Ken Lewis opened New Riff Distillery in the spring of 2014 in Newport, Kentucky, which is just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati. While New Riff built up the supply of their own aged products, they sourced high-rye bourbon from MGP. They named this brand O.K.I. which stands for: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, aka distilled in Indiana, bottled in Kentucky, and loved in Ohio. This brand has now been retired and New Riff is focused on their own distillate.
The sourcing of products was necessary to buy the company time, since New Riff wanted to age their products in 53 gallon barrels and release them as Bottled in Bond products. Additionally, New Riff products are currently being released without chill filtration.
This bottle being reviewed is their own distillate. It was distilled in the spring of 2015 and bottled in the spring of 2019. It’s Bottled in Bond, without chill filtration, and according to the company’s website, aged at least four years.
Surprisingly smokey, the nose starts with charred oak, flamed orange peel, oats, and the faintest hints of vanilla and burnt caramel. These aromas all mingle with an underlying sense of smokieness and a light layer of ethanol. It’s a fantastic start to the sip, drawing you in and making you wonder if it’ll taste as unique as it smells.
The whiskey has a light and silky mouthfeel, yet one that still delivers plenty of flavor. Spicy and sweet, with orange zest, black pepper, tobacco leaf, and touches of honey and vanilla are also noticeable. Rye spice comes in large waves as I swirl the sip around my mouth.
A hot fiery finish ends the sip. Bold rye spice and a peppery blast are found at the start. This spiciness lingers and is mixed in with a pleasing amount of heat. Though enjoyable, the finish isn’t as diverse as the nose and palate, and also carries a hint of youth to it. These factors make it come off as the weaker part of the overall sip in comparison.
New Riff takes a refreshingly new approach with their product. It seems like they distinctly tried to merge old tradition with new ways of bringing this product to market. While not the first distillery to wait until their own distillate was aged the required four years and could be released as Bottled in Bond - Wilderness Trail also went this route - New Riff is part of the small club to do so, and does so with all of their current standard whiskey products. Additionally, the fact that they chose to do no chill filtration will appeal to many in the whiskey community. Top all of this off with a well designed embossed glass bottle and a sleek black synthetic cork, and New Riff Rye stands out from the crowd.
Package design and distillation choices only go so far however. In the end it’s what’s in the bottle that counts. In this case, New Riff delivers a solid contender. With little youth present in the sip, it delivers flavor profile that is easy to enjoy and full of depth. It’s not quite as well rounded as say Pikesville Rye 6 Year, however it’s spicy bold flavor profile helps it stand out from the pack of its rye competitors.
Coming in at $45 seems like a great bargain nowadays for a full flavored whiskey. That is until you realize that rye, with a few exceptions, isn’t as crazy as the bourbon is in the market. While $45 is relatively inexpensive in the grand comparison of the whiskey world, it still puts New Riff Rye at the higher end of our Best Rye Whiskeys list. Its unique traits from a technical standpoint don’t carry over to help here either, as New Riff Rye isn’t the only Bottled in Bond rye on the market. The long standing crowd favorite Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond, can be had with little effort and at only two-thirds of the price.
For a newer distillery however, the price is a nice start. Usually with a young upstart like New Riff, you have an outrageous price tag that makes you second guess buying a bottle from an unproven distillery. New Riff helps break that mold though and even with a $45 price tag, delivers a well-rounded, fair-valued rye.
New Riff’s first in-house rye is a bold entrance to the market that delivers a spicy sip that makes you pause to wonder, just what the future and additional aging time will bring to this company’s impressive distillate.
Based on what I’ve tasted so far from New Riff, I’m excited to see where the company goes. With a little more time in the barrel, their aged ryes may hold their own against the best. In the meantime, New Riff Rye is a solid first showing for the company’s own rye distillate. Yes, it has its misses, the finish in particular, but overall this is an all around, good nuanced pour. It delivers a bold spicy flavor profile that is sure to please many rye lovers, all while doing so as a Bottled in Bond rye with no chill filtration, which is sure to please students of whiskey alike.