Cody Road Rye: Getting Your Rye Freak On

Cody Road Rye: Getting Your Rye Freak On

by Neal MacDonald

Like the Cody Road Bourbon (see our prior review), its sibling Cody Road Rye is a true craft-whiskey coming out of the Mississippi River Distilling Company. Rather than purchasing stock whiskey or other bulk product, they instead personally sort, clean, and mill their own grain (purchased locally in Iowa), ferment the mash, distill it through their own small still, and then age it in smaller barrels, made from oak trees grown on the Mississippi river. Their rye whiskey is a true replication of that most American of spirits and aptly named after William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

In short, the rye is very good and here’s the scorecard. Read on for the details!

Thunderdome: Cody Road Rye vs Jack Daniels vs Templeton Rye


Jack Daniels


Cody Road

Sipping Neat

Distant Third


Runner Up (it’s close)

Sipping on Ice

Distant Third

Runner Up (Not close)


Highball (Club Soda)

Third (best use of JD)



Milk Punch


Runner Up (Not close)


MRDC Manhattan

Third but Okay




For the Average, Everyday Normal Guy: move on from your everyday whiskey… the gentler Templeton might appeal to your developing palate more.

For the Cocktail Snob: Go buy the Cody Rye! The craftsmanship is excellent and the grain a challenge for your talents.

For the Rye-ophile: Easily worth a try… you might miss the age but the whiskey itself is one of the most well-executed on the market and gives you all the grain you can handle.


Aside from hearing Don McLean sing about it in American Pie, very few people can properly describe what makes rye whiskey different. Whiskey is separated from silver rums and vodkas by moving from a neutral, clean (read: partially tasteless) profile to something that tastes more like grain… something most people would associate with a beer flavor. Whiskey drinkers will most likely be familiar with the beer-like quality of malt whiskey (think scotch or Irish whiskey) or perhaps a corn grain base that lends a light sweetness and less fruitiness to the grain (think bourbon or Tennessee whiskey).

Rye, on the other hand, is almost universally described as “spicy” and “robust.” What does that even mean? In the context of the grain, think of the difference between a whole-grain wheat bread (the equivalent of Maker’s Mark whiskey) and rye bread (rye whiskey)—one could simply say that there’s “a lot more going on in that rye” from a flavor standpoint. Its “spicy” in the sense that it activates more and varied flavor recognitions in the drinker. This can be a great thing for some who are looking for a more complex drinking experience. It also makes it a bit more challenging to work with… you don’t see a lot of chain sandwich shops dealing in rye bread, for example.

So, in assessing the Cody Road rye, we wanted to compare it to something very familiar—in this case, the highest selling whiskey in the world in Jack Daniel’s—and then to another rye product to help place it in the market among peers—in this case, the Templeton Prohibition Rye.

In a gesture for the whiskey sophisticate, the MRDC has a set of batch notes for each release of whiskey. This allows you to look up the gossip about the particular process, where the grain is from and in what proportions, and other interesting facts. Our bottle was the 2012 Batch 4 release (bottle number 445), which means its 100% rye (many whiskey on the market is a blend of 51%+ rye and other grains). The grain comes from the Wherry Brothers farm who grew the rye in Fulton, Illinois (thank you, guys!). Alas, as we complained about the bourbon, no specific notes about the barrels used for aging, which would be fun to know about as well.

Going into our liquor Thunderdome, we’re expecting very simple, heavy-char character from the Jack Daniels, a softer finish but more robust flavor from the aged Templeton, and some huge rye flavors from the Cody Road.

Sipping Neat: no, we’re not taking shots. We’re sipping and assessing—just like snobs (er, pros) everywhere.   

Jack Daniels: The classic JD has some maple and banana on the nose. Taste is reasonably smooth but the flavor is kind of weak and the finish tarry and very, very short. Only the tar lingers. Inoffensive .  

