Whiskey Review: Chattanooga Whiskey 99 Proof Straight Rye Malt Whiskey

About a year ago, I was introduced to the Chattanooga Whiskey line of spirits by a good friend who wholeheartedly recommended them to me. I was pretty impressed with the bottle of bourbon I reviewed a year ago, but I get the distinct feeling that they are only going to get better as they start experimenting with different aspects of their process. Today we’re looking at a new variation of their spirit, a 99 proof rye made with malted grains.



After the end of prohibition, the state of Tennessee only allowed whiskey distillation in three counties: Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee. They expanded that list in 2009, but it still didn’t include the county where Chattanooga is located. Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter decided to change that, forming the Chattanooga Whiskey Co in 2011 with the intent to re-write the law to allow distilling in their county and bring distilling back to their home city.

While their legislative efforts were in process, they worked with a Lincoln County distillery to create their own strains of spirits that they could sell and fund their campaign. Their efforts paid off, and on May 16, 2013, the Governor of Tennessee signed a new law making distilling in Hamilton County (where Chattanooga is located) legal again.

The pair hired a staff and opened their new distillery in March 2015, releasing their initial 100 proof white whiskey in November of that year.


Chattanooga Whiskey is doing something interesting with their bourbon here — specifically, taking the approach of including as much malted grain as possible in the mash bill. Of their spirits that we’ve tried so far, they have been limited in the percentage of grains they can use( since at least half of the grains need to be corn when you are working with a bourbon) — but since this is a rye whiskey, they can really take the gloves off.

The majority of the grains here are malted versions of rye: Pale Malted Rye, Caramel Malted Rye, and Chocolate Malted Rye. There’s also just a sprinkling of corn for added sweetness. As a reminder, the process of “malting” a grain means soaking it in water and allowing it to start to sprout (since all grains are seeds) and then stopping that process by gently heating the grains. That heating was traditionally done by peat fired ovens in Scotland, which is where the characteristic peaty smoke flavor comes from in those bottles.

Those grains are combined, cooked, and fermented for a full seven days — much longer than the typical three day fermentation cycle for most distilleries. This allows the yeast to interact with the liquid longer, creating more interesting and complex flavor components.

Once the fermentation is complete, the liquid is distilled using their column still and doubler setup (a traditional bourbon-style configuration for a still designed for high output and a heads-y flavor profile), thus creating the new make whiskey that is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of more than three years.

Once the maturation process is complete, multiple barrels are combined to create just the right flavor profile. What makes this bottle especially interesting is that all of those barrels come from a single fermentation, keeping the pool of potential barrels very small. Additionally, there is zero filtration involved of any kind, which can sometimes lead to particles of char from the barrel making their way into the bottle.


This is a pretty standard bottle at first glance, but there are some cool touches here that I appreciate.

The shape of the bottle follows the common short and stout construction that we see with a number of craft distilleries. What makes this unique, though, is that the distillery went to the trouble of embossing their name into the bottle itself — a step that requires a bit more time and money than usual, and which creates a cool effect as the light shines through the bottle. The cylindrical body rounds to a short neck, and is capped off with a unique all-cork stopper.

Labeling on this bottle is accomplished with a single band around the upper portion of the body. It isn’t exactly the most exciting label I’ve ever seen, but I appreciate that they thought ahead far enough to put the label at the top and leave enough space below for the whiskey to really shine through and be visible. Good thinking, there.

Each variety of the whiskey is differentiated by the color of the band around that label, in this case a lavender color that Taylor Swift would probably appreciate.



These spirits coming out of Chattanooga Whiskey always seem to have a great color to them, crystal clear and well saturated with this deep amber color. (Editor’s note: don’t let the picture fool you — the summer heat in Texas has been brutal, and “room temperature” bottles of spirits immediately start to gather some condensation as soon as you bring them outside. Don’t get us started on how often we had to wipe this down to just get this clear of a picture.)

