Bourbon whiskey seems to be the 800 pound gorilla in the market, taking up a significant portion of the whiskey sales and shelf space out there. Companies wanting to make a name for themselves have needed to find a different niche to set themselves apart, and Templeton Rye thinks that they have a winner with their prohibition era rye whiskey concept.
Prohibition in the United States wasn’t exactly universally beloved (to put it mildly). While it may have been the law of the land, a significant chunk of the country felt that it was an unjust imposition and decided that if they weren’t allowed to buy whiskey they would just make it themselves.
That feeling extended to Templeton, Iowa, where a group of citizens in the small town of only 350 residents decided to start distilling their own whiskey. During prohibition the town would produce a rye whiskey that would come to be known as “The Good Stuff” and helped lubricate not only their small town but also others far and wide.
With the end of prohibition, the demand for illegal whiskey saw a sharp decline and not long after the distilling operations there ceased.
The tradition would be resurrected in 2002, when Meryl Kerkhoff (son of one of the distillers in that original group from Templeton) joined with Scott Bush and California based spirits production company Infinitum Spirits to re-start production on the famous rye whiskey brand. Infinitum Spirits is the same company behind Skrewball, by the way.
Despite being “produced and bottled” by the new Templeton Rye Spirits, LLC based in Templeton, Iowa, this whiskey is actually distilled and aged by the mass production facility MGP in Indiana. That fact wasn’t originally clear enough, though, and as the result of a class action lawsuit brought against them, Templeton Rye was forced to add the clarifying statement “distilled in Indiana” to their bottles.
As a rye whiskey, this starts with a mixture of grains that is required to be at least 51% rye. As to what the other portion of grains are…. well, that’s a mystery known only to MGP. Once cooked and fermented, the resulting slightly-alcoholic-beer is distilled and then placed into charred new oak barrels for a period of time. In this case, the bottle claims that the whiskey has been aged a minimum of four years prior to bottling. Once finished, the whiskey is reportedly blended with other flavors to make it taste as close to prohibition era whiskey as possible.
Once MGP produces and ages the whiskey, it is shipped to Templeton where it is bottled and a label is slapped on the front.
The recipe is reportedly the same one they use for various different bottlings and distributors, so the base spirit actually isn’t anything unique or different. The only difference is the packaging.
Because of the uproar about the provenance of their spirits, in 2008 Templeton decided to invest in a distillery actually located in Templeton, Iowa and started production there. The first four year aged Iowa produced whiskey will be available in 2022. But, given that we tested this bottle in 2020, this is still the old MGP produced edition we have here.
Since Templeton Rye doesn’t make their own whiskey, really the only thing that they add to the product is the packaging. And, sadly, it seems like they did a pretty lackluster job.
The bottle is a common design we’ve seen time and again: a short, fat, circular bottle with straight walls that rounds at the shoulder to a short neck. You can see this same design from numerous young distilleries — Still Austin’s early bottles are the same design, and so is Balcones Distilling… even Monkey Shoulder uses the same template with a slight metallic embellishment. The bottle is finally capped with a wood and cork stopper.
The label seems to be designed to evoke an aged appearance, with rough edges and a yellowed color. The brand information is in large black block letters, with a faded picture of men in hats as the main component. It’s also a rather large label, taking up the majority of the bottle. Usually, this is where I complain about the space the label takes up and how it doesn’t let you see the whiskey inside… but knowing that this is mass produced, I’m slightly less inclined to care. I will note that the design doesn’t really do anything for me — the picture may be designed to evoke a prohibition era feeling, but it isn’t clear enough to make sense to the casual whiskey buyer. It really is just a wasted block of space.
This whiskey is an amber color in the glass, and has a pretty nice aroma coming off it. I get some caramel and vanilla (as per usual) from the barrel aging process, but there’s also some green apple in there and some cherry that’s quite appealing as well. There is also a hint of that sourdough rye bread aroma, but it stays in the background.
Given that there are added artificial flavors here, I can’t tell what comes from the barrel and what comes from the artificial additives… but I’d be willing to bet the fruity notes are the additives here.
The liquid has a good weight to it. There’s a sweetness up front, followed by a little bitterness and then a touch of green apple before the caramel and vanilla kicks in. There really isn’t a whole lot of depth to that apple flavor — it’s more of a passing casual acquaintance than you would expect, based on the prominence it has in the aroma.
The whiskey does finish with a bit of black pepper spice — but less of it than I would have expected from a rye. It lasts a couple seconds, and then disappears.
With a little bit of ice, the more delicate flavors usually drop out and the bolder notes are reduced in intensity. That’s been the downfall of many a delicious spirit we’ve tried here before. But in this case, what’s surprising is the fact that the lighter flavors have stuck around. In fact, that apple flavor is even more prominent than before if possible, overtaking the caramel and vanilla.
The only real changes are that the slight bitterness that was present before is gone, and the pepper spice has been further reduced. All of which supports our suspicion that apple flavor is added after the fact — artificial flavors do tend to hold up better to ice than natural ones.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is an okay old fashioned.
With the apple flavor, this makes a lighter version of the cocktail with more fruity notes and less depth and dark aspects. However, considering this is a 4 year aged spirit, you’d expect it to have some richness to it, so I did find that a bit disappointing.
The angostura bitters and the apple flavor combine to make a great fruity mix, and a little bit of cherry juice gives it a little extra kick that’s quite nice. The pepper spice on the finish has almost completely disappeared at this point, though, so there’s not a lot of complexity to the concoction.
Once again, that apple flavor is shining through bright and clear. That fruit does a nice job balancing with the bitter ginger in the ginger beer for a delicious fruity flavor profile that absolutely meets my testing requirements that a spirit to bring something unique to the mule that a vodka wouldn’t have (otherwise, its just a Moscow Mule and I’ve wasted perfectly good whiskey).
But that fruity flavor is about it. Just like in the old fashioned cocktail, that pepper spice seems to have all but gone from the picture. There’s very little depth or complexity to the cocktail, and instead its just a simple (albeit deliciously fruity) experience.
This is a rye that doesn’t hit many of the points that you’d expect from a four year aged rye. There isn’t a lot of charred oak components that give it depth, or much staying power behind the black pepper spice that comes from the rye content. Really, all that’s in here is an apple flavor that I’m betting is one of the artificial additives.
On balance, it’s not a terrible spirit. There are some good flavors… but that lack of depth and complexity really hurts its ability to compete with the other products in this category, which makes it a mediocre whiskey on its own merits.
What really puts a nail in the coffin for me is the branding campaign. I’m sincerely disappointed about the marketing and the branding — not nearly as disappointed as the group of people who literally got so mad that they sued the company, but disappointed nonetheless. I feel like it’s a bait and switch: a spirit that was mass produced with added flavors, but is trying to claim a small town provenance.
|Templeton Rye The Good Stuff
Indiana, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: 4 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A mediocre mass produced rye with a thin veneer of a prohibition era heritage.