There’s so much buzz around the whiskey category, especially American whiskey, that it’s easy to forget that not everyone drinks whiskey. It can be quite a leap to go from drinking something fairly neutral like a vodka and soda, or sweet like flavored vodka, to something that’s much more robust like bourbon or rye whiskey (even when it’s mixed with Coke). By all accounts, the gateway between the two worlds should be Southern Comfort, one of the original flavored whiskeys. Southern Comfort was designed to be a softer, fruitier, and friendlier alternative to whiskey. The problem is Southern Comfort has morphed over the years from a delightfully natural peach flavored whiskey to a horrid, artificially flavored liqueur that doesn’t even have any whiskey in it.
The Sazerac Company, home to such legendary brands as Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkel, and George T. Stagg, is one of the companies that has taken advantage of Southern Comfort’s weakness and has enjoyed immense success with their cinnamon Red Hots flavored Canadian whiskey called Fireball. Aside from being a wild success, Fireball showed just how big the market is for flavored whiskey products. With a monster win under their belt, Sazerac has returned to the flavored whiskey space with a distinctively different entry. Instead of just innovating a new flavor to complement whiskey, Sazerac resurrected a classic whiskey combination called Rock & Rye. First bottled in 1939, Mr. Boston’s Rock & Rye is based on a classic pre-Prohibition recipe which brings together rye whiskey, sugar, and citrus into a liqueur which closely resembles the Old Fashioned cocktail.
Mr. Boston Rock & Rye (54 proof / 27% ABV, $9.99) smells like a very sweet Old Fashioned, with bright orange and sugar dominating the nose on a subtle base of whiskey. There’s a very slight bite to the nose, but the sweet orange is heavy enough that it’s mostly covered up. The entry of Mr. Boston Rock & Rye is very sweet with the orange notes from the nose clearly on the palate. After the blast of sweet from the entry, the whiskey notes begin to emerge, and in the midpalate it’s clear that you’re drinking a whiskey liqueur. The rye base of Mr. Boston Rock & Rye clearly isn’t very old, but considering the price tag you wouldn’t expect a high end spirit to be used. In the midpalate the rye whiskey imparts a nice cinnamon spice along with some heat that helps balance out the sweet liqueur. The whiskey is also the star of the finish, which again is super sweet but features the best integration of whiskey, sugar, and orange.
On its own, Mr. Boston Rock & Rye errs on the side of being overly sweet, a problem that is helped considerably when served over ice. Although very sweet, there’s something about the finish that really redeems it. The integration between the sugar, whiskey, and orange is quite nice and draws you back in for another sip. Last year we had the opportunity to taste a bottle of Southern Comfort from the 1950’s, back when it was whiskey, sugar, and peach. There’s something about Mr. Boston Rock & Rye that harkens back to that. There’s no arguing that Mr. Boston Rock & Rye is too sweet, almost cloyingly so, but all of the other elements line up so well, it’s easier to overlook just how sweet it is. Priced absurdly low at $9.99, Mr. Boston Rock & Rye has the potential to really explode. Served as a chill shot or with lots of ice, Mr. Boston Rock & Rye could give other popular flavored whiskeys like Jim Beam’s Red Stagg a run for its money, and see the kind of success that Sazerac enjoyed with Fireball.