Rye beers somehow make their way straight to my heart. The rich uniquely sweet and earthy flavors and distinct freshness just get me every time. Ithaca Beer Co stopped me in my tracks last weekend when I sat down with my good bud and we enjoyed a bottle of their Old Habit Strong Rye Ale; part of their Excelsior line of beers. This Rye beer is aged in Kentucky Rye Whiskey Barrels. Ummmm… Thank you!
First of all, I really appreciate the design of this bottle. To the untrained eye it is obviously a wine bottle. All the way from the shape of the bottle, to the very classically designed label and the rubber cap on the head of it make it stand out as something special. It has been brewed with four different rye malts, fresh centennial and crystal hops and then fermented in gorgeous oak barrels from Heaven Hill.
I picked this bottle up with many others during my most recent beer mission to Buffalo, and this proved to be a very very worthy choice.
I poured the Old Habit into two snifter style glasses to capture all the aroma and flavor that I was expecting to come. This beer is 9%abv, and is loaded with rich aromatics. The pour was gentle but extremely lively building a dense and creamy tan colored head with rich browns and lots of action. By the end of the pour there was a powerful two inch mountain of head resting gently above a deep ruby beer.
This picture unfortunately does not do the color justice, but it really was a purple and mahogany deep ruby with streaks of amber and black ivory piercing through it. Completely opaque, with minimal carbonation apparent, it starred at me telling me to drink it, now! I would of course oblige, but first would go in for a nose.
I brought my nose close and breathed deep. A rush of rye malt sweetness and soft caramel maltiness tingles the nose. Shortly, a huge rush of aroma comes bursting at you from the oak ageing. Massive aromas of oak and whisky sweetness are very obvious. Spicy rye whisky, the sweet vanilla and spice of the whisky too shows itself with no regard for shame. It comes right out there raw and uninterrupted. If you look deep, there are light berries and dark cherries hidden too in the nose, and a light field fresh scent of hops. Absolutely magnificent.
I would now dive into this beer, as I promised it I would – instantly lightly tart but hugely sweet rye malts flow over your tongue while the whisky and oak sweetness melts over the sides and aggressively caresses your cheeks. Warming and soft vanilla and caramel makes its way in with malty warmth and honey sweetness. This beer shows significant complexity and spice from the rye. The cherry and berry lively fruit aromas come in now also with light touches of sweetness. Light smoke begins to show, but its subdued under huge oak and malt sweetness.
Also though, the Oak barrels undoubtedly have contributed much spice and charter to this beer. Notes of coriander, white pepper, cinnamon, allspice and cumin seed are all playing in the background. The rugged alcohol sweetness of rye is floating by aiding the strength of this warming, soft soothing beer. The mouthfeel is actually exactly that – minimal carbonation gives it a sublime body which aids its cause perfectly. To much carbonation would have created a beer that attacks you, rather than delights.
By now too, I am impressed with the beers head retention. A good 10 minutes later and still a dense creamy light brown head managed to keep its cool. The finish is sharp and sweet, ripely quenching with crisp hops, and leaving me wanting more. Very appetizing. It really was a huge pleasure to enjoy, and is without a question among the best Oak Aged Beers I have ever had.
To often all you see are oak aged stouts, which are beautiful. But sometimes the oak can overpower a stout and become unbalanced. This Rye Beer example is superb, and I tip my cap to Ithica for creating such a magical beer. I will be very excited to enjoy theirTwelve, a Belgian Style Quadrupel.