By Steve Szceblowski (Dr. Mix) -
“Rye whisky, rye whisky, You’re no friend to me; You killed my poor daddy, Goddamn you, try me. (Traditional Folk Song)”
Just a few short years ago, you’d be lucky to find a dusty bottle of Rye whiskey at your neighborhood liquor store, or like myself you may have confused Rye with the fruit-floating concoction Rock n’ Rye (maybe the Next Big Thing?).
Nowadays we’re in a Rye resurrection the likes of which we haven’t seen since the above tune was first penned with a quill feather, with more brands available than perhaps any time in history. When we kicked Redcoat ass, and the British summarily cut off trade routes to Caribbean molasses used to make our first national spirit, Rum, our forefathers turned to native grains for alcoholic inspiration.
American whiskies produced since our founding basically include your unaged White whiskey, aka “White Lightning”, made from corn, then there’s Bourbon and Rye, both made from a fermented grain mix, or “mash bill”, which could include corn, wheat, rye, or barley. U.S. rules state that Bourbon contains a mash bill that’s at least 51% wheat, whereas Rye contains a mash bill of at least 51% rye (Tennessee whiskey is a variant of Bourbon, which is charcoal filtered).
“Straight” Ryes or Bourbon must be aged for at least two years. Canadian rules state that any rye content makes a Rye whiskey, so claims to describe Canadian whiskies as Rye are somewhat dubious. The most common perceived difference between a Rye versus, say a Bourbon, might be a spicier, more fiery taste.
I’d recommend that the would-be Rye enthusiast check out the following brands: a good place to start is the stalwart, aptly-named Old Overholt; the longest produced Rye available, excellent in a Manhattan or for the shot with your beer, and a bargain to boot.
Next, check out Templeton, a popular small batch brand hailing from Iowa, which claims an infamous Prohibition-era recipe. It’s a very decent, medium-bodied Rye. My favorite of the group, when it’s available (certainly if you’re buying) is Rittenhouse, a bottled in bond Rye (100 proof); strong but not overpowering.
Remember, more proof = more flavor!!!