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Joe Blowe

All About Rye Whiskey (Part 1)

498 posts in this topic

Sorry I forgot about Europe Heaven Hill primaraly exports Pikesville it is very hard to find in the U.S. which is a shame because it realy is a lovely rye. It is high time that they start further distribution in the US again.

I have to say that one of my favorite ryes that no one is comenting on is Wild Turkey Rye It is very robust and has a nice grassy spikeyness to it has some nice spicey kick to the background.

I also use some modifiers in rye Manhattans I like a little dash of Grand Marnier and some Marachino Cherry Syrup from Fee Bros. I also have tried Cointreau Punt e mes and Marachino Liq. I also find that rye seems to blend very well with congnac i.e. the Vieux Carrie cocktail.

The great thing about the manhattan is that it lends its self to so many reincarnations. it is a template for so many variations.

The Handy Rye needed some serious mixing before it made a "non burning" manhattan. I may even add a little water next time I use it. The High proof Antique Collection numbers are all like that lots of flavor with lots of heat! I actrualy preffer them in old fashoined glass packed with ice and a touch of Strirrings Club soda.

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I have to say that one of my favorite ryes that no one is comenting on is Wild Turkey Rye It is very robust and has a nice grassy spikeyness to it has some nice spicey kick to the background.

that's the standard rye around my house. i don't like the beam as much, or the old overholt, which are the only two affordable ryes easily available in pennsylvania. so i pick up a wild turkey whenever i'm in jersey.

(i supplement with bulleit bourbon, which according to their site is made with a higher percentage of rye than most bourbon--probably why i like it so much; it's not as sweet as bourbon usually is)

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Tried the Thomas H. Handy rye with a friend over last weekend.

Can't say I'm entirely convinced.

It's a very "hot" rye.

[...]

More detailed analysis is needed and a close comparison to the Saz Jr.

I went back to this the other night in comparison to a couple other ryes.

gallery_27569_3448_37987.jpg

Thos. H. Handy 2006, Saz 18 2005, Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey, and Pikesville Supreme.

You will note my preferred whiskey tasting glass in front of the suspects in question.

I find just covering the bottom of the bonne maman jar gives enough of a taste to understand the character of a whiskey, and the wide opening does a good job of directing; but, not over concentrating the aroma.

One thing this year that is a little odd, is that they didn't put dates on the Antique Collection bottles.

To order them by preference, I would still say Saz 18 2005 first. It is such a pleasant and complex sipping rye. I would put the Thomas Handy 2006 second. It is amazingly complex. The sort of rye where every sip shows a different aspect and lingers in your mouth, nose, and memory. But, it is rough, hot, and a bit rude. On this evening I felt like the Pikesville should come next. I definitely rank it higher than the Beam, and likely the Old Overholt, as a good all around whiskey with strong rye character. For straight sipping, at least that evening, among these whiskeys, I put the Sazerac Straight Rye last.

The Saz Jr., however, remains my current favorite old-fashioned and manhattan mixing Rye. Also quite tasty in the Artist's (Special). Actually, I'm ambivalent about Sazerac Ryes in Sazeracs. Find I prefer their herbaceous, earthy character against angostura or Vermouth rather than anise. Just personal taste, I'm sure.

While they are all from the same company, I did think that the Saz Jr. and Saz 18 2005 had more in common than either to the Handy.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Erik, have you had chance to try the Sazerac 18 year old 2006? I've just grabbed a bottle -- an xmas gift from me to me -- that I'm dying to crack open; the salesman at my favorite wine and spirits shop was gaga.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Erik, have you had chance to try the Sazerac 18 year old 2006? I've just grabbed a bottle -- an xmas gift from me to me -- that I'm dying to crack open; the salesman at my favorite wine and spirits shop was gaga.

I haven't had a chance to try the new one yet. In the past, a friend and I have done side by side comparisons of releases and haven't found too much variation between years. Some subtle differences.

To me, everything in the Buffalo Trace Antique collection is an incredible deal for the price (~$50). Some of the best American whiskies available.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I had the saz 18. It is amazing. It is like drinking brown sugar. I had it straight and I also had a sazerac with it. Mind blowing. Definitely my favorite of the collection behind the now impossible to find Handy.

John


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Erik, have you had chance to try the Sazerac 18 year old 2006? I've just grabbed a bottle -- an xmas gift from me to me -- that I'm dying to crack open; the salesman at my favorite wine and spirits shop was gaga.

Chris, I have, and it is really delicious. Certainly makes the best Manhattans and Red Hooks I have had. But I don't have any earlier years to compare it to.