Coming off the glass is an aroma that at first whiff reads like a molasses based fruitcake. There’s a noticeable depth to the aroma, like the rich notes of a dark molasses, but then there are a whole host of dried fruits that start to combine to make this aroma really appealing. I’m getting dried apricots, dried grapes, figs, and then the aromas shift into more crisp apple and orange citrus kind of vibes.

That depth and richness is something that carries over into the flavor of the whiskey, starting once again with that sweet molasses brown sugar note. A bit of vanilla joins the party as the flavors develop, followed by some crisp apple, orange citrus, and black pepper. There aren’t quite as many flavors as I’d had hoped given the aroma, but the flavors that are present are all well saturated and delicious.

One thing to note is that, even though it’s only a 99 proof bottle, there’s still plenty of strength in that liquor. By the second sip my lips were starting to numb a bit, but surprisingly there wasn’t any bitterness or bite associated with the spirit that I could find. It was just a velvety smooth sip from start to finish.

On Ice

Lesser spirits have a problem with ice. It tends to dilute the flavors and reduce some of the components to the point where it really isn’t the same spirit anymore. But in this case, I think the addition of some ice actually allows the spirit some space to breathe and let the other flavors come out and play.

That brown sugar and vanilla flavor is still present, but it isn’t quite as heavily saturated as before. Instead, it is more of a backdrop as the crisp apple and orange citrus make an immediate appearance, followed by some dried apricots, dried figs, and blackberry jam. This is still a rich and deep flavor profile, but one that has significantly more complexity than before.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I’m a big fan of darker, richer, more complex versions of the old fashioned cocktail. I feel like there’s a lot more character and more interesting flavors in those kinds of preparations, and this glass in front of me is a prime example that proves my point.

All of those jam, dried fruit, molasses flavors combine here to give the bitters a really great foundation and base to play with. The light and herbal aromatics that the bitters bring to the party is exactly the kind of lift that this drink needs to be perfectly balanced, and they combine to add almost a maraschino cherry kind of flavor to the cocktail. Normally, I’d add a splash of cherry juice to my ideal old fashioned cocktails, but this already has it built in.

It really is the perfect candidate for an ideal traditional preparation of an old fashioned, with just a bitters-soaked cube of sugar and nothing else.

Fizz (Mule)

For a perfect Kentucky Mule (or Chattanooga Mule?), I’m looking for two things: that the flavors mix well and balance properly, and that the spirit brings something unique to the cocktail that I wouldn’t find with a vodka.

On the first count, I think this does a great job. The darker, richer flavors balance nicely with the lighter, crisper, and typically more bitter lime juice and ginger beer components to make something that is easy to sip and enjoy. In particular, those darker fruit flavors really seem to make this more of a tropical style drink instead of something more boring and I appreciate it. Serve with a small paper umbrella, perhaps.

What I’m not getting as much is that strong, black pepper spicy kick on the finish that I’d usually see from a good rye. That would be the complex element that I would expect, but I think the malting of the grains has toned down that peppery kick to the point where it is more of a whisper. Not the end of the world, but still room for improvement.


Overall Rating

This is an excellently executed, delicious, and flavorful rye whiskey. It might be a little “much” for the average folk when taken neat — but throw some ice in the glass or use it in a cocktail, and the spirit really starts to shine. The depth of flavor combined with the smoothness of the texture of this whiskey makes it really quite easy to recommend.

Compared to the competition at this price point, I feel like it definitely is on the upper end of the spectrum — but not quite at the top. If there were a bit more spicy black pepper in here, that might be the deciding factor tipping the scales in its favor… but then again, that also might detract from the jam-y and delicious flavors. It’s a tough balancing act and I think once again Chattanooga Whiskey has done a great job.

Chattanooga Whiskey 99 Proof Straight Rye Malt Whiskey
Produced By: Chattanooga Whiskey
Production Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 49.5% ABV
Price: $40.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious fruitcake of flavors with a deep and rich brown sugar and molasses base.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.