Classification: Straight Rye Finished in Absinthe Casks
Company: Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.
Distillery: Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.
Release Date: November 2021
Proof: 114.9 (Cask Strength)
Color: Dark Amber
MSRP: $134 (2022)
Peerless is a storied brand that dates back to the 1880’s when it was first barreled and sold by E.W. Worsham & Co. Operations based in Henderson, Kentucky. Like so many other distilleries during the time, the distillery and the Peerless brand became a victim of Prohibition. In 2014, the Peerless brand was reborn as Corky and Carson Taylor refurbished a building in downtown Louisville and obtained the original Kentucky Distilled Spirits Plant Number (DSP-KY-50) from the original Peerless Distillery in the 1800’s. In March of 2015 they barreled their first rye and released their first product two years later. Additionally, the Taylors have chosen to use a sweet mash between each fermentation, which is a differentiation from the typical sour mash used by many distillers.
Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished starts with the company’s rye as its base. In the company’s first release, they sourced Copper & Kings absinthe barrels, but make no mention of the source of their barrels for their second release. The rye is then finished for an undisclosed amount of time. Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished is only sold at the Peerless Distillery or through the company’s website.
Fresh mint and anise with a backing of cinnamon and allspice are undeniable. The aroma is potent but not punchy. It gives off a wintery potpourri scent that is warming and even nostalgic at times. The aroma is further reinforced with flourishes of baking spices, burnt caramel, and rye spice. The nose offers medium depth with its tight-knit scents, yet its overall cohesion works in its favor. Overall it’s very delightful in its uniqueness.
Boasting potency over finesse, the palate hits strong and fast. Big bouts of anise and wintergreen wash over you as hints of cinnamon and rye spice struggle to stake their claim. This one-sided affair leaves its mark, as it’s unmistakably absinthe at its core. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in raw moxie. It's unapologetic in its barrel finish, perhaps too much so, yet it's strongly compelling at the same time. Unbalanced and strange in equal parts, it works through its shades of boldness.
Leveling out on a base of oak and vanilla provides a welcome contrast to its anise dominated nose and palate. This is somewhat short-lived as mint and anise comes roaring back transitioning into a long and warm finish. It’s not overly complex, instead focusing on its few flavors well in a largely uneventful finish.
It might be the time to ask if whiskey companies are reaching the outer limits of barrel finishing. With their explosive popularity and growth over the last decade, it is getting harder and harder to find a new way to finish a whiskey. Or is it?
In 2020, Peerless teamed up with Copper & Kings to finish their rye whiskey in Kings’ used absinthe barrels. Now a year later (with no mention of Copper & Kings this time around), Peerless is back for another round of this divisive barrel finished whiskey.
Although they are three entirely different plants, anise, fennel, and licorice all share similar and unmistakable tasting properties. A love it or hate it flavor for many, sambuca and absinthe are the torch bearers of the flavor in the world of spirits. The thought of blending the flavors of rye and absinthe is an intriguing one, yet one not without major challenges.
Absinthe is a very potent tasting drink and using it as a finishing agent just might be a fool's errand. It’s incredibly hard to tame the fairy so to speak, and using it to finish a rye is evidence of just how hard it is. Besides the expected difficulty of sourcing absinthe barrels (absinthe is not typically aged or stored in barrels), even the spicy boldness of rye struggles to stand out from the absinthe flavor. The result is a unique tasting rye, resulting from a path that very few have dared to venture down. But truth be told, Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished has more in common with absinthe than rye. As more of these types of barrel finished whiskey come to market, the novelty will begin to wear thin, but with so few currently available, its uniqueness truly makes it stand out.
Peerless has always priced their products at a premium. While they have made strives to continually lower their prices, they never seem shy from three digit pricing. The true value of Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished will likely be determined by how much you enjoy absinthe or more specifically, anise (I’m told these people exist). Haters need not apply, especially based on the bottle’s asking price of $134. Lovers may still struggle with the price, but based on its pure uniqueness alone, it can be somewhat justifiable. There is no doubt additional costs associated with any finished product, especially one that features a rare finishing type like this one. Peerless also prices their Double Oak Bourbon at $134, so comparably, I see more value with Absinthe Barrel Finished, but some personal justification is still in order. A one-of-a-kind product (or close to it) often comes at a price, and with many cask strength whiskeys hovering around the $100 mark nowadays, an uptick from that seems justifiable. It doesn’t make it hurt any less and is more of a statement of where the current whiskey market is.
Bold and divisive, Peerless took the gamble (again) finishing a rye in absinthe casks, and the result is a whiskey that resembles its finishing agent more than its base whiskey.
Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished is exactly what you’d expect it to be - for better or for worse. The intensity of the barrel finish is a matter that took me by surprise, which was further enhanced by the whiskey’s proof. This is not a gentle sipper, and in a way, it asks you to drink it more like you would traditionally drink absinthe, with the addition of water.
Unless you’re a fan of absinthe, there isn’t anything immediate that will make you fall in love with Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished. That said, if you love an anise dominated flavor profile, or feel particularly adventurous, the rye will certainly satisfy in that regard. Sometimes whiskey drinking is about the experience. Peerless Rye Absinthe Barrel Finished is unlike any whiskey you’ve probably tasted and it will challenge you in new and exciting ways. This whiskey speaks to the adventurers, those who love a challenge, and revel outside of their comfort zone. Yet, if you detest anise flavor, there's just no getting around that; this whiskey is absinthe first and rye second. It’s a barrel finished identity crisis if there ever was one, and that doesn’t make it flawed, just more exotic than you’re probably used your whiskey ever being.