Masterson's-straight-rye-whiskey

Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey (45% alc./vol.)

October 17, 2011

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A carefully crafted panorama of grassy dry grain, moist earth and burlap sacks, along with zingy pepper, blossoming floral vanilla, fragrant leather and tobacco leaves. Spicy Rye. ★★★★★

Seeking to capture a niche in the growing spirits market, 35 Maple, a division of The Other Guys, has introduced an upscale straight rye whiskey called Masterson’s. The strategy? On-premise placements and sales to high-end wine and bottle shops. Let’s pull back some of the layers here. The Other Guys own 35 Maple. The owners of The Other Guys are members of the Sebastiani family. The Sebastianis have a long history as wine makers in the Sonoma Valley. How long? A mere 110 years.

When stonemason Samuele Sebastiani first emigrated from the Tuscany region of Italy to California, he made his living mining the Sonoma hills for cobblestones to pave the streets of nearby San Francisco. During long days cutting stone, Sebastiani realized, that similar to his homeland, if not exactly paved with gold, these hills had much more potential than a source of humble cobblestones. Within nine years he had saved enough money to buy land in Sonoma County. His goal? To plant grapes and establish his own winery. Soon Sebastiani’s vineyard was supplying wine to his neighbours in Sonoma as well as restaurants in San Francisco.

In 1919, as Prohibition approached, a few California winemakers ripped up their vines and planted fruit trees. Most, however, remained in denial and simply went ahead tending their vines in preparation for their anticipated business-as-somewhat-usual 1920 harvest. This seeming foolishness quickly turned into a windfall for vineyard owners as the price of California grapes and grape juice spilled out of control in the face of unquenchable demand. A clause in the Volstead Act, the legislation which defined Prohibition, permitted home wine making. Soon, every square inch of California that would support a grapevine did so – for purely home-based purposes, of course.

Not wishing to interfere in any way with high church rituals or the prescription practices of the medical profession at large, the Volstead Act also permitted the production and sale of sacramental and medicinal wine. The difference between these products was simply the way they were labelled. Before long a huge trade sprung up with pharmacists, and particularly religious leaders, operating high-volume wine stores selling all manner of “wine” to the newly converted and the newly infirm. This perfectly legal trade created many personal fortunes, and it also set the stage for California, with its rapidly expanding vineyards, to become a major player in the world of wine after Prohibition was repealed.

While other Sonoma wineries quickly joined the highly profitable grape juice trade, Samuele Sebastiani alone, chose instead to continue making wine legally for the burgeoning sacramental and medicinal markets. It was a wise move indeed for he was able to use what turned out to be nearly fourteen years of Prohibition to further develop his winery and hone his winemaking skills.

Overall, it is estimated that Prohibition reduced alcohol consumption in the U.S. by about 30% in the period leading up to 1929. However, the stock market crash in October that year–and the ensuing Great Depression–accomplished what no law could do, as sales of alcoholic beverages, including sacramental and medicinal wines, plummeted. Sebastiani supplemented his rapidly declining trade in wine by canning peaches, pears, and nectarines for sale as food.

After Samuele passed on, the business remained in Sebastiani hands until 2008. That was when the fourth generation of the family sold the vineyards and winery to Foley Family Wines. However, winemaking remained in their veins and, in 2010, two fourth-generation Sebastianis, siblings Mia and August, picked up the family torch once more with a new wine enterprise. They called it “The Other Guys.” Remembering earlier family forays into the spirits market with brandy and grappa, The Other Guys launched a spirits division. They gave it its own decidedly non-Sebastiani name: 35 Maple Street. This new division has now begun working with several top spirits makers to create new and unique ultra-premium artisanal spirits. Masterson’s Rye is but the first of what they hope will be many. “This straight rye whiskey will be followed by a botanical gin, aged rum and small batch bourbon over the next year,” said company president, August Sebastiani.

Roughly 4,000 cases of Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye are on their way to store shelves in the U.S. The first states to receive their allotments are California, Florida, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois. That said, the whiskey travels extensively before arriving at those destinations; it is distilled in a tiny pot still at Alberta Distillers Limited distillery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Unique in that it not only meets the U.S. definition for straight rye whiskey, it is distilled from a mash of 100% rye grain. Masterson’s is bottled at 90 proof – 45% alc./vol.

