A recurring theme of the last year was supporting local businesses, but breweries aren’t the only booze dispensers in the area. Dad’s Hat Rye is a local craft distillery that’s been reviving the Pennsylvania Rye tradition since 2011.
I covered their base offering, a rye aged in quarter cask barrels for at least six months, around 7 years ago (during the first annual beer slowdown), so I won’t rehash the history of PA rye, their unique recipe, why the term “craft” is a loaded one in this situation, or any of the other mishegoss surrounding this whiskey.
I also did some mad science back then, aging a portion of that rye on oak cubes that I had previously used to make beer (an interesting experience at the time, but after a couple of years, that sample got weirdly astringent – not sure if it was the oak or the remnants of beer/yeast that did it).
This was all well and good, but clearly a six-month-aged whiskey wasn’t quite cutting it. However, now that Dad’s Hat has been around for a decade, they’re starting to release some more mature expressions of their trademark rye recipe. I’ve been playing along the last few years, and they’re really starting to hit their stride. Last year, when the pandemic hit, I made sure to throw a little support their way. I’m glad I did!
Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey, Bottled in Bond – Pours a clear golden orange color. Smells of rye bread, some floral notes, herbal mint, peppery spice, a touch of oak and vanilla, much more complex and rounded than the base offering. As I go, I get more and more oak aromas, which is definitely my jam. Taste hits those spicy rye notes hard, less of the floral or herbal notes, but they’re there, and the oak contributes some caramel and vanilla character too. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, it’s got that spicy bite to it, and at 100 proof, it’s got a kick of booze too. I’ve got a beer-attuned palate, so it’s a tad hot, but it’s not like one of them cask strength monsters.
Overall, this is worlds above the standard 6 month expression and given the dearth of well aged rye on the market, I suspect this is actually one of the better examples available today. Perhaps a tad pricey, but even then, I think this is a competitive bottle. It’s very much its own thing, distinctively an unadulterated rye, and I look forward to seeing the age on these creep up in the coming years. I’m honestly enjoying this more than the more “barely legal” ryes (like Rittenhouse or Sazerac). B+
Whiskey Nerd Details: 100 proof, 50% ABV bottled (750 ml). Distilled in 2014, Released in 2019 (5 years old). Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/21/21.
Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey, Cask Strength Single Barrel (Fine Wine & Good Spirits Barrel Selection) – Looks quite similar, clear golden orange, perhaps a hair darker with more legs. Smell is also similar, the higher ABV certainly comes through, but you get that rye bread with grassy, floral notes, peppery spice, oak, it’s all there but somehow feels less complex. Taste is again heavier on the spicy rye character along, with the more herbal and floral notes taking on a supporting role here. Oak, vanilla, and caramel are here too, but it’s not quite as in balance as the BiB above. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, very hot (even considering my baby beer palate, this is pretty hot), with a pretty long finish.
Overall, this is also a big improvement on the standard expression and it’s very well done, but the BiB feels more complex and balanced. Even adding water, while making this more approachable, doesn’t really compare well with the BiB. This is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and I suspect newer editions will have more age on them and perhaps fare better. B–
Whiskey Nerd Details: 124 proof, 62% ABV bottled (750 ml). Barreled on: 8-23-13, Bottled on: 4-24-17 (3 years old). FW&GS Single Barrel Pick: Barrel No. 2, Bottle No. 112. Drank out of a Glencairn glass on 3/22/21.
Again, I’m really looking forward to seeing this distillery evolve over time. They seem to have carved out a nice market niche and while I think the BiB expression is great, I can’t wait to see even higher ages (or whatever other expressions they can come up with).
This represents the end of our annual beer slowdown, so look for the return of beer reviews soon enough…