November 21st, 2008

The Prince of ryes

Rye One whiskey and promotional boxA wonderful thing happened recently. I got whiskey in the mail. Rye whiskey. This never happens. Sure, I’ve received gin in the mail, and cachaca, and tequila. All were welcome. But whiskey — and this is a relatively high-end whiskey — people don’t just give that stuff out. But here I was, opening a sleek white box containing a bottle of … um … well, the label appeared to be some sort of mathematical equation or unpronounceable glyph, like the thing Prince changed his name to.

I had to read the promotional materials that accompanied the bottle to figure out that this whiskey, produced by Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc., is pronounced “rye one.” The label and the contemporary design of the bottle could not have broadcast more clearly that this is not your grandfather’s whiskey. There’s no “old” in the name, no 1800s font.

“[Rye one] is a cutting-edge spirit for today’s top tastemakers and cocktail drinkers who are looking to expand their ultra-premium spirits repertoire,” Brand Manager Mara Melamed is quoted in the press release.

Playing the part of “top tastemaker,” I sampled the Rye One neat alongside a few ryes I bought myself: the bargain brands Old Overholt and Jim Beam, the premium Sazerac 6-Yr, and the increasingly rare Michter’s 10-Yr. In terms of complexity, depth and the spicy kick you look for in a rye, the Rye One came out ahead of Old Overholt and Jim Beam, stood about equal with (but was a bit hotter than) Sazerac 6-Yr, and was clearly not on the same plane as Michter’s 10-Yr. Later, Scott joined me in comparing Rye One to Old Overholt and Sazerac in a 3:1 Manhattan with a dash of Angostura bitters. Scott preferred the Sazerac. I was on the fence between the Rye One and the Sazerac.

Conclusions? I thought Rye One was pretty comparable in quality to Sazerac 6-Yr. But here lies the rub: Rye One is $46-$48 a bottle. Sazerac is $25-$30. What’s the deal with the high price of Rye One? I’m guessing that in packaging this rye to appeal to the Nightclub Set, Beam Global is simply borrowing a page from the vodka-marketing playbook: put your booze in a sexy bottle and charge conspicuously more for it than any of your competitors. This ploy has made premium vodka wildly profitable. It will be interesting to see if it works for whiskey.

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9 Responses to “The Prince of ryes”

  1. Albert

    that’s insane…I’d bet a bottle of 25-year Rittenhouse that the Pikesville Supreme I’ve been privy to lately at $10.99/bottle is equal to if not superior than Rye One…the first of many overpriced ryes to jump on the bandwagon I’m afraid…

  2. Scortch

    That’s been my big fear as well. However, with $50+ price point, I won’t be easily finding myself taste-testing too many of these!

    The one caveat I can say about premium products like this is that I hope they’ll mean that other ryes will become a bit more easily available (while hopefully not joining their pricing structure!).

  3. seth

    GUYS… IT’S (ri)1, NOT RYE ONE!!! Heh heh.

    Anyway, it’s smooth and a really nice rye, but not worth it for the price when Baby Saz is $20 cheaper a bottle and just as good.

  4. Alex

    I’m starting to fell like I’m the only one who doesn’t like this stuff. When I tried it I found it to be so non-rye like that I could quite bring myself to think of it as a rye. I guess I’m going to have to head out to one of my locals this weekend and give it another go. I must say that even if my opinion improves, the price point is ridiculous.

  5. mountaineld

    well personally i did not think it was worth even half the money.
    sazerac is far better * wouldn’t you want to support their company?
    but if you consider how much money you have to spend on rain vodka to get sazerac in your bar, then it comes out about the same doesn’t it?
    hmmmm,

    oops was that my inner voice piping up again?
    ;-)

  6. Jonathan

    God bless Michter’s 10 yr

  7. jacqueline

    Hey LJC – loved the curls in the LUPEC pics. So sorry I couldn’t be there. I was born for the 40s!

    Anyway, I just sampled this and enjoyed it quite a bit. Do you think the “rye one” is a play on “wry one” a little wink at the noted price vs. quality comparison? Just a thought.

    I liked it, but wouldn’t forego a good single malt at the price point. We got an introductory deal from our favorite vendor so it was worth it. For the money I’d go single malt and for rye I’d go back to Sazerac most likely. Bot to support them and to make my Sazeracs properly.

    That said, there’s a rye that we were treated to in CA…insanely good and more expensive than insanely expensive. I think we went to a BevMo or such to bring a bottle home and gasped audibly at the price. If memory serves it was @ or near 100.

    Needless to say it didn’t make it home with us!

    Just now am posting on a new (to me bourbon) and am dying to talk w/you on beer and cheese pairings as well as a fab sparkling mead I had at Slow Food….

  8. ljclark

    Ha! Good point, Mountain Elf. Good to get the perspective of those who have to have to deal with the strong-arm tactics of liquor companies and distributors.

    Jacqueline, thanks for the kind words on the curls. Yeah, “wry one” is just about perfect. Wow, I’d like to know which $100 rye you drank in CA. Off the charts.

    As for beer and cheese pairings, there’s one I always recommend: Epoisse cheese and Belgian gueuze (Cantillon, Drei Fonteinen, Boon, etc.). Heavenly.

  9. Adam

    If you’re interested in $100 ryes, head over to Downtown Liquors in Davis. I can’t remember which brand it is, but they have some rye behind the counter for about that price. I’m not planning to try it until I hit a big lotto win…

    In the meantime, I would like to mention that I personally find Wild Turkey Rye to be one of the best out there, and it’s quite cheap (a bit less than the Sazerac 6, and, IMHO, a bit better). No reason to spend $50 to support Beam’s marketing efforts :-)

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