Rye Whiskey Review Showdown – Dickel vs Bulleit vs High West Rendezvous Rye


A Trio Of Ryes

First we had the Mexican Beer Trifecta where we reviewed three different Mexican beers. Now we have the Rye Whiskey Review Showdown where we’re reviewing three different Rye whiskies (Dickel Rye, Bulleit Rye, and High West Rendezvous Rye to be more precise). So what’s with all this number three business? Perhaps this video will shed some light on the significance of the number three…

Now that I’ve got that bit of silliness out of the way, let’s find out a bit more about these whiskies and get on with my tasting notes…

Dickel Rye

I couldn’t find much information about this whisky on the interwebz, but I was able to get some information from Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell on his blog:

All the whiskey in this new bottling is at least 5 years old, and for this reason alone I am enjoying it more than Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye. It’s made from 95% rye, like many other rye whiskeys on the market, including the another Diageo-owned bourbon label, Bulleit Rye.

And now for my impressions of this whiskey…

  • Appearance: Clear amber color.
  • Aroma: Cinnamon sticks, wintergreen mint, a hint of vanilla, allspice, and maple syrup.
  • Taste: The mouthfeel is a bit thin and watery. Little to no alcohol burn. Soothing cinnamon and mint at the onset. The cinnamon spice intensifies at mid-palate with a bit of vanilla and brown sugar sweetness lurking in the background. Soothing medium finish with a pleasant, sweet/spicy aftertaste.
  • ABV: 45%

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Bulleit Rye

Once again, there isn’t much on the official Bulleit website, but I did find this tidbit of information about the Bulleit Rye on John Hansell’s blog:

No age statement, but it includes 4 to 7 year old whiskeys. The mashbill is 95% rye — much higher than most standard rye whiskeys out there.

And now for my impressions of this whiskey…

  • Appearance: Looks exactly like the Dickel, i.e. more of that lovely amber color.
  • Aroma: Very similar aromas going on here. The cinnamon scent is more pronounced. Also getting peppermint and brown sugar.
  • Taste: Though the mouthfeel is very similar to the Dickel Rye, the actual taste is where the Bulleit has a slight edge over the Dickel. The cinnamon spice is much more intense, and there’s also a stronger herbal/minty backbone with hints of vanilla and brown sugar thrown into the mix as well. Warm, medium finish with a cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar aftertaste.
  • ABV: 45%

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High West Rendezvous Rye

Finally! Some information from the actual distillery. Here is what High West Distillery has to say about their Rendezvous Rye:

Rendezvous Rye is a blend of two exotic straight rye whiskies; one old, and one young. It marries the rich aromatic qualities of a 16-year-old rye with the bold spicy properties of 6-year-old rye to create a full flavored, very complex whiskey. The 6-year-old boasts an uncommonly high 95% rye mash bill. Almost every other straight rye whiskey you can buy today is barely legal, with 51-53% rye in the mash bill. Not Rendezvous Rye. It honors the way rye whiskey used to be made, with a high rye content and full, uncompromised flavor. With Rendezvous Rye, you get a taste of authentic rye whiskey. We hope you enjoy it.

And now for my impressions of this whiskey…

  • Appearance: Here we go again! It looks a lot like the Dickel and Bulleit. This time I’ll call it maple syrup in a glass.
  • Aroma: Much sweeter smelling than the other two. Definite cinnamon notes coming through, but this time with a brown sugar sweetness to it. Less herbal than the Dickel and Bulleit. Also getting fresh mint, vanilla, and ginger.
  • Taste: Still rather thin, but with a touch of oiliness. Similar cinnamon/vanilla/minty flavors, but a bit more well rounded and cohesive this time around. Not as hot on the palate, but definitely lots of sweet cinnamon from start to finish. Lingering, soothing finish with a Big Red gum aftertaste. Also a bit more astringent than the other two. This is probably due to the 16 year old Rye that is a big part of this whisky.
  • ABV: 46%