Templeton: Lots of honey and vanilla on the nose: these are the signature aromas of a new oak aging. Very sweet on the tongue with a very, very light rye kick. There’s no grain on the nose and the palate; it’s mostly on the finish. For Templeton’s 90% rye mash bill we expected more grain. We guess the whiskey is distilled pretty high—maybe as high as 160—before coming back down to bottling strength. Beautiful oak flavors, though.

Cody Road: As we expected, way more grain on the nose. Very much a spiced rye-bread or bagel aroma. Almost no honey/vanilla, which makes us guess a younger whiskey. Drinking, this is absolutely buttery smooth—flawless execution—but all grain and little oak. We could almost be drinking a rye moonshine.

The decision: JD isn’t fit to carry the jock straps of these two rye whiskeys. No question. Comparing these two remaining high-end rye whiskeys, we have to give the slight edge to the Templeton for the better age.

Sipping on Ice: a little ice and dilution tends to make rye drinks symphonic. Let’s see.     

Jack Daniels: Weirdly, a little ice helps hide the awful finish but makes the whiskey even more boring. A whiskey fit for accountants, attorneys, and actuaries but not adventurers. The smell gets really sour on ice.

Templeton: Ice and water brought out the honey… this is getting close to a mead on the nose. It’s a lovely smell but it’s not a whiskey smell. Blind, not sure we could say it’s a rye. It drinks nice and easy—sweet and tripping down the tongue like a ballet dancer dancing for no one but herself and her favorite music. But the heavy rye characteristics are a bit drowned out. The star of the show is too far removed! We’re watching the ballet dancer from the street through the window rather than in a concert hall on the stage.

Cody Road: A little ice and swirl brought the high notes of the grain out… like the violins joined the concert. There’s a touch of brown sugary sweetness on the nose. Water massively improved this whiskey on the taste: maple and brown sugar came to the party and let the rye close the show instead of carrying it the whole way. This is an outstanding drinking experience: a match for any whiskey we’ve tried in recent memory.  

The decision: Templeton may be designed to sip neat and easy but the Cody is almost perfected with a little water. It goes without saying that Jack Daniel’s can’t compete here.  

Highball: there are all kinds of cocktails that end up falling in the highball category—which is about 4 oz of fizzy something (often ginger ale or club soda), a twist of citrus, and occasionally some sweetener. Here we’re using ginger ale and a bit of lemon.  This is an interesting test for the fair seeming but less robust Templeton… can it stand up in a drink? For us: 4 parts ginger ale to 1 part whiskey with a lemon twist.

Jack Daniels: It’s actually a lovely cocktail. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to put some lemon zest in ginger ale should try it: it’s surprising what it does to make the sunshine break through on a cloudy day. Happily, it hides all the tar in Jack Daniel’s and makes this a decent cocktail. If you’re going to drink JD, this is a good way to do it. Sadly, hard to tell there’s whiskey in there, though.  

Templeton: The nose is all lemon (naturally, from the zest)… there is a touch of honey and a taming of the spicy ginger ale. The whiskey doesn’t overpower the ginger-ale, rather it’s a tempering. It’s a very nice, spring flower dress kind of thing.

Cody Road: The nose is very similar to the Templeton but the taste is greatly different. No honey but a lot of grain. The ginger ale is really accentuating the two contrasting characters of our ryes. Where the ginger melded with the Templeton here the grain permeates the entire drink and almost overpowers the ginger ale—in fact, one fool at our tasting (who never actually drinks beer) claimed it tasted like lemon beer.

The decision: This was kind of funny. The Jack Daniel’s lost, of course (badly). We liked the Templeton… but it was just a touch boring. We liked the Cody Road but it was a touch overpowering with the grain. It turns out—after repeated tinkering with the ratios to no benefit—we tried out bourbon and found it’s the perfect whiskey suited for this drink. So we have to give the tie for second place to the both of them. Both were good but it was the difference between “like the drink” and “love the drink.”

