It’s nigh impossible to be a part of the American whiskey zeitgeist and not be exposed to double oaked bourbon. The idea is simple enough: take aged whiskey and put into another fresh cask for additional aging. A whiskey’s first years in freshly charred (and toasted) barrels are generally considered the most impactful to its final profile, so playing up that impact with double barrel maturation simply makes sense. Given how popular some of these expressions have become, it was perhaps only a matter of time before other spirits would dabble in this equally fun and simple concept.
Sagamore Spirits, based out of Maryland, may not have been the first to attempt this with rye whiskey, but they’ve quickly become one of the bigger players. As with many recent distilleries, they started by sourcing from Ross & Squibb, with the finished varieties gaining traction aplenty in the last year or so. Perhaps the most available and affordable is their Double Oak, which uses rye whiskey aged 4-5 years before dumping into “toasted wave stave barrels for an additional 18 months.” These barrels are also low-char, medium-plus-toast, contrasted with the high-char barrels utilized for the base spirit. The final product is watered down to 48.3% ABV and retails for around $55.
Nose: Bright acetone upfront before calming down into a mustier character. Blackberry, green apple, and a mild undercurrent of citrus. Molasses soon followed by toffee. Maple syrup and a BBQ sauce essence, contrasted by leather or varnish. I get the impression rum lovers will dig this.
Palate: Medium, silky mouthfeel. Lime, sweet pepper, and rye spice. Toffee and molasses hold the experience together while hints of root beer enter the fray.
Finish: Mild spice and oaky warmth. Sweet cinnamon, lingering molasses, and a bit of vanilla with whispers of mint. Decent length for the proof.
I’m slightly befuddled by this one. If I consider each individual note then there’s plenty of praise to sing. Ubiquitous rye-based citrus? Check. Dessert-y flavors from the secondary casks? Check. A little spice to keep each sip going? Check. Many ingredients are there for something that should tickle my fancy. I generally like double oaked bourbon and have a fondness for rye, so it’s odd that I’m more perplexed than outright satisfied with my first exposure to Sagamore.
I partly attribute my surprise to the aforementioned mustiness. This is a difficult component to pull off, especially if it ends up dominating the experience (unless that’s your jam). Although Sagamore Double Oak doesn’t go this far, the presence seems to detract from what otherwise could’ve been a more exciting dram. I’d even venture to call this a subtle rye. To that end, the bottle strength could be another contributing factor. It’s not so much that 48.3% is a low ABV point, but more that it’s lower than desired. The honestly minimal spice does aid things a touch, and the lengthy barrel finish helps the whiskey feel richer than it tastes. Yet I consistently find myself craving more out of the experience.
All of this isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy Sagamore Spirits Double Oak rye. Quite the contrary; this is enjoyable enough to enjoy and not thing twice. Otherwise? It struggles to leave a lasting impression. When I reach for rye whiskey I’m looking for something fun with the right level of aggression; this made me feel mild frustration and indifference. My frustration comes from seeing the potential for this spirit slip while my indifference arises when consuming the whiskey itself. I could see this being a good transition bottle for rye-curious drinkers who want less heat and spice. It’s easy to see the appeal of Sagamore Double Oak, but I’d be remiss if I said it’s something I’d keep supplied in my collection.