35 Maple named their new straight rye for Canadian-born frontier lawman, William “Bat” Masterson, one of the most famous American Old West personalities. “I wanted to tip our cap to a character from that time,” explains Sebastiani. “Bat Masterson was not only a buffalo hunter, card dealer, U.S. marshal and local lawman, but he retired to New York where he became a prolific sportswriter and newspaperman. Masterson had considerable depth of character, much like our rye whiskey and I’ve always been fascinated by the role that saloons, card games and whiskey played in the gun slingin’ days of the Wild West.”

Masterson's straight Canadian rye whisky from The Other Guys

Masterson's 10-year-old straight rye whiskey is named for Canadian-born, U.S. Old West lawman, William "Bat" Masterson.

35 Maple’s move into the spirits market will also allow the company to expand its influence into the flourishing cocktail movement. “We’re seeing lots of new cocktail lounges and old-fashioned speakeasies infiltrating the bar scene, not only in major metropolitan areas, but across the nation,” Sebastiani continues. “It’s a nostalgic lifestyle movement and a perfect fit for our marketing philosophy, which is to focus on high quality, limited-production wines – and, of course, now spirits.”

This really is outstanding rye whisky. So before we get to detailed tasting notes why not compare Masterson’s with some other ultra-premium-quality straight ryes that have recently come on the market?

Compared, for example, with WhistlePig and Jefferson’s, the flavour profile of Masterson’s strongly favours the grain over the barrel. The nose, though floral, is dominated by earth and grain. The Masterson’s palate is broad, ranging from wet clay through roasted grain to gunny sacks, pepper, spice and vanilla before resolving in citric pith. This is a well-balanced, finely crafted rye whiskey, cast in the mould of the ultimate connoisseur’s straight rye – a deliciator’s stolen pleasure intended to be savoured.

WhistlePig (50% alc./vol.) starts big on vanilla and is brutishly masculine, strongly favouring elements of charred new oak over the grain itself. Brusque and indecorous, it is at the same time sublime as if some ancient, filthy and long-forgotten trove of musky spices has suddenly burst, spilling its unrefined but oh-so-precious contents. This is rugged rye whiskey, not so much to dram as to drink.

Jefferson’s (47% alc./vol.) is another matter altogether. Strongly influenced by new-oak barrels the whisky opens up immediately to floral vanilla. These are the sweet, perfumed floral notes that rye spirit is so good at extracting from new oak. It also exhibits an earthy marker that is typical of rye, before finishing in a cleansing grapefruit pithiness. Of the three, Jefferson’s opens most quickly and is by far the most expressive in the nose. Like the others, this is good solid five-star rye whiskey, and like the others, a unique and individual expression of straight rye.

Now here are the details for Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey:

Nose: A broad range of aromas beginning with dry grain, rye grain, linseed oil and the earthiness of damp Prairie soil. Faintly floral notes that blossom slowly into sweet-scented perfume dissolve in the sweet complex aromas of gunny sacs, saddle leather and fragrant dry tobacco leaves. Very clean defined aromas are reminiscent of a hayloft, with straw, dry grass and grain dust. Along with the floral tones, vanilla pods add a sweetness, punctuated here and there with hints of raspberries. Overall the nose is dominated by the earthy aromas of canvas, wet clay, dry grain along with Chinese herbs. There is a lot of nose here if you give it time.

Palate: Continues the earthy tones of the nose along with loads of very floral vanilla notes. Hot pepper balances neatly against sweetish spicy ginger backed by other sweetish tones including toffee, red licorice, black licorice and a slight generic fruitiness. Dry grain along with blue clay, putty, and hot tobacco reinforce the earthiness. A very complex palate beautifully integrates a range of flavours. The linseed oil of the nose reprises on the palate as artist’s oil paint, but despite this oiliness the oak can be just slightly, though pleasantly, drying leading into a grapefruit pithiness with hints of lime that clean away an array of flavours and refresh the palate for another sip.

Finish: A long finish fades slowly on floral perfume, citric pith, and lasting reminiscences of earth.

Empty Glass: Dry grain and burlap sacs.

$79.00 in U.S. liquor stores. (Lower prices reported at some stores.)

Very Highly Recommended. ★★★★★

Masterson’s Straight Barley Whiskey is reviewed here.

