Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey Surpasses Our Expert's Expectations

E.H. Taylor barrel proof rye
E.H. Taylor barrel proof rye - Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Distillery announced and released the new Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey in a single swoop in late June 2024. It may not reach the fanfare of a new Stagg drop, but it certainly excites whiskey enjoyers and reviewers like me. I've maintained for a long while that Taylor occupies a unique position of being exactly as acclaimed as it ought to be among critics, yet not as famous among whiskey casuals. Buffalo Trace knows what it has in hand with the Taylor family of whiskeys, and prices them accordingly; meanwhile, drinkers in the know chase it just enough to nudge the bottles up in cost, but still well within an acceptable range. It is that rare thing: A whiskey that is neither overhyped nor a victim of its own success.

This newest release is a sojourn into rye — but not an unfamiliar one. We've seen both barrel proof and straight rye whiskeys from the brand. But let's dig into its barrel proof rye whiskey.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer/distributor/etc.

Read more: The 27 Best Bourbon Brands, Ranked

What Is Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey?

Barrel proof rye whiskey bottle
Barrel proof rye whiskey bottle - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey is the latest release in this lineup. While primarily comprised of bourbons, the Taylor family isn't bound to them. Similarly, most — though not all — Taylor labels are bottled in bond; the barrel proof bourbon also foregoes the BiB certification. This is almost foregone, owing to the requirements of bonded whiskey to be bottled at 100 proof vs. the unpredictability of extracting a desirable, barrel proof whiskey at the exact right ABV — let alone at commercial quantities.

It's uncut, meaning no water added, and unfiltered, meaning no chill-filtering to clarify the liquor. It's bottled just as it is, straight from the barrel at 126 proof. And when you taste it, you'll likely agree that to sell it any other way would arguably be a reprehensible violation of good whiskey.

You know you've got a rye in hand from the instant you uncap the bottle and catch a whiff — though from its sweetness, I would be surprised if the rye mash didn't contain a pretty good dose of corn. Somewhat atypical for a rye, however, is that its deli-bread scent doesn't come with a shake of pepper in the snoot. Instead, it jumps off with cinnamon, cherry, and cocoa powder. A touch of oak arrives at the end. These are good promises, and I'm eager to taste it. But while I let it settle, let me tell you some more about it.

This Barrel Proof Rye's Cost And Availability

Barrel proof rye, side view
Barrel proof rye, side view - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

A 750-milliliter bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey is available at a cost of $77.99, as of this writing. Whether or not your local liquor store will heed Buffalo Trace's manufacturer's suggested retail price is another story, but we do tend to find regular varieties of Taylor sticking to this range. This barrel proof rye is out in unspecified but limited quantities, which will likely push the price point up some — though if it's a hit, you can probably expect more to come. That buffers it quite a bit from some of the Taylor varieties that have risen in cost thanks to either rarer distillate or the irreplicable tornado strike that once hit Buffalo Trace's Warehouse C, turning them into collector items for bourbon connoisseurs.

While some areas have more trouble than others finding certain labels, Taylor is pretty common across the country. It's well regarded without being hyped into a frenzy, unlike a couple of other Buffalo Trace bourbon brands pushed ever upward. You should be able to find this with some calling around. If your favorite local liquor store doesn't have it or hear who does, a few of the larger chains can probably track down its stock for you.

Has Buffalo Trace Made An E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Before?

Barrel proof rye whiskey, label
Barrel proof rye whiskey, label - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. himself made rye at O.F.C. Distillery, which would become today's Buffalo Trace. However, nothing was marketed as barrel proof, which wasn't a legal term in his day.

The company continues the tradition with Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye Whiskey. The requirements for straight rye are relatively easy to meet, and in fact, Buffalo Trace easily exceeds them while crafting its whiskeys to their desired state amid the Kentucky climate. The Taylor line, in particular, is primarily bonded whiskeys, since E.H. Taylor himself was one of the figures responsible for passage of 1897's Bottled-in-Bond Act. However, this is the first barrel proof rye out of the Taylor line, and it's a whopper at 126 proof (63% ABV). It's one more testament to the superiority of unfiltered whiskey.

