I’ve been on a bit of a rye whiskey kick recently, loving the black pepper spice and the boldness of the flavors. I’ve worked through some of the more popular brands and versions, and I think it’s time to dip my toe into the less well-advertised varieties. Today, we’re starting with Kindred and their single barrel small batch straight rye whiskey.
In 2005, Zbigniew “Papa” Kozuba retired from his long career as a businessman and put down roots in the town of Jablonka, Poland. Having plenty of time on his hands, he started tinkering with the traditional Polish practice of distilling cordials and his spirits quickly became the prized product of the small town.
With his business background, he quickly realized the opportunity to build a business around this new hobby and recruited his sons to help establish a new distilling business. The distillery, Kozuba & Sons, expanded rapidly beyond cordials to include vodka and eventually introduced the first single malt Polish whiskey in 2012.
The company decided to move to St. Petersburg, Florida in 2014 and continues to expand their offerings as a small family-owned distillery. They produce spirits under their own brand as well as others, such as Kindred. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, while Kindred’s stock is still on the shelves their website is offline and their Twitter account has not been updated in over two years.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information about this spirit. The Kozuba & Sons distillery doesn’t list a rye whiskey on their site so we can’t know the specifics, but the labeling gives us some hints about the process involved.
As a rye whiskey, we automatically know that a significant portion of the grain bill that goes into this spirit must come from rye grains. Typically, there are also some other grains mixed in to make for a more complex flavor profile, but those specifics aren’t disclosed here.
Once those grains are mixed together, they are mashed and fermented into a very weak beer. From there, the “distiller’s beer” is placed into small copper pot stills and batch distilled (rather than being distilled through a column or “continuous” mass production still) to isolate the whiskey from the rest of the liquid.
According to the label, once the whiskey is produced the spirit is placed into new charred oak barrels for a period not less than two years (as this is a “straight” rye whiskey). After the whiskey has appropriately matured, it is removed from the barrel and bottled. As this is a “single barrel” whiskey, all of the spirit comes from a single barrel — specifically barrel #301 for my bottle.
I’ve seen this design before, specifically with the Legent whiskey we reviewed last year. The straight cylindrical body with the rounded shoulder is a classic and clean design, and the oversized wood and cork stopper is not only attractive but functional, since it allows you to better grip and control the cork.
The label is a bit boring to be frank, without much design work that seems to have gone into it. The paper has a yellowed and faux-aged texture with a red border, and the details are printed in big block letters on the front. Their logo seems to be a pair of crossed scythes, which is a bit unreadable and becomes less readable the more you drink.
Overall its a good but simple design.
It smells absolutely spot-on for a good rye. My benchmark for a rye whiskey is that it should smell like a slice of toasted rye bread with a bit of brown butter on top, and this hits that exactly right. It smells spicy and sweet all at the same time.
The actual flavor profile delivers on that promise and then some. There’s the rye bread with brown butter flavor, but there’s also a fruity apple-like crispness that comes with it. That mixture of rich and crisp plays well together and is a delicious combination.
The finish contains the typical black pepper finish that you would expect from a rye, and that flavor lingers for quite a bit of time. There’s no bitterness or bite to the spirit, just a smooth and delicious experience with a bit of a kick.
Usually, with a bit of ice, the more delicate flavors drop out of the whiskey, to mixed results. In a ‘bad’ whiskey, this can sometimes be a saving grace. However, in an already solid whiskey like this, it hurts the flavors profile by removing the complex, subtle underlying notes… and this is unfortunately the case here. The buttery sweetness that I saw in the neat version of the spirit seem to be significantly reduced if not eliminated, and what I’m left with is a slice of rye bread.
It isn’t terrible, but there’s more of a noticeable alcohol burn with the ice compared to the other available flavors which was masking it before. The black pepper is still there, though, just as powerful and present as before.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
In a spirit, an old fashioned tests the aging process above everything else. Darker and richer flavors work well to balance the angostura bitters, and these are typically imparted by the oak and a bit of time.
In this case, the cocktail is definitely on the lighter side of the spectrum but the flavors are all there and cooperating well. The buttery sweetness pairs well with the bitters, and even the apple crispness seems to add something to the party. That said there isn’t a ton of depth, but it still does the job admirably.
Usually, I’m looking for two things in a whiskey mule: (1) that the flavors in the whiskey balance out the bitterness of the ginger, and (2) that the whiskey adds something unique to the experience. In this case, what you get meets those criteria… but it’s definitely a lighter version compared to something like a bourbon.
The flavors in the whiskey itself are sweet and bright, which balance the bitterness well… but also seem to enhance that bright and cheerful aspect of the ginger beer instead of toning it down. It almost seems like a beach drink.
That uniqueness, though, really comes into play with the black pepper spice in the finish. It’s a flavor and an experience that you don’t get in vodka, and I think it really works well in this instance.
What we’re looking at today is a competently produced rye whiskey. There are some good flavors in here and none of the common negative issues you sometimes see in a distilled spirit, which I count as a win.
But beyond that hint of apple crispness, there isn’t a ton of unique or interesting flavors that the spirit brings to the table. I’d love to see what this would look like with a bit more age or maybe finished in another kind of barrel — anything to add a bit more character.
|Kindred Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
Florida, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $36.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s a solid rye whiskey, but for this price I’d expect a bit more from it.