I like rye whiskies, I like heavily aged whiskies, and my home bar is always stocked with a 10 year rye for delicious cocktails and good sipping. So when I saw a 10 year aged rye whiskey from Masterson’s, which I’d never heard of before, I figured it was time to put it to the test and see how it compared to my favorite similar bottles.
This specific brand seems to have made the rounds in California, being passed to a couple different companies. The first instance I can find of it is a 2016 Whiskey Wash review, where it claimed to be owned by 3 Badge Beverage Corporation, a wine and spirits merchant located in a previously vacant firehouse in California.
That makes sense — named after Bat Masterson, a famous wild west lawman — the branding is consistent with the “3 Badges” company image. Also consistent with their relatively new status in the industry, they obtained the spirit for their new product from an established Canadian rye whiskey manufacturer and re-bottled it in the United States under their own brand.
Sometime recently, though, the brand was purchased by Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits, the same company that brought the ubiquitous [yellow tail] wine to the United States and owns other spirits brands as well.
This whiskey starts life as a Canadian rye whiskey that is distilled and matured by an undisclosed Canadian producer. This isn’t anything incredibly new — WhistlePig does the exact same thing, importing Canadian rye whiskey and using it in their products. Re-bottling other spirits under a new name is a pretty common practice in the industry.
And we do know that, as a “straight rye whiskey”, this would be required to use a grain bill of at least 51% rye grains, aged for a minimum of two years, and have nothing except water added to it during bottling.
Once the whiskey is produced, it is imported into the United States where it is bottled and shipped under the Masterson’s brand.
Given that the company didn’t actually put any effort into the spirits (someone else distilled it), it makes sense that they went all out on the bottle, and it shows.
The overall design here is similar to Barrell: an oval shaped bottle with a flatter front and back… but there are some interesting differences. This has a sharper taper between the body and the neck, a longer neck, and a much thicker glass-filled base, all of which makes the bottle more distinctive and stands out a touch on the shelf.
The labeling is also very striking, without being overwhelming. The label itself is relatively minimal, with only a small offset sliver of newsprint running down one side of the bottle. The rest is fairly transparent, allowing you to see plenty of the spirit inside.
It’s a nice package, but the main issue I have is that the branding on the bottle is completely disassociated with the actual contents. There’s no real connection between Masterson and this Canadian whiskey, other than he may have drank something similar one time. It’s really just a naked play on name recognition, and I don’t necessarily appreciate that game.
It’s a little light for a 10 year aged straight rye whiskey. Normally, whiskey aged in the United States for that kind of time reaches a delicious dark amber or brown color, but instead this is closer to a light amber or almost gold color. Compare this to even something like WhistlePig, which is similarly a Canadian produced rye whiskey that has been aged for 10 years and picked up a lot more color during that aging process.
On the first sniff, it definitely smells like a rye whiskey, though. There’s a ton of fruit in the aroma — apples, orange, citrus, pear, and a little bit of honey. All of this is balanced nicely with a bit of rye grain and bread.
That apple is also the most prominent component of the flavor, followed by some banana, lemon, and cherry. Once that cherry kicks in, it comes with a solid hit of bitterness that’s a bit unfortunate, and then the black pepper spice from the rye makes an appearance. The flavors finish a bit abruptly, with the pepper spice being the only component that really lingers.
Usually, a bit of ice tends to help bitter spirits, as it has a tendency to smooth things out. And that is certainly the case here. The bitterness seen when taken neat really is unfortunate, and with a bit of ice it has practically disappeared.
The trade-off, though, is that the ice also strips away a lot of the fruity notes that we just saw. Only the apple, lemon, and black pepper components have enough strength to remain and make themselves known over the ice.
At this point, the flavors are very simple and almost unbalanced towards the black pepper without the added fruit.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Because adding ice results in very limited flavors, this makes for a pretty unbalanced and bland cocktail. The herbal notes from the bitters are really the star of the show here, without much in the way of interaction unfortunately.
If anything, the only thing the whiskey brings to the table is additional bitterness and spice from the black pepper in the rye content. It’s a very unbalanced drink.
What I’m looking for here are two specific factors: 1) that there’s some balance between the ginger beer and flavors in the whiskey, and 2) that there’s something unique in the texture or flavor that the whiskey provides.
In the first case, there’s very little help that the spirit gives the flavor profile. It is almost nonexistent, with very few added flavors to contribute and none of them doing much to rein in the ginger beer. It’s pretty much just like a Moscow mule.
What it does do well, however, is add some unique flavors to the finish of the cocktail. To be fair, it’s difficult for a rye to really fail in this test — that black pepper spice from the rye content comes through nicely in the end, long after the bitter ginger beer has had a chance to taper off, and adds something unique that you don’t always see.
This is disappointing.
When you see a 10 year aged straight rye, you expect some good heavy barrel aging flavors and some candied fruit and nuts specifically with some baking spices (something commonly referred to as “rancio”). But there’s none of that here. I’d even say that it barely holds a candle to Bulleit Rye in terms of the flavors in the bottle.
There’s nothing exciting or interesting here, just some bitterness that is somewhat unpleasant when taken neat. And since the price point is roughly the same price as WhistlePig, I’d recommend giving this a hard pass.
|Masterson's 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey|
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $67.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1/5
A Canadian rye dressed up like an American cowboy, done to very limited success.