Great tasting! As a matter of background, Riverboat is distilled by Midwest Grain Products, a large contract distiller in Indiana which also makes Bulleit, Templeton and many other popular ryes, including the two year old rye used in High West Double Rye. They use a 95% rye mash, which is much higher than any of the Kentucky ryes (though lower than the 100% ryes made in Canada, such as WhistlePig). Overholt is Beam Rye with a bit more time in the barrel.It's interesting and useful to know what's distilled where, and I thank SKU for the posting. But it offers a good opportunity to share the big lesson I learned from a week spent in Bardstown, KY at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (where I reported, with photos, in five installments: So Where's the Bourbon?, Barrels, Barrels, Everywhere, The Greatest (Chowhounding) Story Ever Told, Madly in Love with Maxine's, and Bourbon Redux).
The lesson is this: it's all about the barrels. At Four Roses, we had a chance to taste newborn bourbon straight out of the distilling process, and, much to my surprise and dismay, it was indistinguishable from vodka. It's a neutral grain spirit with no detectable aroma or flavor.
As my bourbon buddy JB and I toured lots of barrel houses (and we hit a bunch of them, because there is no greater smell on Earth; I compared it to "angels puffing into your nose...an unearthly aroma of luscious caramel and vanilla which sneaks up on you in an undulating wave of divine consolation"), we learned that the whole game is in barrel selection and placement. Temperature varies by a few degrees between interior-stored barrels and ones closer to the walls. And cycling them between locations as they age folds in another layer of complexity. Tiny aging decisions like these - plus, of course, aging length and grain proportions- account for nearly all variation. The actual spirit is so generic that it doesn't matter all that much who makes the stuff. It's all about the barrels.
Every few months, some media outlet will report how the dozens of brands are made by the same tiny handful of distilleries. The implication is that aficionados are chuckleheads who've been conned into buying the same damned stuff in a range of snazzy bottles. But my blind tasting demonstrates the tremendous variation.