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Henry Clay Straight Rye Review

Old Henry Clay Straight Rye Whiskey – Producer: James E. Pepper Distillery. Distiller: MGP. No age statement. Mashbill: >90% rye (likely 95% rye, 5% malted barley). Price: $20.

Where are the great whisk(e)y bargains these days? Here’s one. I’d been feeling a little self-conscious about the number of $50+ bottles I’d been reviewing in recent weeks–many of them excellent, but price-wise, out of reach for most–and along came the Henry Clay Rye to shake things up.

Henry Clay is a no-age-statement straight rye from James E. Pepper, better known for its 1776 rye and bourbon line. Pepper is reviving an old brand and reopening an old Lexington, KY, distillery that operated from 1879-1958.

In the meantime they’re sourcing very good rye and bourbon from the old reliable MGP. Henry Clay is their entry-level bottling, at 43% ABV and about $20. It’s a steal.

It’s from a high-rye mashbill–at least 90% rye grain, as opposed to the 51% rye of Sazerac or Rittenhouse, say–but has excellent balance.

The nose is bright, fresh, and fruity, with white grape and lychee early on. Almost like a young armagnac! Some leather, some orange rind. Some white pine. Very slight hint of fennel, stopping well short of the brash anise or black licorice notes to be found in some other high-rye-mashbill ryes.

The palate adds a robust but perfectly integrated spice to the nose’s fruitiness. It’s on the lighter-bodied side, but substantial enough for its ABV. Sweet oak and a hint of white chocolate. The price mounts toward the end of the palate, then fades on the finish. Earthy but citrusy. Key lime. A bit on the short side.

This is as good a straight-ahead MGP-sourced rye as you can ask for, at a very accessible price. Eminently sippable, brilliant in cocktails too. Hats off to James E. Pepper!

Cheers, friends! – BO