Rye whiskey is booming, and everybody’s happy to jump on board and keep things classically tasty. Everybody, that is, except for Lincoln Henderson. If you don’t know his name, you should; the man is a monster in the world of whiskey, having helped to develop Jack Daniels “Gentleman Jack” and Single Barrel along with the Woodford Reserve line. He’s in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, for mash’s sake.
But we digress. Henderson released his first Angel’s Envy spirit in 2010, crafting an excellent cask-strength bourbon in small batches (8-12 barrels at a time) and then finishing it in ruby port wine barrels for a distinct, lauded flavor profile. With his newest creation, Angel’s Envy Rye finished in Caribbean Rum Casks, Henderson took a similarly tangential approach. The 95% rye bill is aged in a standard approach, then finished for up to 18 months in rum barrels previously used to age French cognac. The result is a 100-proof creation like nothing we’ve tasted before.
All it takes is one whiff to realize this rye has sugar cane running through its veins. The vanilla is massive, trailed only slightly in scale by brown sugar and the sweet spices that are irrevocably associated with rum. When sipped, this is a play in two acts. First, there’s a candied sugar sweetness, heavily rimmed with caramel and more heaps of brown sugar. Second comes a jab of alcohol bite — this is 100 proof, remember — that’s all the more surprising given its sweet introduction. Finally, we’re reminded that this is a rye whiskey as the normal notes of spice fill up the tongue and the finish.
Blindfolded, we’ll admit that we’d be terribly confused. It’s rum without the oily viscosity, rye whiskey without the smoke or the initial wallop of strong grain flavors. It’s an enigma — but the pairing is mostly an enjoyable one, at the very least an interesting Frankenstein experiment where nobody gets hurt. Created with care to maintain quality and a high standard of tastes on both ends of the spectrum, it’s a drink even purists will find intriguing and not disrespectful to either spirit in the least.