I’ve been fortunate to taste some pretty incredible, even historic, bottlings in my life.
I’ve sipped an 1800 Madeira that came from Thomas Jefferson’s private cellar, witnessed the “piping in” of a 50-year-old scotch release from Glenfiddich before getting a chance to sip on that and other special single malts at a multi-court dinner at the distillery, and toured the vineyards of Pompei that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius then tasted wines produced by the same grape varieties in the same vineyards more than 2,000 years later!
I point out these experiences not to boast, but to highlight just how special it was to sit down with a small group of spirits lovers in the J. Rieger Distillery here in Kansas City to taste Rieger’s new Monogram Whiskey aged in 100-year-old Olorosa sherry botas.
“We wanted to revive a label, but it needed to be something special, something that can’t compare to any other whiskey you’ve ever had,” J. Rieger & Co. co-founder partner Andy Rieger told us.
Rieger was right. I can’t say the Monogram is the best whiskey I’ve ever tried. I dislike those comparisons anyway. I’ve always felt you need to enjoy what you are tasting in the moment for what it is and not worry about where it ranked on some kind of list.
And in this moment, Rieger’s Monogram Whiskey was both really, really good and unique. Even Doug Frost, on hand to deliver some history on the Oloroso botas (barrels) and the region of Jerez, Spain, from which they originate, said he knew of no other spirits producer in the world doing a whiskey like this.
And Frost, who is a master of wine as well as being an internationally renowned spirits expert, knows of what he speaks. “There are a lot of cool things being done with Oloroso botas, but I don’t know anyone the world over who is doing anything like they are at J. Rieger,” Frost said.
So what exactly is Rieger doing with the four 500-liter botas from the solera of Williams & Humbert in Jerez, Spain? Sherry expert and Rieger partner Steve Olson, who scored a major coup to secure the barrels, explains.
“We had selected 8-year-old corn whiskey to place in three of the botas, and we added a 10-year-old rye whiskey to the fourth,” Olson recounted. That was the summer of 2015. Two months later, Olson said a barrel tasting “blew them away.”
“That’s when we decided to go beyond traditional blending and to selectively draw out the whiskey to find the depth that only these old barrels can deliver,” Olson said.
In the end, after drawing specific percentages from each of the botas in 2015 and 2016, the blend for the Monogram was created. After trying a higher and a lower proof, the team settled on the sweet spot, 104 proof or 52 percent alcohol. It is hard, if not impossible, to argue with the process, the decisions or the final result.
At this point, you might be asking, what does the Monogram Whiskey taste like? To me, it’s an amalgam of a bourbon, a rye whiskey, and an Oloroso sherry with the sum of the parts being greater than the individual elements.
The spiciness of the rye struck me right off the bat, but that spiciness was almost immediately layered with notes of natural sweetness from the corn whiskey followed by the elements contributed by the botas, which, most notably to me were flavors and aromas of figs, dates and almonds.
It all comes together is a lush and creamy mouthfeel that is hard to forget and leaves you eager to repeat. I’m not sure I’ve done Rieger’s Monogram Olrosa Bota Whiskey justice, but I’d be glad to try again should any of you secure one of the 1,000 bottles available for $99.99. Just let me know. My schedule’s pretty wide open, especially for another chance to taste a piece of history.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.