in a different city for each issue of the magazine. Now MTF takes over as a permanent rating institution within MIXOLOGY. The former heading “Verkostet & Bewertet” (‘Tasted & Rated’) has now been merged into the new MTF.

rivabar Yannick Marty of Stagger Lee


The MTF team: spirit



The many faces of rye

Along with glorious victors, the blind taste tests of all 15 rye whiskeys also produced a number of surprising dark horses. Many participants were astonished at the high praise received by Jim Beam Rye, the global market leader. As a mass produced rye its potential was initially viewed with a degree of skepticism by some. But in the end Beam Suntory’s rye came in with 82 points and a score of “Solid” thanks to a mild freshness appreciated by many of the testers.

Illinois’ F.E.W. Rye, a rapidly rising underground star on today’s bar scene, split the jury into different camps. Some jurors awarded F.E.W. top scores, including a perfect 100, while others punished it with low scores and a rating of “Inferior”. Once the dust had settled F.E.W. came out in second-to-last place with 79 points and a rating of “Average”, nosing out only the US favorite George Dickel Rye at 78 points.

The Canadian mole is exposed

The expertise of our testers was reaffirmed as each and every one of them caught out the spoiler snuck into the competition by the organizers. Canada’s Hirsch Rye is indeed distilled from rye grain, but as is common with other “Canadian” whiskeys a single grain spirit is added to create a milder blend. Hirsch Rye subsequently received no score. It also speaks volumes about the high overall quality of this segment that none of the 15 tested whiskeys received an aggregate rating below the level of “Average”.

What is rye?

Many experts assert that rye was actually the original form of American whiskey. In any case, rye whiskey enjoyed great popularity in the USA until it was marginalized by the newly restructured spirits market which emerged at the end of the Prohibition era. But in the wake of the enormous development in international bar culture in recent years the demand for high quality ryes has skyrocketed, and many producers are now reacting to this renaissance in their product portfolios.

Rye grain is not the only ingredient that goes into a rye whiskey. In order for a whiskey to be labeled “Straight Rye” its “mash bill”, the composition of the grains used, has to list a majority share of at least 51% rye. Virtually every distiller also adds corn, barley or malted barley to the mash for balance. One exception to this is our 4th place winner Whistle Pig, which lists 100% rye on its mash bill. And it’s a little-know fact that bourbon whiskeys, which are required to have a predominantly corn-based composition, also generally have a portion of rye added to the blend.

Another common feature shared between rye and bourbon is that both are legally required to be aged for at least three years. While the Jim Beam Rye we tested is a toddler in the group at only four years old, many of the other rye products are aged far longer, some for more than ten years.

What’s next?

Going forward the new Taste Forum will focus on a different category of spirit along with one style of beer in each issue of MIXOLOGY. The jury for each round will be made up of at least ten jurors taken from our roster of over 20 acclaimed and highly qualified bartenders and other experts. During the blind tasting sessions the jurors will only be aware of the product category, but not which brands are participating.
The tests will be supervised by MIXOLOGY author Peter Eichhorn and Irish Berlin-based beer expert Rory Lawton. After the jurors have tested all the competing products, they are invited to a discussion round by the organizers who then reveal the product identities. This discussion has no bearing on the ratings given previously during the tasting sessions.

A brand that pledges neutrality

The new structure for the tasting session ratings represents the MTF’s desire to bring some clarity into the ever-thickening jungle of spirits competitions. There are now numerous prizes and medals in Germany and around the world, but most of these competitions require participants to pay a fee to register and submit their products. Not the MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM. The products tested in the MTF tasting sessions are chosen solely by the organizers themselves.

Manufacturers cannot submit their products for evaluation. We will rate both new and established products, from large and small producers alike. And effective immediately, MTF will have its own seal which the tested products can choose to display. In the current 1/2015 issue of MIXOLOGY the TASTE FORUM hops from the American mainland down to the Caribbean where the next testing round focuses on “Heavy Bodied British Style Rum”. More on this soon right here.

Here are the results of the “Rye Whiskey” MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM

Place  Product – Points

  1. Sazerac – 95
  2. 1776 Rye – 93
  3. Knob Creek – 92
  4. Whistle Pig – 89
  5. Wild Turkey 101 – 89
  6. Wild Turkey 80 – 88
  7. Michter’s – 88
  8. Bulleit – 87
  9. Jeffersons – 87
  10. Rittenhouse – 87
  11. Templeton – 85
  12. Old Overholt – 84
  13. Jim Beam – 82
  14. FEW Rye – 79
  15. George Dickel – 78

–.        Hirsch – No score


The MIXOLOGY TASTE FORUM testing is conducted exclusively by acclaimed, highly qualified bartenders and other experts with trained sensory faculties and a wealth of tasting experience. The rye testers on hand this time from our pool of over 20 testers were: Torsten Bender (Green Door Bar), Christian Gentemann (Bar am Steinplatz), Hannes Gleißner (Finest Whisky specialty shop), Michael Hanke (Le Croco Bleu Bar), Cordula Langer (Monkey Bar), Yannick Marty (Stagger Lee Bar), Michael Prescher (Catwalk Bar), Lutz Rau (Booze Bar), Dennis Wolf (Bar Raclette) and Robert Zinke (Salut Bar).


Original article by Nils Wrage. Translated by Jeff Collier.



Foto: Photo via Tim Klöcker