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The Proof: Virgil Kaine now serving up straight whiskey


The Proof: Virgil Kaine now serving up straight whiskey

05 May 2016

In 2012, Virgil Kaine started crafting its ginger-infused bourbon in Charleston, S.C. A sweet, hearty whiskey, it quickly found a place in cocktail recipes, and several Savannah establishments now stock it behind the bar.

While that original infused bourbon is too sugary for me to want to drink neat, Virgil Kaine’s two newest offerings are both whiskies of the more traditional variety, and I’m pleased to get the chance to sample both.

Up first, I take a few sips of the High-Rye Bourbon. For those of you who read this column regularly, you know I tend to get excited about rye.

In general, when rye is part of a whiskey’s mash bill, it means the spirit will have extra spice, ranging anywhere from cinnamon to coriander. The exact nature of the spice depends on factors such as the other grains used in the mash bill and the aging process. It’s all the surprising flavors possibilities that make drinking rye so appealing.

In Virgil Kaine’s High Rye Bourbon, rye makes up 36 percent of the mash bill. Corn — which has to be more than half of the mash for a whiskey to be classified as bourbon — makes up 60 percent, with the remainder being barley.

So yes, Virgil Kaine had me at “rye.” Their new mix has one of the highest rye contents on the market, and the grain announces itself as a definite presence. 

A sip of High Rye starts with the bourbon’s richer flavors, notably caramel and semi-sweet chocolate. On top of that foundation, there’s a hint of honey or honeysuckle.

The real reward, though, comes in the rye spice, which manifests as black pepper and paprika. The latter flavor is particularly thrilling, as I’ve never quite encountered it in whiskey before.

Because “high” rye isn’t high enough for me, I’m even more excited to try Virgil Kaine’s Robber Baron Rye Whiskey.

The whiskey starts with a smash of vanilla and caramel, and the overall flavor is quite robust for a rye, especially considering that there’s no corn in the mash bill at all. The only thing besides rye is a pinch of barley.

Still, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear there was some corn in there. If anything, the Robber Baron feels thicker in my mouth than the High Rye.

The spice emerges next, and it comes on strong. I taste cinnamon and cayenne, two flavors that feel fantastic paired with the natural burn of the alcohol.

As the other flavors fade, a touch of anise lingers on the tongue, and then a nice, solid hit of char, presumably from the barrels the whiskey was aged in.

All in all, I’m glad to see Virgil Kaine entering the world of non-infused whiskies, and I think it’s safe to say they’re off to a strong start.


Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he’s not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at