November 21st, 2008
The Prince of ryes
A 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.