Rye Not? Rye So? What the heck is going on with rye whiskey, even triggering a side effect of the distillation of a Rye Vodka?
Back in the old days (okay, 1990’s), the statement that bars spilled more American Whiskey in a day than they sold rye whiskey in a year was spot-on. No one even quibbled with the absolute verity of the observation. Rye whiskey was something very old men with bald heads, wrinkled skin and bad teeth drank.
Fast forward to today, and distillers are having a devil of a time keeping rye whiskey on the back bars and retail shelves all over America. This stuff is officially “hot,” with no let-up in sight to the demand from the under 35 years old crowd.
There are both short and long answers as to why rye whiskey is suddenly in vogue.
The short answer is because the new breed of mixologists, bartenders and cocktail chefs (I never know that these folks want or like to be called) “rediscovered” rye whiskey as a very interesting ingredient in recipes they are creating on a daily basis.
The long answer is what comprises the rest of this column. I don’t think I had to tell you that, but then again, maybe you enjoyed a bit too much of the nog last night. And we are nothing if not helpful to readers who are impaired. After all, if this column does not consider your condition when you are feeling “a bit under the weather,” then who will?
For purposes of this discussion (okay, so it is a bit one-sided), we will be focusing on American rye whiskey. Canadian rye whiskey can be a completely different animal since there is no legal percentage requirement for the rye. American rye whiskey has to contain 51 percent rye in the mash. In Canada, there is no such government directive and the “rye” aspect of the whiskey is often achieved, yet sometimes not at all, through blending, not directly through distillation, as in the American product.
The other grains in rye whiskey are corn and malted barley, but it’s the rye which gives the whiskey its spicier, fruitier and sleeker qualities, particularly when compared to Bourbon – which is sweeter and often more full-bodied. It appears in American history that the folks in New England preferred rye whiskey and those of us in the Southland preferred Bourbon. With the advent of easier travel and transportation, those barriers are now less defined.
In New Orleans, in the late 1800’s, we were happy to indulge in a Mint Julep, which is all about the Bourbon, as well as embrace rye whiskey as a substitute for Cognac in Sazeracs during the grapevine disease outbreak throughout the French vineyards. New Orleans preferences are usually for what is convenient and at-hand.
Rye whiskey was a huge go-to drink when the Ziegfeld girls were strutting their stuff on Broadway stages, and, now over 80 years since the end of Prohibition, it’s back in style. Most of the rye whiskey being produced today is made by distilleries that also make Bourbon. Perfect example is Sazerac distillers, the largest distillery company in the US and based here in New Orleans, which makes Sazerac Rye, one of the top selling whiskies in the US, as well as Pappy Van Winkle – a hard-to-get Bourbon.
To demonstrate rye whiskey’s climb back to respectability, a few years ago, Rittenhouse Rye was named North American Whiskey of the Year by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition – one of the most prestigious such events in America. In the past few years, distillers have struggled to keep up with demand. Since rye whiskey is a product that requires aging, up to 20 years, it is not just a matter of turning on the faucet to allow more liquid to flow out. Time in barrel is a key component of making fine rye whiskey.
The Vieux Carre
Invented in New Orleans on Royal Street at the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone Hotel, in the 1930’s, by bartender Walter Bergeron. This is indeed a classy and stylish drink.
- .75 oz Angel's Envy Rye whiskey
- .75 oz Cognac
- .75 oz Martini sweet Vermouth
- 1 tsp Bénédictine
- 2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Place all ingredients into a “rocks” glass with ice. Stir.
Hot Toddy Cocktail
I think winter is coming. I’m still waiting for the weather that will encourage me to indulge in an Irish Coffee….or something closer to a true cocktail, like this.
- Boiling water
- 4 Cloves
- 1 Lemon twist
- 2 tsp Demerara sugar or brown sugar
- .25 oz Lemon juice
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
-Fill a mug with boiling water and let stand for a minute or two to warm.
-Meanwhile, stick the cloves into the lemon twist and set aside.
-Empty the mug and fill about halfway with fresh boiling water.
-Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the prepared lemon twist and stir.
-Add the lemon juice and whiskey, and stir again.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com.