Whiskey Review: Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey

One of the things I appreciate about the time and effort I’ve put into this blog is that it has helped me refine my preferences and better understand exactly what I like about whiskey. And, surprisingly, I’ve learned that I’m a sucker for a good rye. Ezra Brooks is a brand I’ve tried before and seems to crank out a solid product, but does that extend to their rye as well?

History

The Hoffman Distilling Company was founded in 1880 by S.O. Hackley. Shortly after founding the distillery, Hackley teamed up with business partner Ike Hoffman, who created a number of successful whiskey brands (and eventually bought out Hackley). Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for Hoffman Distilling and by 1912 the distillery went bankrupt. The name lived on, though, purchased in 1916 by L.&E. Werthheimer before the distillery was torn down at the start of prohibition.

Thankfully, the distillery was re-built after the repeal of prohibition, and L.&E. Werthheimer brothers Robert and Ezra Ripy (sons of the famous Thomas Ripy, a legendary 1800’s distiller) to run it. Their siblings, the other two brothers of the Ripy family, would also become distillers and would start the Wild Turkey brand.

During this period, the company started producing new versions of whiskey, and would often produce and bottle spirits as a white label for other brands. Some of the early Pappy Van Winkle bottles would come out of this distillery, and one man named Frank Silverman saw an opportunity.

During the previous decade, sales of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey had soared over 900%. Even the acquisition of the brand by Brown Forman Co wasn’t able to increase production enough to satiate the market, and by 1957 there was a distinct shortage of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Silverman saw an opportunity to serve that market, and designed a bottle and label that mimicked the Jack Daniel’s style. The brand name he chose: Ezra Brooks.

The gambit worked, and Silverman made a tiny fortune. He also drew the attention of Mighty Jack, who hit him with a lawsuit in 1960 for trademark infringement. The lawsuit didn’t stick, though — Silverman had changed just enough to merely ape the appearance without crossing the line into infringement, and the court ruled in Silverman’s favor.

Ezra Brooks would continue to be produced until the Hoffman distillery closed its doors in 1970, shutting off Silverman’s supply.

The brand name was kicked around for decades, sold to a company called Medley and then again to Glenmore before Luxco purchased the rights in 1993 and restarted production of the spirit. Founded in 1958 as the David Sherman Corporation, Luxco also produces Everclear and Rebel Yell at their Bardstown, Kentucky facility.

Product

Some sources indicate that this is an MGP-produced spirit, which starts out as a mixture of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley. The mash is cooked and fermented before being distilled, and the newly produced whiskey is then placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of exactly two years (as this is a straight rye).

Ezra Brooks was originally founded to mimic Jack Daniels, and so their normal bourbon goes through the same charcoal filtering process as other Tennessee whiskey. In this case, it seems like it is just roughly filtered before being placed in the bottle.

Packaging

There’s definitely a striking similarity between this bottle and the usual Jack Daniel’s trade dress. It’s a square slender bottle with a fluted neck, sporting a old fashioned label with someone’s name on it. Even the font is similar (but legally distinct) to Jack’s font.

I appreciate that, while it’s a big label, it isn’t taking up the entire face of the bottle. There’s more than enough space around the sides to see what’s inside and to show off that beautiful brown liquid. And the green color is selected for the label is complementary to that whiskey, so it works for me.

The whole thing is topped off with a plastic and cork stopper.

Neat

Every spirit has their “benchmark” tasting notes, and for me the benchmark of a good rye whiskey is if the spirit smells like a warm piece of rye bread with honey on top. And that’s exactly what I’m getting here. There’s some spice and some malty bread-like aspects, but also a honey delicious sweetness that underlines the whole experience. In addition, I also get a bit of citrus, specifically some orange and cardamom mixed in for good measure.

There’s almost an immediate pepper spice that appears as you take a sip, which is another expected highlight of the genre. But behind that spice is a bit of sweet honey and a good helping of vanilla that I hadn’t detected in the aroma. It’s a good mix, but I almost feel like it’s a slightly out of tune orchestra. There isn’t a particularly bold or interesting flavor tying it all together and, on their own, the flavors just kind of exist.

The spirit finishes with a lingering and developing spice, which is a great thing to see in a rye.

On Ice

The addition of a bit of ice can be a tricky situation. Ice typically dilutes the flavors, toning down the harsher aspects and completely eliminating the more delicate notes.

In this case, it’s a mixed bag. The honey and warm bread notes are gone, but the vanilla is still there. And while the orange citrus flavor might still be in the mix, I think it has morphed into something closer to a honeycrisp apple. It’s not quite the same effect as you’d expect with a bourbon or something with a little more power, but there are still some flavors here to work with.

What is definitely still present is that spice. It’s not going anywhere, and that’s some good news for the cocktails.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

It’s close, but it’s still a bit unbalanced.

I was expecting that the sweet citrus or orange flavors would fare better in open combat with the angostura bitters, but unfortunately they were vanquished. They put up a good fight and you can see them around the edges, but there’s not quite enough power there to balance out the bitters.

That said, there is absolutely some good spice still in here to make things interesting.

Fizz (Mule)

This is really where the whiskey is in its element.

Here, I look for the rye to add some uniqueness to the experience and a good balance with the ginger beer. I think there’s just a slight edge for the ginger beer in that second battle, but it’s close enough to count. And the peppery spice in the finish is the perfect compliment to keep things interesting and mix it up a little bit.

Overall Rating

This is by far the least expensive rye I’ve tried, and the experience certainly matches the price tag. It’s a good, solid rye whiskey that can work wonders on a budget… but if you’re willing to spend a bit more there’s a whole world of great rye whiskeys out there to explore.

Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Ezra Brooks
Owned By: Luxco
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $14.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 3/5
Worth the price of admission.

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