Non-distilling producers (NDPs) have historically gotten a bad rap, and not without reason. Companies buying stocks of whiskey for their own use sounds simple enough, but if nothing about the product is changed other than the bottle design and attached label, then one might argue that defeats the purpose of an NDP. This is further compounded when we consider that the changes made between procuring and bottling said whiskey (if any at all) don’t need to be disclosed. After all, if the whiskey is good enough and the marketing moves product, then what else matters?
Fortunately, not all NDPs are so sly. Case in point: Doc Swinson’s. I only heard about this company thanks to Matt Porter (ADHD Whiskey) naming their 15-Year Exploratory Cask No. 6 his fourth favorite bourbon of 2020. Doc Swinson’s keep a list of their prior releases with comprehensive details on each to boot, such as mash bills, aging and finishing locations, rickhouse material per state, etc. In the case of today’s review, I’ll be dissecting their Alter Ego (Batch 4) straight rye whiskey finished in ex-Caribbean rum casks while also being Solera-aged. My previous exposure (and introduction) to a Solera-aged spirit was Blade & Bow, which provided a curious drinking experience if nothing else. Time to see how this combination of rye whiskey, rum barrels, and Solera aging plays out.
Note: Doc Swinson’s reached out me and generously supplied the sample for this review.
Nose: Leans on the sweet and tropical side. Lemon meringue, vanilla, honeydew, and pepper. Has a bit of sweet mint and lime. Some brown sugar and crushed hard caramel candy. There’s an oddly cereal-like rye note. Slightly floral with an overall unripe fruit personality.
Palate: More tingle, spice, and grain than the nose suggests. Sweet and almost syrup-like upfront with melon and black current notes, but the mid and back palates shift gears almost instantly into mint leaves, tart lime, and black pepper. Hints of dried out, residual molasses. Rye grain comes across as young—inoffensive, but definitely underdeveloped. Bit of a tart, dry pineapple note.
Finish: Brief, mild, and mostly clean. A bit astringent and effervescent, but it’s easy to miss. Slightly dry mint, pepper, and rye residuals.
Bit of a flip-flop going on here. The whiskey starts off quite promising, since it’s quite fruity and I tend to prefer sweet ryes. It begins to remind me of honeydew boba tea from a local shop and the Paris tea from Harney & Sons. Let it be known these are serious contenders for my favorite teas from both outlets. Then the time comes to sip and I can only surmise that the rum comes in for the front palate while the rye takes over beyond that. And boy is it swift. If you’ve ever adjusted the volume in Windows with a mouse wheel only for the audio to mute or blast your speakers, it’s a bit like that. I find myself wishing the sweet, lively, and fruity notes from the nose and front palate would build over time, but they seem to dissipate with nary a trace after a couple seconds.
Much of what Alter Ego Rye Batch 21-004 has to offer is perfectly sound. In fact, taken for the sum of its parts, this is a competent dram with a couple standout elements. Where it falls apart is in how those parts come together. The transition from sweet to dry doesn’t feel smooth (bear with me), leading to a drinking experience that’s less consistent and seamless than it could be. I do wonder how future batches would come across if Doc Swinson’s elected to forego the Solera aging, since rum-finished rye whiskey sounds fantastic on its own (Angel’s Envy fans would likely agree) and I remember Blade & Bow exhibiting similar characteristics from mid-palate to finish.
As it stands, Alter Ego Rye Batch 21-004 feels like the result of an interesting experiment that could use some ironing out. My criticisms may paint a negative picture, but that’s mainly because the nose had me expecting a certain experience, one that didn’t feel followed through. The good news is there are several directions Doc Swinson’s can go with future batches, and considering the stats and $40 MSRP, I wouldn’t be opposed to giving this another go down the line.