Masterson’s Straight Wheat Whisky is reviewed here.

Masterson's 10-Year-Old Straight Canadian Rye Whiskey


Comments

43 Responses to “Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey (45% alc./vol.)”

  1. portwood:

    Nice to see another Canadian whisky bottled north of 40%. Too bad its destined for US shelves where most other less-diluted Canadian-made whiskies go to be appreciated.

  2. What a nice coincidence Davin,

    I have just been indulging in a U.S. made Straight Rye Whisky, (ri)1 (pronounced rye one) a Kentucky straight rye whiskey produced by Beam that my son brought back to Canada for me from Boston. Your review of Masterton’s makes me hope he takes a road trip to California so I can try this one too.

    • Davin:

      Hi Chip,

      I have heard a lot of good things about (ri)1 but I have never tasted it. Are you going to post a review soon on rumhowler?

      • I will probably review (ri)1 sometime in October. I’ve got a couple more Canadian Whiskies to go for this month and then a few Single Malt Reviews I have promised others, but it is definitely on the review schedule.

  3. sam k:

    I’ll agree heartily that it’s good to see a Canadian being bottled at 45%, but at eighty bucks, it’s out of my league.

    As for ri(1), I’m definitely not a fan. It’s not got much depth of flavor, especially at the $45 or so asking price. I’m much more at home with Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey rye at half the price.

  4. [...] floral vanilla, fragrant leather and tobacco leaves.  Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey is in stock!
    Available September 9, 2011 at Lukas Liquor Superstore, St. Louis’ only FULL SERVICE Wine and Spirits store
    This item is very rare and allocated, supplies won’t last long! [...]

  5. Joe G:

    I don’t get it. Even with the flowery story, is there a market for an $80 10 year old whisky? And even though it’s 45%, that is still not cask strength, water and coloring added. I guess if supply is limited you can sell through.

    • Davin:

      Hi Joe,
      I guess you need to taste it head to head with an $80 single malt to see if it’s good value.
      There’s a pretty good chance a 10 year old rye is going to be dark to start with so I doubt they added colouring.

  6. Jim Walsh:

    I just purchased a few bottles of this very fine rye whiskey. Normally a fan of good Scottish single malt . This floored me. It is spectacularly tasting. warm ,fragrant and produces a delightful response on the palette. People owe themselves an opportunity to try it.

    • Davin:

      I agree with you whole-heartedly, Jim. I am a huge fan of single malts as well and this Masterson’s is right up there with the single-cask gems from the ’70s and ’80s.

  7. Jim Walsh:

    Just bought an additional two cases. Great packaging . Great to store and savor or to give as gifts.

  8. J. Allen Wood:

    Just noticed this on the shelf of my favorite liquor store here in Houston this afternoon and decided to pick up a bottle. It is truly outstanding rye whiskey! It’s only priced around $55 here ($50/ bottle for case price) so I’m definitely headed back for a case next week!

  9. Sounds intriguing, but at the price point there’s just too much competition. Heck, you could get two bottles of the Jefferson’s rye for the same price. Bring it down towards $40 and I’ll be willing to give it a try.

    • Davin:

      I’ve tried both, and they are both good. Shop around. I’ve seen Masterson’s as low as $51 on the web. It really is worth a try.

  10. [...] more info check out: Canadian Whisky, Micro Liquor, Whisky Advocate Blog, and [...]

  11. [...] Masterson’s Rye The best of the Canadian straight ryes, Masterson’s has the punch of straight rye whisky with the smooth elegance that Masterson’s masterful minglers so skillfully produce. Strong, rich, robust and complex, it remains ever so sippable. You’ll have to go state-side to buy this one, but it’s worth the trip. Rumours have it coming home to Canada in the New Year, but do you really want to make Dear Old Dad wait until then?  $54.99 at Shoppers Vineyard. [...]

  12. Weirdest canadian whisky i’ve tasted to this date… If you are willing for something different, this one is for you.

  13. Yello to Mello:

    This is the whisky for me!

    After trying this at SofT on the weekend, I couldnt stop thinking about it. I was looking at the US shops because I can’t wait until the time its available in Ontario….hahaha!

    • Davin:

      Great whisky isn’t it? Good to see you on Saturday.

