Whiskey Review: Winchester Rye Whiskey

When you hear the name “Winchester” it’s usually the rifle connotation that comes to mind first. Or the name of the pub in Shaun of the Dead. Or Supernatural (the TV show). But it sure isn’t a whiskey that you think of first… until now, perhaps.

History

TerrePURE Spirits, based in South Carolina, is a distilling company with a unique twist. It’s a brand label of Terressentia, which is primarily a whiskey tech company founded in 2007 with the goal of finding a way to compress the time it takes to “age” a bourbon from several years down to a matter of hours.

A traditional aging process for whiskey takes advantage of the subtle changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity over the course of several years to gently push and pull the liquid into and out of the wood that makes up the oak barrel. Through this process, some of the flavors of the oak barrel are imparted into the whiskey and an aged spirit is born. Terressentia believes that they can replicate this time tested process using lab induced temperature changes and other techniques that simulate the same pushing and pulling, but over a much shorter period of time.

Over the years, Terressentia purchased a number of distilleries to provide source whiskey for their process and began filling orders for big box retailers under a number of brands. Winchester, despite claiming a “Since 1866” heritage on the label, is produced by a distillery too young to remember 9/11.

Why 1866? That’s the year the Winchester repeating rifle went into production. Nothing whatsoever to do with the whiskey, just capitalizing on the Winchester brand. Let’s just say I would not be surprised if the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. is interested in speaking with them in the near future. Especially since the stylized W logo used in one of the medals on the front of the bottle looks an awful lot like Winchester’s (the rifle company Winchester, to clarify).

Product

There is shockingly little information available about the contents of this bottle.

As a rye whiskey, the expectation is that the majority of the grain bill for this spirit comes from rye — but there’s no hint about what other grains may be at work here. The safe money is on the notion that there’s a heavy helping of corn in there as well, but that’s not confirmed either.

The grains are typically mashed, fermented, and then distilled to produce a raw whiskey. Typically, that whiskey is placed into oak barrels for a period of time to pick up some flavor and mellow out the harsher aspects, and the benchmark for that is two years (which would be a “straight” whiskey). In this case, though, it only ages for six months before being filtered and bottled (thanks to the terrePURE process).

Packaging

The bottle looks pretty good… except for hitting my pet peeve, that is.

Overall, it’s a squat boxy shape with flat front and rear walls and slightly bowed on the other sides. The shoulder is sharp and quickly tapers to a short neck. This shape looks pretty good and interesting, but it does make the bottle more difficult to handle when pouring.

The label is where I start to get annoyed. It does have a solid nostalgic appeal, but that’s all a facade. There’s no actual age to the company, just like there’s no actual age to the whiskey. They’ve similarly tried to artificially age their brand and, while it holds up to a casual glance, it doesn’t hold water upon further inspection.

The label also takes up pretty much the entire bottle, leaving no room to actually see the whiskey inside. Which is (as any frequent reader can attest) my biggest pet peeve.

Neat

The usual benchmark I look for in a rye whiskey is that the aroma should smell similar to a slice of rye bread. In this case I do get that… but just barely. There’s a bunch of lighter and sweeter notes chiming in that make it hard to find that rye bread scent, such as a bit of honey and a slice of cantaloupe.

Taking a sip removes all doubt that this really is a young whiskey. No matter what fancy processes they put this thing through, it just didn’t pick up nearly enough flavor to really be that interesting. I get the black pepper spice of the rye content and the vague impression of biting into a slice of rye bread, but beyond that there really isn’t much going on. There’s a hint of brown sugar and vanilla like you’d expect from a barrel aged whiskey — but only a hint. Not nearly enough to actually make a difference.

That said, this is surprisingly smooth. There is no bitterness or unpleasantness to the experience, and the only thing I get on the aftertaste is a bit of alcohol and that peppery rye spice.

On Ice

Surprisingly, very little changes with the addition of some ice here. Usually, the lighter flavors drop out and the harsher tones fade, but there’s none of that happening here.

This whiskey started out uncomplicated and straightforward and that’s how it keeps on trucking. Nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible either. Just a light, young rye.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

The Old Fashioned is really a test of the barrel aging process. Those darker and richer flavors that are imparted from the barrel are what balance and interact best with the bitters… and unfortunately, there’s nothing noteworthy that this whiskey brings to the table in that regard.

What does come through is that black pepper spice from the rye content. It’s good, but on its own it’s just wasted effort. There really needs to be some depth to a whiskey in order for it to succeed here, and this is turning into a one trick pony.

Fizz (Mule)

I’ll be honest, I had pretty low expectations coming into the final stretch here. But I think this rye might be acceptable in a mule. Not great, but passable.

As with the previous tests, there’s no bitterness in the spirit to throw things off — but there also isn’t a ton of sweetness or depth to balance the brightness of the ginger beer, either. That part of the experience kinda gets away from us a little bit.

The saving grace is that black pepper that comes in at the end. That’s where you know that you don’t just have a vodka mule, but that there’s something else going on here. It isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve certainly had better… but at least it’s something positive that can be said for this spirit.

Overall Rating

There’s nothing technically wrong with this spirit. There’s no bitterness or unpleasantness, and the expected flavor of the rye itself is there. It just isn’t a very interesting spirit.

Honestly, this is a pretty textbook result when you try to rush the aging process. Aging happens for a reason — namely to give the spirit some depth and complexity that otherwise is missing. This is something that other rye whiskey offerings use to their advantage. And given the other options at this price point, there are definitely better spirits available to scratch your rye whiskey itch.

Winchester Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Winchester
Owned By: TerrePURE Spirits
Production Location: United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $24.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 1/5
Unlike its rifle-producing counterpart, there’s no repeating this whiskey anytime soon.

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