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The Verdict

Talk about a humbling experience! While I have never taken part in a professional whisky tasting panel, after reading a recent blog post by Johanne McInnis about her experience as one of the judges for the 2012 Canadian Whisky Awards where she had to nose, taste, and rate 60 different whiskies in 30 days, nosing, tasting, and rating just three whiskies in one sitting should have been a walk in the park. While my tasting notes might suggest that there are big differences between the three Rye whiskies that I sampled for this post, the truth is that the differences are quite small, and it took me a couple of hours to figure it all out. The biggest difference that my amateur nose and palate could detect lies in the intensity of the flavors…

  • The Dickel was easily the most mellow of the three. It was smooth and easy drinking for sure, but I can’t help to think that the charcoal filtering took some of the edge off (just a theory).
  • The Bulleit was a bit more intense, but only by a slight margin, and I found that the overall flavors came together better which resulted in a more well rounded flavor profile.
  • The High West was a definite step up in flavor, especially with regards to the finish which was much more rich and long lasting than what I experienced with the Dickel and the Bulleit. As I said in my tasting notes, this probably has a great deal to do with the addition of the 16 year old Rye.

Overall, I truly enjoyed all three whiskies and think that they are very good to drink as-is, i.e. no ice or water needed. At $25 per bottle, the Dickel is a great value, but if you don’t mind spending a bit more, then you will definitely get a good bit more flavor for your money if you step up to the Bulleit (about $33/bottle) or the High West Rendezous Rye (about $45/bottle).

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Many thanks to Joseph Clarkson of Taylor Strategy for the Dickel Rye sample and Limpd for the Bulleit Rye sample. The High West Rendezvous Rye was paid for by yours truly!

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14 thoughts on “Rye Whiskey Review Showdown – Dickel vs Bulleit vs High West Rendezvous Rye

  1. I’ve been a fan of the Bulleit for a while now but I agree, the differences between the different brands really comes down to nuance. Once I narrow down a few I like, I tend to stick to the bottle that looks the best on the bar!

    • The differences are VERY subtle, but definitely there if you take the time to look for them. All in the name of research afterall! And given our affinity for tasty things in pretty packages, I wholeheartedly support your buying criteria, i.e. all things being equal, go for the prettiest bottle you can afford! That High West bottle is easily one of the prettiest.

  2. I love rye whiskey. Templeton makes for an amazing manhattan. If you ever get across our northern border, find a bottle of Alberta Premium. It’s an amazing rye whiskey. It’s not exported to the US.

  3. I’m still not sure that all of the rye doesn’t come from the same old Seagram’s spigot (now LDI) with just a change in packaging. And, with all three at 95% mashes, I can’t imagine that was all that much to differentiate between them. I do like the idea of blending an aged rye with a younger one. Having had all three (with you naturally), I would agree that the High West was the best of the three. While not trying to “taste” them, I can honestly say that I really couldn’t tell the Bulleit and the Dickel apart.

    • To the best of my knowledge, all three of these Ryes were distilled at LDI (or whatever they go by these days). That’s why I decided to review them in one post. As I said, the differences between the Dickel and Bulleit were REALLY subtle.

      • You are correct. All LDI, which is now MGP. So are most of the other ryes on the market right now. Virtually any rye you see that says 95% rye came from there. Some of the labels try to dance around the truth, some are reasonably honest, at least admitting that the product was distiller in Indiana. They are all pretty good in my opinion, but the thing that annoys me is the difference in price points for the various labels. Is it stupid that my main store sells the Dickell for $26 and Willett for $44 if they are the same juice? Granted, the different companies may select different barrels from different areas of rickhouses, and they may age them longer, charcoal filter, blend, etc. That said, with any of the LDI/MGP ryes (ie most Ryes on the market) you are truly paying for the bottle and label, more than the contents. Just sayin’

        Also, there is another camp of the same game in the northeast. Everyone seems to love Whistle Pig. Guess what? They don’t make there juice either, they buy theirs from a different large producer in Albert Canada. But the bottle and brand sure are great, huh? Furthering this stupid game is Lock Stock & Barrell. A new “American” rye company, charging twice as much as Whistle Pig. Guess what? Their juice came from the same distiller in Alberta. We are lemmings, paying for bottles. Makes me sad, so I think I will go drink a Dickell. Cheers

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