Workhorse Rye Standard & Strange is a whisky that comes with a whole lot of backstory. It’s a one-time release from the indie Californian distiller, and is named after a West Coast men’s store whose partners played a hand in bringing it to market.
Made to the tune of just 280 bottles and available to purchase online, it’s distilled from a proprietary blend of heritage grains constituting 50% malt, 25% rye, and 25% purple barley. Following the distillation, the juice is aged in a blend of 80% mizunara casks and 20% ex-bourbon barrels, and finally bottled at cask strength, a heady 121 proof.
The nose is warm, buttery, and toasty, not unlike a good piece of toasted and buttered dark rye. There’s also a bit of oak and a hint of leather. It’s luscious and thick on the tongue, with fat and rich flavors of malt and grain to match. The beginning is earthy, bready, and malty before getting into orchard fruits at the center, particularly sweet apple and pear.
Toward the back of the palate it gets sweeter but remains dark with a flavor similar to cola. Then we feel the heat, which is hot, though not exactly 121 proof hot, based on its feel. The finish layers oak, leather, and a kind of dry, nutty flavor that reminds me of toasted cashews. Its equal parts woody, leathery, and nutty finish feels everlasting but not overwhelming.
We’re seeing more whiskies that concern themselves with the grain themselves rather than cask finishes or age statements, and Standard & Strange is squarely in that camp. This is a whisky that makes you feel close to the earth and its ingredients, even as they catapult your palate into the stratosphere by the building intensity of the flavors it yields.
Yes, Standard & Strange is intense. It’s an intensity I enjoyed, though I also discovered that pouring it over a single cube of ice—a move I’m usually loath to consider—lengthened the experience and brought out its spices in a way I found enjoyable, too.