Permit me to editorialize for a moment: If you say the differences in taste are negligible in exchange for visually clearer product, pour yourself a bottle of this barrel proof rye whiskey and pit it against a comparable filtered rye. Although you might have trouble finding one, since Buffalo Trace hasn't disclosed the age statement and never reveals its mash bills. However, we do know that this bottle uses the same recipe as other Buffalo Trace ryes, one of four standard bills used for nearly all of the company's product — barring some presumed exceptions like its Prohibition Collection.

Review: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey's Tasting Notes

Barrel proof rye bottle, glass
Barrel proof rye bottle, glass - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

With this barrel proof rye whiskey poured into a rocks glass, that ethanol stops hiding. It blows off fairly fast, though; so, if you like your whiskey smoother, just give it a few minutes to settle. Again, this spirit is showing its craftsmanship at each stage. The same nose remains, but now it surprisingly adds in some dill pickle juice. (However, that's not an endorsement to squander this whiskey in pickleback shots.) While the aroma doesn't quite send up visions of cherry cordial, it does sell a cocoa-dusted maraschino, and nobody's complaining about that.

It's obvious at first sip that this new expression lives up to the brand's quality. It's rich and thick on the good side of fatty — one more brick in the wall against chill-filtering, in my opinion. Although, anyone who puts this barrel proof rye whiskey on ice would probably better enjoy drinking something else anyway.

Its taste is consistent with the nose, although the rye really makes itself known, with the peppery element finally showing up in accordance with the white pepper stated in Buffalo Trace's press release. As does the nuttiness, which I found as walnut. However, the solicited floral and candied apricot notes don't arrive for me. Instead, it's all cherry, stronger in taste than scent. My co-taster agreed independently, saying, "Whew, that is fruity! Like a Luden's cough drop." The cocoa is here, too; weaker, but it finishes the swig.

How Does It Compare To Other E.H. Taylor, Jr. And Buffalo Trace Ryes?

Whiskey bottle, Buffalo Trace box
Whiskey bottle, Buffalo Trace box - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

I might favor the Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. line, but that only means my standards are more exacting to meet my great expectations of it. (See the recent example of Weller Millennium missing the mark for similar proof of policy.) Happily, its barrel proof rye whiskey nails it, delivering the richness and body that flirts with oiliness but stays clear of unctuousness. It's very much in keeping with Taylor.

It's also one of the best ryes in Buffalo Trace's active lineup — which is saying something, considering Sazerac is the parent company. Or maybe that just means it's no surprise. Regardless, this bottle won't get you all the way to Antique Collection territory, but definitely a neighboring state for far less in price, and it's much easier to find. On that note, while I often like my rye neat, I recommend this one with a drop of water to bring a light strawberry flavor forward. I found ice emphasized the oak but diminished the drink overall. Usually, ice coaxes caramel and vanilla notes, but funnily enough, here it became pleasantly bitterer. So stick to neat or minimal water, unless you're really into whiskey for the oak. (But in that case, you're probably ordering a different pour; that Japanese mizunara oak is really popular these days.)

Buffalo Trace's master distiller Harlen Wheatley has hit another bullseye. With this barrel proof rye, there's no need to stray from what makes it great.

Is Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey Worth Buying?

Holding barrel proof rye sample
Holding barrel proof rye sample - Brendan McGinley/Tasting Table

At a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $78, bet on it. This is perfectly in line with other Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. bottles and certainly below some of the brand's special releases. It's a strong example of the idea that the best whiskeys are arguably about $80-150. To put it another way: This fine bottle is many times better than average whiskeys that sell for half its price, but as good as — or near enough to — several whiskeys selling for five times its price.

So, it's actually priced right on the nose. While Taylor's specialty bottles (which this sort of is) don't always go for MSRP, these releases do tend to stay within a reasonable price range for the connoisseur who intends to drink rather than collect. Despite the limited release, it seems like this barrel proof rye might just remain close to sticker price. So, up to a hundred bucks, I'd call it a good deal — and anything less than $80 is a steal.

All in all, this bottle surprises while also fulfilling and even exceeding expectations, drinking much lighter than its hefty ABV. I've had some good ryes the past year, and this is at their forefront. The strongest endorsement I can give is simply this: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey makes me happy, and I would buy a bottle for a good friend.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.