Old Overholt is a classic, inexpensive rye whiskey that has been a favorite of bartenders and home drinkers for years. Originally a Pennsylvania rye that got its start in the early 1800s, the brand was acquired by Jim Beam back in 1987 and for decades has been a young (around three years old) 80 proof barely legal rye, with a mash bill containing around 51% rye, that is distilled in Kentucky. The low ABV has been a sticking point for some, especially when going up against the similarly aged and priced, but 100 proof, Rittenhouse Rye. This might have been a factor leading to the release of Old Overholt Bottled in Bond a few years ago, which upped the proof to 100 as required by the Bottled in Bond Act. But now Old Overholt is changing up a few key features of the whiskey in a way that seems like a positive development for longtime fans of this workhorse rye.
“Old Overholt is an incredibly resilient brand that has stood the test of time for three reasons,” said Tim Heuisler, American Whisk(e)y Ambassador for Beam Suntory in a prepared statement. “It’s always been a quality whiskey, it’s embraced its own evolution throughout history, and it’s consistently been affordable. These updates will only better serve the bar community that first adopted Overholt years ago. We’re taking the trusted, quality whiskey that we all know and love and making mindful improvements to help it stand out even more as a cornerstone of American Rye.”
First, but perhaps least importantly, the bottle is getting a redesign. The cap will now be red, which the brand says more closely resembles the old bottles, and the picture of founder Abe Overholt will be a bit “grumpier,” whatever that means. The liquid is where the most noticeable, and welcome, changes will occur. Classic Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey will now be 86 proof instead of 80, and will also be non-chill filtered. Both of these changes will arguably improve the flavor, particularly losing the chill filtration process that removes some esters and fatty acids for purely aesthetic reasons (the whiskey remains clear even at low temperatures). The label and filtration changes will also apply to the BIB whiskey. Most excitingly, two new whiskeys will join the Old Overholt range – a 114 proof four-year-old expression (a nod to Old Grand-Dad, and an estimate of what a cask strength whiskey would have been around Prohibition), and a 92.6 proof 11-year-old rye whiskey. Now for the bad news – the price for classic Old Overholt and the BIB will both increase by a dollar, to $17.99 and $24.99 respectively. Still a pretty good bargain, provided retailers sell it for the SRP.
Representatives for Old Overholt have acknowledged that the COVID-19 situation has affected the rollout and availability of the new whiskeys. Although the new 86 proof is available, it might be hard to find as many stores have closed and might not have had a chance to replace the old product with the new. The new BIB was supposed to come out in late April, but probably won’t be available for another few months. And the 114 proof and 11-year-old are scheduled for a September release, which so far is still on track, with pricing to be determined in the coming months.
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