Review: CALI Distillery Three Rivers Rye, Riptide Rye Whiskeys

Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by CALI Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

CALI Distillery is a family-owned distillery based out of Gardena, California. They started their journey under the Sukkah Hill brand making liquors.  The distillery founders, husband and wife team Howard and Marni Witkin, started experimenting spiced liquors that they were sharing with their family. After their liqueurs were commercially successful, Marni, who loves whiskey, started experimenting with whiskey.

From the founders, Howard and Marni: “We started with a homemade liqueur my wife was making in our kitchen. She made a few dozen bottles for friends and one ended up in the hands of the spirits buyer for Ralphs markets. He called us up and asked if we could make it for real so that Ralphs could carry it. Roll forward a few years and we have two liqueurs – named to the top 100 spirits in the world by Wine Enthusiast – and three gold medal-winning whiskeys.”

Under the CALI Distillery label, they make a spiced sipping whiskey called CALI Whiskey, a high rye bourbon called Mavericks Doublewood, and a rye called Riptide Cask Strength Rye whiskey. They have recently added the Three Rivers Rye whiskey to the lineup. I am reviewing these two rye whiskies today. All of their whiskies are non-GMO and made from Midwest grain. The two rye whiskies are contract distilled in Kentucky.

CALI Distillery Three Rivers Rye Whiskey is 93% rye and 7% malted barley. It is aged in American light and dark oaks, and finished in toasted French Oak. According to the distillery, the whiskey is “named for the Sierra foothills village where the Kaweah River’s three branches flow from the sequoias.” The proof is also no accident – the 95.5 proof is a nod to their favorite radio station, KLOS.

Riptide Rye is cask strength, contract distilled, and has the same mash bill as the Three Rivers Rye whiskey.

Both ryes drink young, and Marni Witkin says that there are no plans to produce an older version in order to preserve the taste profile.

CALI Distillery whiskeys review

CALI Distillery Three Rivers Rye (image via Total Wine)

Tasting Notes: CALI Distillery Three Rivers Rye Whiskey

Vital stats: Mash bill: 93% rye, and 7% malted barley, 95.5 proof, SRP around $32.99.

Appearance: Golden honey

Nose: Rye bread.

Palate: This whiskey has flavors of mellow rye spice and hints of dark chocolate. A medium-length finish delivers citrus notes at the end.

Score: 3/5

CALI Distillery whiskeys review

Riptide Rye Cask Strength (image via CALI Distillery)

Tasting Notes: CALI Distillery Riptide Rye Whiskey

Vital stats: Mash bill: 93% rye, and 7% malted barley, 118 proof, SRP around $32.99

Appearance: Honey

Nose: Notes of rye bread and ethanol.

Palate: This is similar to CALI Distillery’s other rye, Three Rivers Rye, but on steroids. The extra proof really brings out the sweet caramel and chocolate and mellows the rye spice. A nice medium finish as well. There is a little burn due to the proof and young age, as well as little black pepper throughout. I don’t notice much oak.

Score: 3.5/5

Final Thoughts: The Three Rivers Rye Whiskey is a young but enjoyable rye whiskey. It has enough complexity and finish to warrant the price and taking a chance at the store. It is an easy sipper, and would also be fine in cocktails. I can see myself drinking this casually, at a BBQ or sharing with friends who are not used to rye whiskey or higher proof whiskies.

Riptide Rye whiskey is also another  young but enjoyable rye whiskey from CALI Distillery. This one has a more intense flavor profile than the Three River Rye, with most of the palate amplified while the rye spice is expressed less. It is sweeter than the Three River Rye. This is a lovely sipper, nicely balanced, very enjoyable, and given that cask strength rye whiskies are not very common, it is a great value at the price point.

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