Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prohibition Era Glory: Rye

f you were to sit down at a speakeasy in New York City in 1924 (like the 21 Club) and look around, you'd see a lot of whiskey being consumed. Not Scotch, not Bourbon, but Rye. It was both consumed straight and mixed in a wide variety of cocktails. And thanks to a new boom in the artisanal beverage industry, it's coming back!  For a good history lesson on Rye, read this article.

A very, very generous friend sent me six different Ryes for my birthday, and I'm excited to share this experience with you.  The selection includes Black Maple Hill, Sazerac, Rittenhouse 21YO, Old Potrero, Templeton, and WhistlePig 10YO.  The colors of the whiskey range from a pale amber to dark bronze.  My friend has very good taste and I'm quite certain none of them will disappoint.  So I've put some Foxtrot on the phonograph, poured six small glasses, got out a bag of plain pita chips, and I'm ready to taste.  I haven't read an iota about any of these - so I'll do that as I taste and report back.

Tasted from left to right...

First up, is Black Maple Hill.  This is by far the darkest of the lot and quite intriguing.  Nose has coffee and spice and molasses.  Down the hatch.  Wow, that's smooth!  It has almost a rum essence to it.  Really long finish - the flavor is going on an on.  The finish is even more representative of a rum.  Oh, and I love rum so clearly I'm enjoying this quite a bit.

Next we have the Sazerac which, according to the bottle, was designed for the Sazerac cocktail.....which I've never had.  The nose on this is quite different - light, woody, maybe a hint of orange peel.  It reminds me of another smell as well, but I can't put my finger on it.  Tea tree oil?  Something like that.  Ooooh, that's good.  The orange peel really comes through on the palette, almost like someone added orange bitters.  Smoother than Black Maple Hill, which surprised me.  This is really good, and I can see why someone might want to use it as a base for cocktails.  Finish is quite a bit shorter than Black Maple Hill.

Third in line - Rittenhouse 21 year old.  Color is in-between Black Maple Hill and Sazerac.  The nose is (again) really different than the other two; this is very spicy with a strong smell of teak wood.  A hint of turpentine, but not displeasing.  Ok, this is smooth but strong!  I just checked the bottle and indeed it's 100 proof.  Sazerac was 90 proof and Black Maple Hill was the average at 95 proof.  Once the alcohol dissipates some, this has a wonderful spicy, woody flavor and long finish.  Wow, it's powerful though!

Now we're onto Old Potrero.  This has a harsher, more acidic nose than the others.  Same "teaky" smell, but closer to turpentine than the last but with a hint of pine as well.  Wow, and quite powerful as well.  This is only 90 proof (just checked) but one would think it was 100.  Absolutely no hint of sweetness like the others above; this is very "dry" an acidic.  It is so distinct that I think I could pick it out of a large lineup of rye...assuming I could stand.

Next up is Templeton Rye which (according to the bottle) is a prohibition-era style.  This has a sweeter nose with a lot of grass and (surprisingly) rye.  For real.  Also smells a little of salt & peat.  And oh so smooooth, much more than any of the others I've tried thus far.  This is 80 proof, while it actually feels like 60 proof.  If it is modeled after prohibition-era rye, I'm surprised.  It's very refined and nuanced, and I would have thought that illegal spirits would have resembled moonshine more than this.  Quite lovely.

Lastly is WhistlePig.  Nose of sawdust.  So distinct is that smell to me that I cannot smell anything just plain smells like freshly cut planks, complete with that slight "burn" from the fast-moving saw blade.  Oh my, and it's an "arm thumper" - like when someone winces and pounds the arm of their chair.  Palette of, well, fire.  Got up and checked, and indeed this is 100 proof.  This has a lot in common with Old Potrero except that is has some hint of sweetness in the backbone, though not much. A long finish that has morphed from burn to turpentine and then into something quite pleasing, including toffee and spice.  You just gotta wait for it a little.

Well, that was quite some journey...thank you SG!  But before I wrap this up, I figure that I should add in the Redemption rye that I have had on hand.  It is doubtful I'll have a go at all these in a sitting again, so might as well go "whole hog" as they say.  Got a fresh glass from the kitchen (though out of cordial glasses) and had a taste.  Very strong nose of alcohol and pine.  It smells like it's going to be way dry like the Old Portrero, but I've had this before and I know it will not be like that at all.  On the palette, quite a bit sweeter and smoother than the nose offered.  Warm and teak-like, with some sweetness on the finish.  Closest to Templeton but not quite as smooth.

In summary, these were all very, very different ryes, and it shows off quite well how different rye can be, even within it's own genre.  There is something for everyone out there, so give it a try!  And my preference, based on this tasting, is as follows:  1)  Black Maple Hill      2) Sazerac      3) Rittenhouse 21YO    4) Templeton      5) WhistlePig  6) Redemptiom    7) Old Potrero    The true test of my taste however, will be seeing the order in which each bottle is emptied.  There can be no truer test of one's taste.

And that's it for the rye tasting!  What an incredible experience, thank you again SG!!



1 comment:

  1. Greetings Alec.....glad you enjoyed the tasting. You may not be feeling pain until the morning. And, like Scotch, you are allowed to add a few drops of water to "soften" the harder wiskey's.

    Loved hearing your comments. Will have to try these myself sometime, when I have a few days to recover. - SG