Editor’s Note, 7-16-15: Since the publication of this story, it has come to light that the people behind Templeton Rye have not been entirely honest in their promotion of the way their whiskey is produced and marketed – culminating in a recently settled lawsuit over its dishonestly presented provenance. The whiskey is not yet made in Templeton, Iowa; rather, it’s produced by a contract distillery in Indiana then blended and bottled in Iowa. Despite the potentially shady side of Templeton Rye, we still believe it to be a fine whiskey regardless of where it’s produced, and leave it to the reader to determine whether it’s worth purchasing given its unraveling backstory.
About a year ago I was introduced to Templeton Rye. It’s a whiskey produced in a small Iowa town that has only recently begun legitimate production but whose history (and alleged legion of fans) spans decades. A first taste of this incredibly robust, enigmatic whiskey is dramatic, a moment you remember with every subsequent sip. With Minnesota distribution hopefully coming in the next year, we’ll all be able to bask in its grainy, musky richness.
But then something begins to gnaw. Hearing the story, and knowing there’s a moonshine version of this “good stuff” still out there being produced in this little town makes one wonder: “Which is better, legal or illegal? And, if the legal version is crafted with the same recipe as the moonshine, how close is it?”
Did distillery founder Scott Bush nail it?
After some personal wrangling produced a half-bottle of the hooch, a side-by-side taste test proved a couple interesting things: The moonshine I tasted was actually smoother, but the legit stuff has more body and flavor.
You’d never know it by the smell, though, as the moonshine smells exactly of rubbing alcohol. Get past it and the taste of rye bombards your tongue with the first sip. It’s a sweeter, cleaner rye with little aftertaste, and the hooch doesn’t need any thinning from ice or water. Yet the smell / taste combination yearns for a slight chill; serving straight from the fridge would be perfect.
The Templeton Rye found in stores smells, well, 100 percent better, like honey and grain. It’s a delightful start to the experience and somewhat softens the blow of the rye explosion upon tongue impact. The slightly rough, robust flavor shows this whiskey has clearly been aged in an oak barrel, unlike the moonshine. The taste lingers more, too, producing a much more pronounced aftertaste. Owner Bush recommends briefly swirling the rye in the glass with one ice cube then pitching the cube; I have found letting two cubes melt in the glass more to my liking.
Reflecting on the two, they taste remarkably similar. Bush’s recipe is profoundly true to the rye’s moonshine past and present. But what is most impressive is how good the moonshine really is. Buying a moderately priced whiskey like Templeton Rye produces an expectation of quality, but something made in some farmer’s barn really shouldn’t taste this good. I can’t say I prefer either, but the scarcity of the moonshine in my house will make it a special occasion-only treat.