Milk Punch: People don’t often associate milk and cream with liquor, which is weird because cream liqueurs are hugely popular in this world. Reaching back to a classic recipe, we find Milk Punch looking for 8 oz of milk, 2 oz of liquor (we’re using rye but any spirit is fine in this versatile drink), 1 tsp of powdered sugar, shake on ice and strain with a garnish of nutmeg. Healthy and delicious, we’re promised.  

Jack Daniels: We were a little suspicious of so much milk and sugar and, sure enough, it buried the JD. If it weren’t illegal and immoral, one might safely serve this to children.  No one would know.

Templeton: Better here… this is just a strangely boring drink. Maybe it’s really meant for punch. In the modern era, it’s more like a protein shake. Still, the honey character comes through if not the rye or the whiskey or the alcohol or the pleasure.  We lowered the ratio from 4:1 to 2:1 and this seems to work a lot better. So we’ll go forward with that.

Cody Road: Very nice drink. We finally hit this straight in the heart of the target. The grain and the sweet and the cream work here and work very nicely. This is an odd combination-like rabbis and priests getting down at a rap concert-but it does work. It’s delicious. We’d drink it again. In fact, we did just that.

The decision: Cody works best here. In this drink, one needs an assertive whiskey and the Cody Road is unquestionably the alpha male in this herd. There is a lesson here: for the fuller bodied flavor of the rye, it’s probably going to have a high slugging percentage with different cocktails it hits but a lower on-base percentage.

MRDC Manhattan: MRDC has a very interesting Manhattan recipe they call for on their site. It uses 1 ½ oz of rye whiskey and 1 ¾ oz of sweet vermouth (!) along with a ½ oz of maraschino liqueur, 3 dashes of bitters and a lemon twist. Whoa. There’s a lot going on in that drink! Let’s see what happens.  

Jack Daniels: This is good! Not sure if the Jack Daniel’s is actually improving things or not but the drink recipe is very nice. There’s no bad finish, only nice complex flavors. The cherry is really a nice touch for the Manhattan recipe.

Templeton: We were very suspicious going into this drink. But it’s spectacular and the Templeton made it even better. For the first time drinking the Templeton all night long, we got the rye. Why it took a ton of sweet vermouth, bitters, and cherry liqueur to bring out the grain we don’t understand. But it is definitely there. Very nice.

Cody Road Rye: The smell of the grain boils out with the cherry like an orchard planted in a grain field. This is the aroma of a fancy candle only designed for whiskey lovers instead of women with poodles (why don’t distilleries sell candles that smell like their products?). The cocktail is gorgeous-sweet and complex on the palate. These two rye whiskey make starkly different cocktails (remarkable that the same product can be so categorically different).

The decision: This is remarkable. The Templeton and Cody are so close in quality but so different in texture it almost depends upon your mood. If you’re in the mood for Barry White loving sitting on a couch by the fire, then you need the Templeton. But if you’re in the mood for crazy, athletic, trapeze loving in 50 different positions in the 5 minutes before you have available before going to work, why that’s the Cody Road. It can only be a tie.  

Verdict: This was easily one of our favorite tastings. We had two great rye whiskeys and a lot of excellent experiments in cocktails. We couldn’t have asked for two more different but high-quality rye whiskeys to compare. For the everyday guy, if you’re drinking Jack Daniel’s, you could easily move to either one of these and never look back. Life’s too short to drink something as boring and tarry as Jack. Move on. But entering the rye whiskey world, we think the cocktail snob would appreciate the heavy grain of the Cody Road and the challenge it poses in cocktails. Ditto, the whiskey snob might appreciate the aged notes on the Templeton but rye lovers will definitely fall in love with the heavy-handed rye of the Cody Road. If they would put a little more age and proof on the spirit, it could be a truly spectacular whiskey that could stand up against the very elite editions in the industry.  As it is, this should enter the must-try list for rye enthusiasts in the market.

[Disclosures: we were provided a bottle of Cody Road Rye free of charge. We purchased all other spirits and mixers on our own.]

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