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The New York Times Dining section this week is a drinks special, and included an article on experimental but unpopular drinks, and one on rye.  The rye article is nice - Dave Wondrich was one of the tasters - and it discusses tasting notes of several aged ryes.  Now, the article does mention that the rye staples (Old Overholt and Jim Beam) were good, but did not make the top ten.  In fact, only the top 10 were listed.  I was wondering if the esteemed Mr. Wondrich could release the tasting notes for the bottom five....

Rye Article

It's almost 5pm CST. Dunno if any of y'all will see this in time to catch it but I'm told that Eric Asimov is the guest on the Rachel Maddow show today and the topic is rye whiskey. It's on in a couple minutes. Listen online at AirAmerica.com

I have no idea how much liberal [claptrap/intelligent analysis] you'll have to sit through before Asimov shows up.

Kurt

UPDATE: the show just started. Sounds like Asimov will show up towards the end of the second hour, say, 6:30-7pm-ish CST. In addition to discussing rye whiskey there will be a cocktail created to toast the departure of Do-Nothing Congress of 2006.

UPDATE #2: you can see the commemorative cocktail at Rachel Maddow's blog. It's nothing more than a Ward 8. I was hoping she and Asimov had come up with something original. She does, however, provide a link to two homemade grenadine recipes. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that the link took me to the very fine cocktail blog, The Cocktail Chronicles--the work of Paul Clarke aka limewine.


Edited by kvltrede (log)

“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake--which I also keep handy.” ~W.C. Fields

The Handy Snake

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Paul, over at Cocktail Chronicles, has started posting the writeups of the tasting sessions he and a few other Seattle cocktail cognoscenti did while researching an article about Rye Whiskey for Imbibe Magazine:

The Rye Chronicles

The list of ryes they tasted included:

* Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

* Jim Beam Straight Rye

* Michter’s U.S. 1 Single Barrel Straight Rye

* Michter’s 10-year-Old Rye

* Wild Turkey 101-Proof Kentucky Straight Rye

* Van Winkle Family Reserve 13-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye

* Sazerac 6-Year-Old Rye

* Sazerac 18-Year-Old Rye

* Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye

* Pikesville Supreme

* Old Potrero Single-Malt 18th Century Style Whiskey

* Old Potrero Single Malt 19th Century Style Straight Rye Whiskey

* Hirsch Selection 21-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

* Black Maple Hill 18-Year-Old Rye

* Black Maple Hill 23-Year-Old Rye

* Rittenhouse 80-Proof Rye Whiskey

* Rittenhouse 100-Proof Bottled-in-Bond Rye Whiskey

* Rittenhouse 21-Year-Old Rye Whiskey

...and is, of course, written up with his typical zip and savoir faire.

edit - fix grammar problem.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I was chatting with Dave about this the other day... It's really a shame that Old Overholt, the one brand that kept the rye whiskey flame alight through the years, is allowing the current rye renaissance (ryenaissance?) to pass it by. There are a few cocktails (for me, the Blinker) where I reach for Old Overholt as my first choice, but Rittenhouse BIB has easily taken its place as my house mixing rye, and Old Overholt isn't even a possible contender as a sipping rye. It's too bad, because it doesn't have to be this way. All they'd have to do is release a 100 proof bottling of Old Overholt (in other words, just don't water it down so much for bottle proof) and change nothing else. If there were a 100 proof Old Overholt, I think everyone who is currently enamored of Rittenhouse BIB would use the 100 proof Old Overholt as well. And, if they wanted to, all they'd have to do is age some of the stuff they're already making a little longer and/or bottle it a little differently, and they'd be instant competitors in the sipping rye category.

Isn't Old Overholt made by the same guys who make Jim Beam? Aren't these the guys who jumpstarted the small batch bourbon craze when they figured out that they could take regular old Jim Beam out of the still and just age it/bottle it/label it differently as Baker's, Basil Hayden's, Booker's or Knob Creek? I don't understand why they aren't doing this with Old Overholt.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Isn't Old Overholt made by the same guys who make Jim Beam?  Aren't these the guys who jumpstarted the small batch bourbon craze when they figured out that they could take regular old Jim Beam out of the still and just age it/bottle it/label it differently as Baker's, Basil Hayden's, Booker's or Knob Creek?  I don't understand why they aren't doing this with Old Overholt.

Neither do I. When I was working on my rye story, I asked Beam representatives that question; while refusing to show their hand on any future plans (or much of anything, for that matter), their response to the point about high-end ryes was, essentially, people should drink Basil Hayden bourbon (which has a high percentage of rye in its mashbill). About a year and a half ago, I was told much the same thing while chatting with Fred Noe, the brand ambassador for Beam's small-batch selection, though he also showed distinct surprise at the number of requests he was getting for a premium rye (I was something like the fourth person that day who had asked him about it).