  14. Piet:

    Interesting shift in the all-time WW Whisky Design Awards Category 1 (less than €250) This Masterson’s 10yo Straight Rye came in recently and now jumped to 4th position.

    See: http://www.whiskydesignaward.com/

    Regards, Piet (aka Peat)

  15. Yello to Mello:

    Got a bottle when a friend went to Calgary for the Stampede. $101.95 plus tax at The Cellar. I couldnt wait until the fall when its penciled in for release in Ontario. I hope the price is decent.

    I opened it….I missed you, my friend.

    • Davin:

      That is an excellent price. Isn’t it just amazingly complex and flavourful? A real work of art.

  16. portwood:

    This has now been listed in Ontario at a huge markup as expected.

    Produced in Canada, shipped in bulk to the US, watered down, fancy package added, sell for US$79. Ship back to Canada, slap taxes and duty as if it’s an import, and voila 110 bucks!!!

    The quality may be there but I’ll pass on this one.

  17. Rob:

    LCBO has a large amount of bottles now. I got mine last night, not sure why your so surprised with the price jump. Canadians are always taxed much higher, usually it’s about 50% more with alcohol. I’m just happy I can knock another Canadian Whisky off my list.

  18. Rob:

    After trying it myself I would never waste my money on another bottle of this. It’s not bad by any means but, there are many better tasting whiskies in the 50-75 dollar range. It’s smooth I will give it that, just doesn’t have the tastes I look for in a Canadian Whisky

    • portwood:

      Since the LCBO vintages release Oct 27th where it was featured in a two page spread (not common for whisky releases), about 110 of the 714 bottles (119 caes) have sold. I would say this one will stay on the shelves for a loooooooooong time at $110 now that the first-time trial buyers have their bottle.

  19. paddockjudge:

    $110 is a lot of money to pony up for a bottle of this 45% offering. I’m inclined to do a head-to-head with Alberta Springs.

  20. [...] more info check out: Canadian Whisky, Micro Liquor, Whisky Advocate Blog, and Drinkhacker. Share this Post /* var [...]

  21. [...] goodness. if you want to read more history and in depth information about Masterson’s check out Davin’s excellent [...]

  22. Hi Davin, I was just at the LCBO and bought a bottle of this for about $75. They had a version of this bottle in a box and was priced at $110. I asked someone there for the difference and he didn’t know. he scanned both and both descriptions were the same. is there a difference?

    • Davin:

      Your best bet is to compare the batch numbers. There are several different batches and there are differences among them.

      • what are the differences?

        • Yello to Mello:

          I heard that batch 5 was just released (batch 3 is the older batch). Curious to what batch 5 is like, if its anything like batch 3, the new price is a steal

          • the one I bought may actually be batch 5. I’ll double check when I get home, but I think I remember seeing 5 on my bottle.

          • yes I have a bottle from batch 5

  23. RK:

    The company marketing material says that rye they use is grown in the verdant Pacific Northwest, making it sound very American, but if it is distilled at Alberta Springs are they not using Alberta rye grains? Confused but the lack of transparency here.

    • Davin:

      Rye grain grown in the verdant North West, or any other “verdant” region would not taste this good. It is the struggle to survive drought , flood, cold and scorching heat that imbues it with its most desired whisky qualities. The company has never ever even suggested to me that this is anything but Canadian whisky made in Canada from Canadian rye grain. My bottle says product of Canada on the back. How the marketing people may spin it is up to them but the producers brag about its Canadian provenance.

  24. [...] Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey is reviewed here. [...]

  25. Cindy:

    Costco in San Diego is selling Batch 5 for $49.99. Just picked up a bottle. Can’t wait to try it. :)

  26. joe:

    Received a batch 5 for Christmas. I’m just an Old Overholdt, Beam Rye drinker. This is something-else. Great tasting with a little extra kick. Not the 90 proof. The gift giver asked for our daughter’s hand in marriage.
    Hard to say no.

    • Davin:

      Congratulations!

  27. [...] spice, to stand up to the other ingredients. I also like the fact that the Masterson’s rye is actually distilled in Calgary, Alberta using 100% Canadian rye, which is then bottled and sent to Sonoma, California. Somewhat akin to the [...]

  28. [...] Masterson’s 100% Straight Rye Whisky is reviewed here. [...]


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