It all began in the 17th century when American colonists of Scottish and Irish descent wanted to make Whisky as they did back home - using Barley. Soon they figured that the crops used for distillation didn’t yield the firewater they wanted, so they tried with grains that were plentiful in America - Corn and Rye. Thus they gave birth to Bourbon and Rye Whiskey.
At the time Rum was the preferred tipple of the drinking American. But that changed fast when sugar cane became unavailable due to British blockade of the Caribbean islands. Distilleries were quick to switch from Rum to Whiskey.
And so began the rise of Rye Whiskey. Rye sparked the first revolution - Whiskey Rebellion - since the American Independence when government tried to tax and enforce the taxation on distillers. It also turned into the most famous drink for more than a century. Cocktails became a thing and Rye Whiskey was the main ingredient of that boom, especially in the roaring 20’s when Rye was at its peak.
But then the Prohibition hit American bellies. People started producing Moonshine here and there under the good name of Rye. That diminished Rye's good-held reputation and brought about a dark era for Rye Whiskey. In turn Bourbon became America’s most wanted drinkin’ drop.
It wasn't until the late 90s when craft movement and the bar culture reinvention brought old Cocktail recipes back to life and everybody grew back thirst for good quality Rye. The boom became global, reviving old American recipes of Rye Whiskey production and convincing Europeans to produce their own Rye Whiskey story.
So here it is, the Tasting Box that acknowledges this reinvention, the second rise, the R(y)evolution of Rye Whiskey!
1) Rye - think of it as Bourbon's edgier cousin. It’s known for imparting, what many call a spicy or fruity flavour, to 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. The whiskey rebellion concerned Rye, and even George Washington distilled Rye whiskey at Mount Vernon.
3) "Monongahela Rye" or Pennsylvania Rye stands for 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 of 51% Rye. Monongahela Rye also 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 compared with 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. That is mostly because 200 years ago Rye was the prevalent ingredient of their blends and with time Corn came in its place but the name just kind of stuck until this days.
7) There are many Cocktails made from Rye, Old Fashioned being one of the most 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 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 or gruyère or go for 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.
What's in the box
Dog Dogson'sSmartass corner
Zuidam uses a traditional Dutch method of distilling, including using windmills to grind the grains used in its spirits.
Heaven Hill is a well respected distillery, even amongst their competitors. After the fire of 1996, the local major distilleries Jim Beam and Brown Forman shared their stills with Heaven Hill while they rebuilt.
When you see Rye Whiskey newcomers calling their spirit a “classic Rye,” you can bet they are comparing themselves to Michter’s Rye Whiskey, because Michter’s was literally the first.
In 1996, more than 90,000 barrels, and one of their production buildings were destroyed in a fire. That's almost 24 million bottles-worth of premium American Whiskey. Rivers of flaming spirit were flowing in and around the distillery.
It is believed that during the famous Winter encampment at Valley Forge, George Washington himself rode to the nearby distillery and acquired a few barrels of Rye to keep his soldiers warm.