The market for super-premium rye whiskey always seems to lag a little bit behind the market for sky-high bourbon MSRPs, but every once in a while a release comes along that makes you wish we saw more of these exceptional, special ryes. Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.’s new, simply named 13 Year Old Rye is one of these special cases, the third entry in a series that has proven to produce some truly exceptional whiskey, now across multiple styles.
That series is Cascade Moon, a special project of sorts masterminded by General Manager and Distiller Nicole Austin, who has rapidly become one of the whiskey industry’s biggest and most visible stars since she arrived in 2018. Cascade Moon has no release schedule, nor does it even seem to have a consistent naming convention—the first two releases were called Edition No. 1 and Edition No. 2—the latter made our list of the best whiskeys of 2021 —but there’s no reference to this new product as “Edition No. 3.” Instead, it’s simply called Cascade Moon 13 Year Old Rye Whisky, retaining the Scottish spelling that Dickel favors.
Perhaps this is because this product wasn’t actually distilled by the Cascade Hollowing Distilling Co., best known as the home of the George Dickel Whisky brand. The timing is interesting, given that Dickel did just unveil its first in-house distilled rye whiskey via a partnership with Leopold Bros., but unsurprisingly they don’t have any of their house-distilled rye on hand that is nearly this mature. Instead, this rye whiskey hails from the source of the regular, high-value Dickel Rye brand, which is of course MGP of Indiana, the source of so much other sourced rye. This, of course, is the classic “95/5” MGP rye recipe, which is 95% rye and merely 5% malted barley.
And yet, Cascade Moon 13 Year Old Rye isn’t quite as simple as well-aged MGP rye, either. Whereas most of the whiskey sourced from MGP undergoes its full maturation in Indiana, in MGP’s multi-story rickhouses, the rye whiskey in this batch was instead transferred to Cascade Hollow’s single story rickhouses after a few years in Indiana. Since 2012, that means these guys have been maturing in Tennessee rather than Indiana, which Austin believes molded them into something all their own. Like other Cascade Moon releases, what was bottled was essentially just the result of finding some very interesting barrels in their stores—Austin doesn’t even know why these particular barrels were originally acquired years before her tenure began. Rather, she just knew they were something special when she tasted them.
And that’s how you end up with a one-off special release from Cascade Moon, one that will likely never be repeated because Cascade Hollow doesn’t have a huge store of these Tennessee-matured MGP barrels they’re just sitting on. This is likely to be a one-and-done, a 13-year-old rye bottled at 50% ABV (100 proof), with a gaudy MSRP of $300. Bottles are available primarily in Tennessee, Texas and California, but these will surely find their way into the hands of well-heeled rye whiskey fanatics once people get a chance to taste it. Because folks, this is some legit rye.
With that said, let’s get to tasting this newest Cascade Moon expression.
On the nose, there’s no mistaking that this is a rye whiskey, rather than even a high rye bourbon, as the grain shines through persistently from the very high-rye mashbill, even after 13 years in newly charred oak. I’m getting loads of rye bread, caraway and faint grassiness, which transition into richer hints of sweet caramel and nutty cocoa nibs, along with smoked peppercorns and charred cinnamon. Elements more indicative of age then creep into the picture, with leather and dried herbs, supported by faint earthiness. It’s a wonderfully nuanced nose, without much overt ethanol presence.
On the palate, things turn a bit sweeter, with pronounced impressions of caramel sauce, toffees, smoked peppercorn/paprika and vanilla cream. There’s a solid trailing roastiness in which the oak makes itself felt, which contributes just a touch of roasty astringency/espresso bitterness to counter the sweetness upfront. The delicacy of the caramel flavors is really beautiful, all in all, but again it never loses track of the persistent rye grain, pepper and moments of herbaceous complexity. Ethanol presence is right around where it should be for the proof, being assertive enough to give this whiskey a feeling of substance, but never being overtly hot.
All in all, it’s a wonderfully composed dram, one of the tastiest well-aged ryes I’ve had in quite a while. Like Edition No. 2, this quasi Edition No. 3 has proven to be exceptional in its own way. One can wish that the MSRPs weren’t so painful on the Cascade Moon line, but I’m willing to look past a lot when the results are apparently so consistently exceptional.
Distillery: Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.
City: Tullahoma, TN
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 bottles, $300 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.