by Ronnie Grant
The Wine Country’s Spirits Buyer
Whiskey has been made in the United States since colonial times and originally Rye Whiskey was the American whiskey. It was the whiskey that Americans enjoyed until prohibition essentially destroyed the domestic distilled spirits industry. Unfortunately during prohibition our grandparents and great-grandparents came to “enjoy” bathtub gin and bootleg Canadian Whisky. Before prohibition Rye Whiskey is what was predominately used in the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktails.
Rye is what a lot of 18th century farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania, in particular, distilled. You wouldn’t expect these farmers, which are what early distillers were; to discard extra rye from their harvests would you? One such farmer was George Washington who made Rye Whiskey at Mt. Vernon, yet, ironically, he sent federal troops into Pennsylvania to quell the Whiskey Rebellion.
Most American Whiskey drinkers have had Rye before as it is used in production of Bourbon, which is often made from corn (at least 51%), barley, and rye. Rye Whiskey uses the same three cereals, but rye obviously is the backbone and typically comprises 70% of the grains used. What rye brings to the table, or whiskey glass, is a fragrant and spicy assertiveness to a whiskey. It’s why Bourbon producers like to add it to their mashbill as it adds character to the “sweetness” of the corn.
The firm character that makes a Rye Whiskey great is what I look for. It’s like the spirit itself has a lively personality. I think this piquant charm is why it’s become the new thing among cocktail drinkers. I know it’s why I prefer it over Bourbon.
Old Overholt Straight Rye
This label has a long history. Old Overholt was started in Pennsylvania in 1810 but because of prohibition it was discontinued. After that dark time for the whiskey industry is was re-introduced and is now made in Kentucky. It’s been known as a great introduction to what Rye Whiskey is supposed to be and that is still the case. There are pricier ryes on the market, but this is a classic, with the spice jumping out of the glass. I get a lot of white pepper, nutmeg, along with some dried apples. A ¼ ounce of simple syrup, ½ ounce of fresh lemon juice and 2 ounces of Old Overholt gives you a nice Whiskey Sour.$15.99 per bottle
Rittenhouse 100 Proof Straight Rye Whisky
One of the most popular Ryes on the market, Rittenhouse makes a full-bodied, spicy, yet unbelievably luscious Whiskey. There is no doubting why this is in great demand. It’s especially great neat, but at 100-proof it makes for a mean mixed-drink.$23.99 per bottle
Fog's End Monterey Rye Whiskey
This is very interesting, almost a hybrid if you will. Fog’s End uses equal parts rye and sugar to make this whiskey. What I get from this is a two spirits: Rye Whiskey and Rum. There is the rye spice, but also some of rum’s smoky molasses character. It’s also a bit nutty and floral as well. Rich, yet dry. A little Cointreau, some lemon juice and a couple ounces of this makes for a great take on the Daiquiri.$27.99 per bottle
Redemption Rye Whiskey
Distilled in Indiana, Aged in Kentucky
Made up of 95% rye, this is a straightforward rye, perfect for mixing into Manhattans. Made by craft distillers in Indiana, there is a dark brass color in the glass. The aroma is spicy, followed by a very smooth texture. At 92 proof, it is potent enough to provide the kick needed for a good mixed drink, or alone, if you have the hair.$28.99 per bottle
Michter's Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey
This is my favorite Rye Whiskey, though truthfully, Michter’s is my favorite distiller. Their Whiskey is so clean. The Rye is medium-bodied with loads of spice, pepper and dark fruit on the nose.$41.99 per bottle
Whistle Pig Straight Rye Whiskey
Master distiller Dave Pickerell was the master distiller at Maker's Mark for over 14 years and has made this rye to prove that Rye can be an elegant product. The nose is beautiful with a touch of soft spice while on the soft palate there is some oaky vanilla with a pleasant warmness that finishes with a salty dark caramel flavor.$74.99 per bottle
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
Here we have a six year old Rye that is uncut and unfiltered. At 129-proof it’s cask strength and it even has a bit of sediment on the bottom of the bottle from the char of the barrel; yet it doesn’t drink like a full-throttle Rye. Surprisingly smooth for what it is with soft hints of oak, vanilla, and that ever pleasant full Rye spiciness.$89.99 per bottle