I’ve never heard of Redemption High Rye Bourbon Whiskey before, but they have been popping up all over the place recently. Even at the trendy bars in downtown Austin, Texas the spirit is on the shelves and ready to be served. So when I saw a bottle on the shelf I decided to give it a spin — I like high rye content whiskies, and this one has a higher rye content than anything else I’ve tried. Could it be the new go-to spirit?
Redemption is a relatively new company in the spirits industry.
Around the year 2009 two veterans of the distilled alcohol business Dave Schmier and Michael Kanbar noticed an increased interest in rye whiskey within the market. Used primarily as a mixer for cocktails, the added spice in the rye whiskey provides a flavor that most bourbons just can’t match. They decided to go into business producing rye whiskey and other high rye content spirits and Redemption was born.
After a few years in the market the company was purchased in 2015 by the Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits company, the same company that brings us [yellow tail] wine. They had gotten into the spirits industry about the same time as Redemption was starting up, and with the rapid expansion of Redemption they offered a way to better scale the business.
As far as I can tell, Redemption does not have a distillation facility. Instead Redemption (like so many other budget or beginner spirit companies) purchases their spirit from MGP — a large mass production facility for alcohol — in Indiana. The spirit is bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, but I’m not sure if they have their own dedicated aging facility or if MGP does that as well,. Given that some of their offerings claim to be aged for longer than the company has been in business I’m betting that they are relying on MGP for a good portion of the process.
The grain bill for this bourbon starts with a rye content that is probably the highest I’ve seen in this category of spirit: 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% barley. There’s certainly enough corn in the mixture to permit the “bourbon” title but that rye content is way higher than the Bulleit Bourbon “reference spirit” that we use here — 26% for Bulleit versus 36% for Redemption.
From there the spirit is aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of one year. Exactly how long they are aged for is unknown, but at a minimum they sit there for a year soaking up the flavors. Technically there is no age requirement for a spirit to be called a “bourbon” so they meet the strict definition, but traditionally two years is seen as the point where the wood has had enough time to do its magic.
The bottle is in the same style as the Bulleit Bourbon brand, with straight walls and a rounded shoulder tapering to a straight short neck. One strange thing about the bottle is that it sports a concave curve on the back of the bottle much like a hip flask. That makes sense in a smaller bottle I suppose where you might want to shove it into your jeans as you walk around with it, but in this format it just means you need a bigger bottle. Which is good for shelf appeal, I suppose.
The brand name is embossed into the bottle itself, and there’s a label on the front with all of the relevant information on it.
What I like about this bottle is the same thing I like about other similar ones — it doesn’t hide the spirit. There’s some branding and just enough data to make a purchase decision, but the spirit is the star of the show and on display.
The bottle is topped with an actual wood topped cork stopper, a touch I truly appreciate for a budget priced bourbon. Heck, Bulleit gives us a plastic topper on their bottles.
When you first pour yourself a glass, the spirit can have a bit more of an antiseptic alcoholic smell than normal. But if you leave that spirit in the glass it tends to mellow out a bit, bringing out some notes of vanilla and a bit of spice.
The color of the spirit is something to note here as well. For something that claims it is a bourbon there’s very little color to the spirit, almost looking more like a Bud Light than a proper liquid aged in charred oak barrels. That’s a direct result of the lack of age on this spirit, only claiming one year of age before being bottled.
Taking a sip the liquid is roughly medium bodied, not as heavy and thick as some of the higher alcohol content spirits but not as light as others. It’s right down the middle which I appreciate, and right on target for a 46% ABV spirit.
The first thing I taste is licorice and a bitterness that, while present, isn’t the end of the world. It’s followed almost immediately by some more traditional whiskey flavors such as vanilla and oak, and the finish has some of the pepper-y spice that one would expect from such a high rye content spirit.
Not much really changes with the ice, except that some of the bitterness of the alcohol has been removed. The spirit tastes much smoother and more pleasant, but the boldness and the spice of the rye is still present.
That attribute, the fact that the rye can shine through the ice and the water — is what makes this a great mixing spirit.
This is where the spirit really starts to shine.
Where most bourbons will provide a rather flat old fashioned with muted flavors, the spice and boldness of the Redemption bourbon balances perfectly with the orange bitters and ice to produce an almost ideal drink. It has just enough of an edge to be interesting without being overpowering, and provides a depth to the drink that is much needed.
Again, the high rye content makes this an ideal match.
Just like with the Bulleit Bourbon this spirit adds some complexity and distinctiveness to the drink that a less bold spirit wouldn’t be able to provide. It stands out even among other ingredients and makes itself known, something I really do appreciate. Because if you’re just looking to increase the alcohol content without providing any character that’s what vodka was invented to do.
Normally I look down on a product that relies so heavily on MGP’s mass production facility, preferring small craft spirits distilled with love and care. But in this case I’m willing to give it a pass. This is a spirit that knows its place, namely in a mixed cocktail and not neat.
Redemption High Rye Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
Production: MGP, Indiana
Grain bill: 60% corn, 36% rye and 4% barley
Aging: At least 1 year
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $25.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Here’s the caveat: if you’re going to use it in a mixed drink then this is a great option. But on its own this will be a disappointment. It brings something to the table when mixed with other flavors but on its own there’s not enough there to keep me interested.