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The Return of Rye.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. In the 1600s, American colonists of Scottish and Irish descent really missed home. And Whisk(e)y. Which is basically inseparable. Oh, don't get us wrong, they did their best to recreate it. But it wasn't easy, or successful for that matter. So they tried something else. They redirected their efforts towards the plentiful grains—Corn and Rye. And Voilà! The birth of Rye Whiskey and Bourbon.
These two bad boys had worthy contender though. A real crowd favourite: Rye. So when the British blockade of the Caribbean wiped it off the shelves for a while, it was a HUGE turning point in American Spirits history. Rye got so big it sparked a revolution, a Whiskey Rebellion of sorts. Essentially the government tried to tax the distillers and they said nuh uh! The ABV boys came out victorious and Rye swept the nation, roaring to its peak during the Jazz Age in the 1920s.
But as all empires fall, so did the reign of Rye. What happened? The Dark Ages of Spirits, that’s what happened. The sub-par, watered down Moonshine, which passed for “Rye Whiskey” during Prohibition—shudder—punched its reputation into a proverbial pulp. You’ve probably guessed it by now… it was time for Bourbon to shine. And oh boy did it shine, and it continues to do so.
It wasn't until the late ‘90s that Rye started to claw its way back into the collective hive-mind. Buzz buzz. The two big stingers were the kickstarted craft micro-distillery movement, and the rejuvenated bar culture that recycled old cocktail recipes from the trashcan. We can safely say that the Rye is back, and here to stay baby! Woohooo!
This tasting box pays homage to the Rye of old, and basks in the glory of its recent reintroduction. Hold onto your tanga-briefs folks... it's time to dip into The R(y)evolution!
1) Rye - think of it as Bourbon's edgier cousin. It’s known for imparting, what many call a spicy or fruity flavour, onto the Whiskey. Rye (distilled from at least 51% Rye), is not so sweet, and tends to have a spicier body. That’s why the character of a cocktail made from Rye, instead of Bourbon, is drier.
2) Before the prohibition Rye Whiskey distilleries dotted the landscape of the mid-Atlantic, spreading from New York to Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even George Washington distilled Rye Whiskey on the Mount Vernon estate.
3) "Monongahela Rye" or Pennsylvania Rye is one of the biggest categories of Rye Whiskey. It contains a much higher percentage of Rye (more than 70%) than today's Kentucky Rye Whiskeys, which tend to have close to the minimum 51% Rye. Monongahela Rye usually combined malted and unmalted Rye. Pennsylvania's history with Rye Whiskey seems to be like Campbeltown's history with single malt - both were once big players in the industry, but today little remains from their glorious pasts.
4) Rye Whiskey was what most distilleries made before Prohibition. Then, after repeal in 1933, Bourbon, made from corn, became more popular. Corn was easier to grow, and the taste was sweeter. Rye Whiskey production is only a drop in the bucket compared to the rivers of Bourbon produced now, although Rye Whiskey sales have tripled in the past five years.
5) A decade ago there were only 6 brands of Rye Whiskey hailing from Kentucky, nowadays there are more than 50!
6) Even though Canadian Whisky uses only a small portion of Rye in its blend, it is called Canadian Rye Whisky. This is mostly because 200 years ago, Rye was the prominent ingredient in their blends, even when corn replaced it the name just kind of stuck.
7) There are several Cocktails made with Rye, the Old Fashioned being one of the most well-known. Here’s a recipe: In an old fashioned glass add a sugar cube, 3-5 drops of bitters and a dash of plain water. Muddle until dissolved (you can add an orange wheel and muddle that as well). Add a gigantic ice cube or ball, top with 2 shots of Rye and stir. Garnish with an orange slice, and a cocktail cherry. Enjoy!
8) Rye Whiskey and cheese pairing?
Hard cheeses work well, especially the ones with the crunchy salt crystals that form with a bit of age. Try it with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gouda, Gruyère, or even a creamy brie or Camembert (the bite from the Whiskey will counter the richness of the cheese).
9) Al Capone had a thing for Rye Whiskey, his favorite was Templeton Rye from Iowa.