Bourbon might get most of the attention these days, but I’ve always preferred a good, well aged rye. Personally, I think there’s more complexity and interesting flavors in a rye compared to the more typical bourbon, and it seems like Sagamore Spirit agrees. One of the latest editions to come out of their relatively new distillery is their Double Oak rye, which is something I couldn’t pass on reviewing.
Kevin Plank first found success with a brand of sports apparel that would come to be known as Under Armor and has since expanded into a number of other adventures.
One of those side projects led Plank to purchase Sagamore Farm, a property in Maryland that was one owned by a Vanderbilt, with the intention of revitalizing the horseracing prestige of Maryland-bred racehorses and the eventual goal of winning a coveted Triple Crown. To date, that has not yet happened, but he does still own the farm and has a number of racehorses training for the job.
A more recent side project was the development of a 235 acre mixed-use real estate project in Baltimore’s Port Covington area which came to fruition in 2013. It was at this location in 2015 that Plank broke ground on a new distillery, Sagamore Distilling. Aimed at reviving the rich history of Maryland, the facility includes a 40 foot copper column still and a small 250 gallon pot still for R&D.
For the first few years, the company imported spirits from MGP in Indiana for finishing and bottling, but since May 2017 they have been making their own spirits in-house, using water shipped in from the Sagamore Farm horse racing facility.
While their distillery may be up and running, they aren’t quite making the quantity needed just yet. As such, what we have here is actually a blend of two strains of straight rye whiskey — one in-house produced, and the other produced by MGP.
For the in-house distilled spirit, this reportedly starts as a mixture of 95% rye and 5% barley. That grain combination is cooked and fermented before being distilled in their 40 foot tall copper column still, and subsequently socked away in charred new oak barrels for between 4 and 6 years.
That in-house spirit is then blended together with the procured rye whiskey from MGP (the specifics of which aren’t disclosed) and then prepared for bottling.
With the Double Oak version of this spirit, that mixture is tipped back into toasted oak barrels for an additional 18 months. Note that this is only a toasting and not a charring — the difference means that you really won’t get much of the filtration benefit that charring provides, and the flavors imparted won’t be quite as intense.
You can see the Maryland pride flowing out of pretty much every inch of this bottle.
Starting at the overall shape, it’s a hexagon that features significantly wider front and back sections. It’s a shape I haven’t seen very often, and honestly makes the bottle stand out a bit on the shelf without straying too far from the general shape of a whiskey bottle. It’s also the first component of many on this packaging that pay homage to the parallelograms in the Maryland state flag.
The labeling continues that theme, and for this specific bottling the color scheme is a royal blue background with copper metallic lettering. It certainly looks visually appealing to me, but I think the label might be just a touch too large. I get that this isn’t 100% “their” whiskey — some comes from MGP — but this spirit still has a beautiful deep amber color that really should be celebrated and be the key feature of the packaging. You can see some of that color around the edges of the label, but if I had my druthers I’d make the “Rye Straight Whiskey” section significantly smaller.
You can undeniably smell the rye content in here. There’s the usual apple note mixed in with some rye bread and lemon that you get with this kind of a spirit, but there’s also some other fruit mixed in. I get a hint of cherry, some orange, and a nice hit of caramel, toffee, and vanilla that you usually see from barrel aging.
Those aromas translate very nicely into the flavor profile as well. It’s a darker and richer flavor profile than usual, with the caramel and toffee notes coming in first supported by the apple and rye bread black pepper spice. As the flavor develops, those notes get darker and richer, eventually evolving into a dark and almost bitter black coffee note on the finish.
At first, I thought I noticed a hint of roughness in the texture, but it quickly smoothed out to a much more enjoyable experience overall.
Usually, ice either improves the flavor profile or ruins it. But in this case, it somehow does neither. I think it just… changes it.
The flavor profile when taken neat is pretty darn good. It’s a bit rich and a bit dark, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I really wouldn’t want to change much about it.
Adding a couple of ice cubes reduces that depth and richness a touch, but it’s still a flavorful spirit. The apple and the black pepper from the rye spice are much more prominent in this version (compared to the barrel aging notes when taken neat) but all of the components are still there. Just… re-arranged a bit. And still pretty darn tasty.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Personally, I think that a darker and richer spirit makes a much better base for an old fashioned cocktail than the alternative. And this perfectly illustrates the reason why I have that opinion.
There’s a great balance in this cocktail, with the aromatic components of the bitters adding some complexity and some more herbal notes to the drink, balancing with the darker and richer aspects of the spirit itself. The apple and other fruit notes from the whiskey really start to shine through here, and the apple becomes the lingering note on the finish.
It’s fruity, herbaceous, and delicious. And doesn’t even need any sugar in my opinion.
This hits all the usual criteria, but I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of the flavor profile.
Up first, there is indeed some good balance with the ginger beer. The fruity and sweet elements of the spirit balance those spicy and bitter elements nicely, leading to a more deliciously balanced cocktail. The complaint I have, though, is that this becomes a bit apple heavy, almost like an apple cider, rather than really letting the ginger in the ginger beer speak. It covers that flavor up a little bit too much.
On the end, there’s also some uniqueness that this brings to the table in the form of a cherry note near the finish. Usually I’d expect the black pepper spice from the rye content to make a big appearance, but in this case that richer and darker cherry note is what really pops. I’m not mad at it, and that certainly balances nicely with the apple in the flavor, but it’s not what I was expecting.
I’m a sucker for well-aged rye whiskey, and this is a great example why that’s the case. There are some amazing flavors going on here, and none of them are too rich or too ostentatious that they can’t all play together nicely. It’s a delicious spirit that you’d probably want to compare to something like WhistlePig (who, by the way, also doesn’t distill their own whiskey… so I don’t even want to see that argument in the comments).
The one downside of bold and delicious flavors is that it can be picky about cocktails it plays nice with, and I think that’s a valid criticism here. You might not always want to reach for this specific spirit for everything you make, and there’s for sure some times when you don’t want to be punched in the mouth with intense flavors. But, in general, I think this will be a new addition to the list of spirits I recommend that friends try out.
|Sagamore Spirit Double Oak Rye Whiskey|
Produced By: Sagamore SpiritProduction Location: Maryland, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 48.3% ABV
Price: $59.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Proof that you don’t always have to distill 100% onsite to put out a quality product.