Sunday, December 02, 2012

More Rye Whiskey (And a Recipe, Too)

Having just uncorked a post on the enduring appeal of high-end bourbons, I wouldn't be true to my most recent hobby horse if I didn't follow that up immediate with an update on rye.

I recently made the following inflammatory claim in a story on the revival of rye whiskey for the City Paper: "We Southerners need to disabuse ourselves of the delusion that bourbon is the 'quintessential spirit of the South.' Bourbon is about as authentically Southern as Hazzard County, Georgia, and Bo and Luke Duke. . . . Rye whiskey, not bourbon, should properly bear the mantle of the South's favorite spirit."

I stick by that assertion (see the article for the evidence), and also by my prediction that rye's best days are still ahead of it. In recent news, we're seeing more and more of the big boys from the bourbon business agree and starting to move into the rye market.

The latest of the crop is Diageo, which just came out with a 90-proof rye whiskey in its George Dickel line, which previously consisted solely of bourbons.

Retailing around $25 for 750 ml, the Dickel is not quite as cheap as the reliable Old Overholt (which you can consistently find for  under twenty bucks), but it's firmly in that much-needed category of affordable ryes that you can use in abundance in stiff classic cocktails without needing to take out a second mortgage on your house.

I figured it would be worthwhile to try it side by side against some Old Overholt and see how it stacked up. Both have the same sharp, dry bite that is the hallmark of ryes, though the Dickel is a little darker in color, slightly richer in aroma, and a little smoother on the tongue, too. That's a good candidate, in my book, for cocktails with citrus and fruit juices, like the Cherry Rye Sour (recipe below).

Fast on the heels of Diageo, Bacardi Brown-Forman is bringing out its own rye whiskey in its Jack Daniels line. In an interesting twist, it will be an unaged rye whiskey.

Why unaged? The Cocktail Enthusiast relates that the company distilled 800 barrels of rye in 2011, with the intention of putting them into barrels to mature. But, the distillers liked the flavor of the unaged stuff so much that they decided it was worth releasing. In an interview with The Spirits Business, Jack Daniels' master distiller Jeff Arnett added, "We would all agree that white dog is not going to be the best thing to ever produce, but it’s a seller that can be offered as a teaser to say 'Hey, we’ve got this new aged whiskey coming, do you want to try it in its raw state?'”

It sniffs a little of a company trying to play catch up with the market, and at fifty bucks for a 750 ml bottle, it's pretty darn expensive for a teaser (a bottle of the splendid Willet Rye retails for just $40). Perhaps I should wait to judge until the JD unaged version hits store shelves, which it should in the next few weeks, and I can actually sample it. In any event, that rye bandwagon is getting pretty crowded now, and I couldn't be happier.

Rye: the original whiskey of the South. Its comeback continues.

Cherry Rye Sour

I've been playing around with rye whiskeys in various sours, and I find the stiffer ryes do well with a bit of citrus and fruit juices. In this one, I add just a small touch of maple syrup for a little dark sweetness.

2 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz tart cherry juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
dash of Grade B Maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker. Shake vigorously and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

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