(And as an aside, in that conversation Noe told me that the small-batch bourbons have different mashbills from the regular Beam and from each other, and that they weren't simply aged and bottled differently. Just saying, that's what I was told.)


Paul Clarke

Seattle

The Cocktail Chronicles

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...I asked Beam representatives that question; while refusing to show their hand on any future plans (or much of anything, for that matter), their response to the point about high-end ryes was, essentially, people should drink Basil Hayden bourbon (which has a high percentage of rye in its mashbill)....

Wow. Really? I've only had the Basil Hayden once so I'm no expert--and I should probably keep my mouth shut--but I certainly wouldn't have guessed it had a substantial amount of rye in the mashbill. I found it to be a nice enough whiskey but mild and forgettable. In fact, my first thought was that the BH was a nice whiskey for people who don't really like whiskey. Now that I've read this I'm tempted to give it another shot but, really, between the whiskeys I know I prefer to the BH and those I haven't yet tried I couldn't say when that might happen. YMMV.

Kurt


“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake--which I also keep handy.” ~W.C. Fields

The Handy Snake

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FWIW, Paul's article from the mag is also posted online, here.

Note: link will change 2/28/07

I haven't tasted many ryes in my day, but Paul's tasting notes have me ready to organize a rye tasting at home....I'll likely start with something like Old Overholt because of both availability and price.


my motto: taste, savor, share

circulation manager, imbibe magazine

celebrate the world in a glass

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The thing that's infuriating about it, is that they wouldn't even have to change anything. Just put less water in the bottle. That, right there, would make a huge difference. Never mind missing out on the premium sipping rye wave. They're missing the boat as the mixing rye of choice.

Let's say they're charging 15 bucks a liter for Overholt at retail. Okay, assuming that this stuff comes out of the barrel at 125 proof, a liter of 100 proof Overholt would have to contain 800 ml of barrel-proof whiskey cut with 200 ml of water. A liter of 80 proof Overholt should have 640 ml of barrel-proof whiskey cut with 360 ml of water. That means that there would be 160 ml more of barrel-proof whiskey in the 100 proof liter, for an increase of 25%. Fine. Raise the price by 25%. I'd pay $18.75 for a bottle of 100 proof Old Overholt in a second.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Wow.  Really?  I've only had the Basil Hayden once so I'm no expert--and I should probably keep my mouth shut--but I certainly wouldn't have guessed it had a substantial amount of rye in the mashbill.  I found it to be a nice enough whiskey but mild and forgettable.  In fact, my first thought was that the BH was a nice whiskey for people who don't really like whiskey.  Now that I've read this I'm tempted to give it another shot but, really, between the whiskeys I know I prefer to the BH and those I haven't yet tried I couldn't say when that might happen.  YMMV.

Kurt

A friend and I did a blind Bourbon tasting a couple years ago, tasting about a dozen Bourbons ranging hugely in price.

We found the Basil Hayden did come out near the bottom among both experienced whiskey drinkers and novices. We were especially surprised when we discovered it was one of the more expensive Bourbons we had tasted.

I haven't had it in a couple years and at that time I really hadn't had much Rye, so I can't say if I thought it had a Rye character.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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When I was working on my rye story, I asked Beam representatives that question; while refusing to show their hand on any future plans (or much of anything, for that matter), their response to the point about high-end ryes was, essentially, people should drink Basil Hayden bourbon (which has a high percentage of rye in its mashbill). About a year and a half ago, I was told much the same thing while chatting with Fred Noe, the brand ambassador for Beam's small-batch selection, though he also showed distinct surprise at the number of requests he was getting for a premium rye (I was something like the fourth person that day who had asked him about it).

I've been bothering the folks at Beam--from the president of the company on down--about this for at least five years, and have gotten precisely nowhere with them. As Sam says, all they'd have to do is age the Overholt a little longer and bottle it at a higher proof and they'd instantly lead the market. The people I've talked to realize this.

But still nothing.

Ironically, Overholt has an excellent claim to be the oldest continually-maintained brand of whiskey in America, and is approaching its 200th anniversary. Maybe we'll see something then.

But I doubt it.


Edited by Splificator (log)

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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What are your thoughts on Hirsch? I have the 8 year and it is very light and smooth, akin to the way Canadian whiskey compares to Bourbon. Really, it is too light and tasteless for me. What percentage rye is it? Wikipedia says that the Canadian laws governing what can be called rye whiskey are not as stringent as the American ones.

Does percentage rye composition really matter? Is there a strong correlation between quality and "rye-ness" and the percentage rye composition? What percentage is the Wild Turkey Rye?

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I would also be very interested to know the mashbills for different ryes, if anyone were to have this information handy.

