Review: Square 6 High-Rye Bourbon and Rye

Square 6 is a new brand from Heaven Hill, produced at its new artisanal distillery on Louisville’s Main Street. Some background:

Square 6 designates the original plot of land where Evan Williams built Kentucky’s first commercial distillery in 1783, sharing the same block on Louisville’s Whiskey Row where the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience first opened in 2013. This initial launch from the one barrel per day, hand-crafted, copper pot still facility is a testament to Heaven Hill Distillery’s commitment to quality, craft and patience. Square 6 is only the beginning in a series of craft products to come from the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.

At present, just two expressions are being produced here, at the dazzling rate of one barrel per day. Let’s see how these whiskeys, both Kentucky classics, shake out.

Both are 95 proof.

Square 6 High-Rye Bourbon – Made from a mash of 52% corn, 35% rye, and 13% malted barley, which is a new bourbon recipe for Heaven Hill (and indeed quite high in rye). It hits the nose as surprisingly soft, leaning more heavily on the corn than the rye, with notes of peanut butter and butterscotch in the mix, touched with black pepper. The palate sees quite a bit more of the oomph of the rye, offering a grassy quality that pairs reasonably well with the nutty, gently spicy notes on the tongue. While this was reportedly aged for 8 years(!), it still comes across as quite youthful, with a lot of raw cereal around the edges that feels underdeveloped. Even more peanut butter on the finish… can’t escape it… with some honey-laced sweetness. All told, it works best as a mixer, though perhaps not at this price.

Square 6 High-Rye Rye – How does one make a High-Rye Rye? That’s a question for another day, as the recipe here is 63% rye, 24% corn, and 13% malted barley — nothing extreme in a world where 95% rye is commonplace. (That said, Heaven Hill’s standard rye is 51% rye, so by comparison, we get it.) No age statement on this one. Putting formalities aside, when poured into a glass, the herbal-grassy rye hits you right away offering pungent aromas of lightly toasted grains, rosemary, and sage. The palate complements this with notes of dill and a grind of peanut, lightly buttery so as to evoke toasted bread. Notes of bergamot and tea leaf emerge very late in the game, lifting the finish and spinning it in a slightly new direction that is truly engaging. I was surprised to enjoy this as much as I did — it’s clearly more interesting than the bourbon — though, again, the price seems wildly outsized for what’s in the bottle.

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