Despite the majority of the whiskey market focused on cranking out bourbon, there’s a slow but steady trickle of newer distilleries that are focusing on other expressions to make their name in the market. One of these is Triple R: a rye whiskey from California that seems to have spent a good chunk of change on their branding. But you know us… it’s what’s inside that matters.
Derek Benham is a successful businessman and serial entrepreneur in the California wine industry. He started out as a salesman in a failing winery in 1983, but within six years had been promoted to lead the business and turned it into a profitable outfit. He took that experience and founded his own business named Codera Wine Company in 1990 (which was purchased in 2001 by Constellation Brands). Also in 2001, he started his next business, Purple Wine Co., a successful wine labeling and distribution business, which he expanded to include spirits with the founding of the Graton Distilling Company in 2015. Their first gin launched in 2016, adding more brands as the distilling business continued to prove profitable.
According to TTB records, Triple R Russian River Rye was registered as a new brand by the Graton Distilling Company in October of 2019.
This whiskey starts with a grain bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. Those grains are cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic “distiller’s beer”, which is then distilled to the final desired strength in Graton Distilling Co’s custom built continuous (column) micro-still.
Once the whiskey has been produced, it is placed into charred new oak barrels and aged for a period of three years, minimum. Once properly matured, the barrels are blended together to produce the final desired flavor.
There are some cool things going on here that I like, but this bottle also hits a number of my pet peeves.
The bottle itself is a fairly standard shape. It sports a slender cylindrical body, a rounded shoulder, and a relatively long neck. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. This is a design we have seen before with the Widow Jane brand, specifically their Oak & Applewood Rye offering. I generally like it, but it isn’t blowing my socks off.
With the label, though, the artwork is great. The cartoon image of a wild hog attacking a plaid shirted woodsman looks like it’s right out of a 1950’s adventure story illustration, and the stylized lettering around it only reinforces that vibe. It tells a good story and paints an interesting picture, but that image also takes up pretty much the entire face of the bottle. There’s only a little bit of room at the top and bottom of the bottle where you can actually see the contents — which is a real shame, since the whiskey has a really nice rust color to it.
This smells like a good, rich whiskey. The first thing I get is a big nose full of warm, brown rye bread and layered on top of that is a little bit of cherry, some apple, and some caramel sweetness.
Taking a sip, the flavors are well saturated and bold. The most noticeable components are the ones I usually associate with charred barrel aging: specifically, some burned caramel, vanilla, and cherry. These flavors seem to ride the line, almost too bold and simply coming off as charred oak instead of the more delicious constituent components. Mixed in there is a good helping of that black pepper spice from the rye content again, which is a flavor that lingers well into the aftertaste.
This can be a delicious flavor combination. But the danger here is that, thanks to the alcohol content, it can have an unfortunate association with cherry cough syrup. Thankfully, I feel like it doesn’t stray into that territory for me… but it does come pretty close to the line.
In terms of flavor, this was a fairly bold and powerful whiskey when taken neat. It straddles the line between flavorful and unpleasant in some cases… which makes this a great candidate for a little bit of ice making a world of difference.
As you might expect, the flavors have had an opportunity to calm down now that we’ve added ice. No longer is it on the ragged edge of tasting like a charred piece of wood; instead, the flavors are much lighter and more subtle. They all still exist: the cherry, the caramel (no longer as burned as before), and the vanilla do a great job mixing it up. But the one thing that seems to be significantly changed is that the rye content no longer packs the same punch. There isn’t really that same black pepper spice as we saw previously.
As a sipping whiskey, in this form, it’s pretty good. But I feel like this is a spirit that was born to mix it up a bit.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I’m generally a big fan of darker and richer spirits in my old fashioned, as it makes for a more complex flavor profile in my opinion. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we have here — and the result is great.
My benchmark for a rye-based Old Fashioned is the Hudson Manhattan Rye, but I think Triple R gives it a run for its money. There’s much more of that cherry flavor in this specific spirit than we saw with the Hudson… which can make it taste a little bit artificial. With that one exception, though, it’s a fine sipping cocktail.
There are two things I look for in a mule. First, that the spirit is able to balance out the ginger beer; second, that it adds something unique to the conversation.
For the first point, there’s definitely a balance here. Not only is there a bit of sweetness in the caramel flavor of the spirit to balance the ginger beer, but the depth and richness of the flavors of the rye do a good job helping as well. It’s balanced not only across one dimension but across multiple.
Which is where the uniqueness comes in. That deep and rich flavor of the cherry and the apple are clearly seen through the other flavors in the drink, adding something to this mule that you don’t get in a flavorless vodka or a weak whiskey.
I like it. This is a good rye whiskey that provides some great flavors at an affordable price point, and I love that it’s coming from a distillery that actually makes its own products. The market is awash with re-packaged secondhand whiskey, so the fact that a new operation can get these kinds of flavors out of their own column still and barrels is pretty remarkable.
|Triple R Russian River Rye|
California, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Three Rs, but four stars!