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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What are your thoughts on Hirsch? I have the 8 year and it is very light and smooth, akin to the way Canadian whiskey compares to Bourbon. Really, it is too light and tasteless for me. What percentage rye is it? Wikipedia says that the Canadian laws governing what can be called rye whiskey are not as stringent as the American ones.

The Hirsch 8 year is a Canadian Rye. They also make an "American Rye" at 21 years, I think. The fact that they label one of their rye bottlings as "American" tells us something. It tells us that the Hirsch 8 year isn't really what we would consider rye whiskey down here. In Canada, "rye" is just another name for "Canadian Whiskey." Canadian Whiskey, by law, is a blended whisky of cereal grains aged no less than three years. In practice, most of these contain little if any rye. I don't know what percentage of rye Hirsch Canadian Rye has, but I think it's reasonable to assume that it isn't very much.

Just about all the rye whiskey in America is "straight whiskey." This means that the grain bill must contain no less than 51% and no more than 79% of the primary grain. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% abv), aged for at least two years at no more than 125 proof (62.5% abv) in charred new oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% abv). No neutral grain spirits or any other substances may be added. The rye whiskies of which I am aware that are not straight whiskies are exceptions because they exceed the "<79% of the primary grain" rule (e.g., the Anchor Distilling ryes).

Does percentage rye composition really matter? Is there a strong correlation between quality and "rye-ness" and the percentage rye composition? What percentage is the Wild Turkey Rye?

Percentage of rye composition doesn't necessarily make a difference in quality. There are some perfectly good rye whiskies with a relatively low percentage of rye in the grain bill. The Van Winkle rye, for example, has exactly the minimum amount of rye allowed (51%). On the other hand, this isnt exactly the most "rye like" rye whiskey I've ever tasted.

Here are the percentages of rye I've seen on the internet, which may or may not be correct: Wild Turkey is 65%. Old Overholt is 64%. Van Winkle is 51%. Wild Turkey is distilled to a relatively low proof -- something like 110 proof -- which contributes to its distinctiveness.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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More info about Hirsch here:

Did the A.H. Hirsch distillery close down?

There is an A.H. Hirsch Bourbon and 21 year Hirsch Selection Rye available that are real Kentucky Bourbon and Straight Rye Whiskey. They are rather expensive, though.

The Hirsch Selections 8, 10, and 12 ryes are made in Canada and are not "Straight Rye Whiskey".


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Just about all the rye whiskey in America is "straight whiskey."  This means that the grain bill must contain no less than 51% and no more than 79% of the primary grain. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% abv), aged for at least two years at no more than 125 proof (62.5% abv) in charred new oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% abv). No neutral grain spirits or any other substances may be added.  The rye whiskies of which I am aware that are not straight whiskies are exceptions because they exceed the "<79% of the primary grain" rule (e.g., the Anchor Distilling ryes).

Thank you, sir. Excellent explanation.

What is the rationale behind placing the 79% maximum? I tried to Google this but failed to turn up anything, though I stumbled upon the Code of Federal Regulations pertaining to US alcohol labeling laws. An interesting read.

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[...]

Just about all the rye whiskey in America is "straight whiskey."[...]The rye whiskies of which I am aware that are not straight whiskies are exceptions because they exceed the "<79% of the primary grain" rule (e.g., the Anchor Distilling ryes).

[...]

The Anchor 19th Century style is labeled "Straight Rye Whiskey", at least here in CA.

I thought the reason two of them aren't labeled "Straight Rye Whiskey" had to do with the barrels, rather than the percentage of Rye.

The 18th Century style is aged in toasted, rather than charred, oak barrels, so it can't be labelled "Straight Rye Whiskey".

The Hotaling's was aged in "once used" rather than new charred oak barrels, so it also can't be called "Straight Rye Whiskey".

Anchor Distilling


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Hmm. I wonder how that's allowed.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I've never had any of the Anchor ryes (hard to find around here) but I thought the 18th Century style was 100% rye, and that's why they can't call it "rye whiskey" on the bottle. Perhaps the 19th century style has a more orthodox mashbill (which certainly seems appropriate, given the name).

-Andy


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I've never had any of the Anchor ryes (hard to find around here) but I thought the 18th Century style was 100% rye, and that's why they can't call it "rye whiskey" on the bottle. Perhaps the 19th century style has a more orthodox mashbill (which certainly seems appropriate, given the name).

-Andy

Nope, all the Anchor Ryes use 100% rye malt in their mashbill.

edit - By the way, they're featuring Whiskeys at this winter's Elixir Cocktail Club. Supposedly, Master Distiller Bruce Joseph from Anchor will be there tomorrow night. Gives me some motivation to stop by. Though, I really want to stop by on April when Compass Box's John Glaser will be there. Oh, and the night they feature the Ardberg, and the night they feature Beam, and the night they feature Buffalo Trace...


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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