The Inexplicable Mystery Of American Rye Whiskey:
July 3, 2002 4:00 AM   Subscribe

The Inexplicable Mystery Of American Rye Whiskey: Almost nobody drinks it! It's arguably the best American spirit there is. It's great straight and indispensable in such classic American cocktails such as the Manhattan, the Whiskey Sour, the Old-Fashioned and the Sazerac[Chuq's MeFi recipe is my favourite.] Thanks to the dedication of a few master distillers, it's currently being revived. And yet...[More inside]
posted by MiguelCardoso (43 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
And yet... despite the ever-growing number of straight ryes now available, very few people buy it; it's almost impossible to find in even the best cocktail bars(where rye is criminally substituted by bourbon or a Canadian blend)and I'll bet the great majority of drinkers have never even tasted its dry and spicy delights[Scroll down a bit,] What can the matter be? Are Americans so obsessed with imports and the most hyped domestic brands that they now neglect one of their greatest and most original contributions to the art of drinking? Say it ain't so![My favourite brands are the 18-year-old Sazerac, the 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve and, for cocktails and highballs, Wild Turkey. My dream is to one day get my hands on a bottle of Old Potrero Single Malt, the only 100% rye whiskey available.]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:05 AM on July 3, 2002

off topic I know, but I think this started from my Canada Day thread?

Twas a good celebration. Hundreds of Canadians, street cordoned off, and I met some great people and had a great time. Sad to say I drank only Belgian beer as a case of Moosehead was £55.

Got royally twatted and am looking forward to next year
posted by Frasermoo at 4:11 AM on July 3, 2002

Rye is the One True Brown Liquor, and anybody who sez different I'll take out into the back alley and thrash like a dirty carpet.

Canadian rye, natch. Mother's milk.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:11 AM on July 3, 2002

Hmmm. Ancient Age makes a pretty darn tasty mass-market rye, in case you live in the States and want to hit the local liquor store for a bottle. Try it with soda and go way easy on the ice.

I'm mostly an Irish-whiskey drinker (hey, I like my Powers) but rye beats bourbon hands down.
posted by alumshubby at 4:19 AM on July 3, 2002

I tried rye whiskey last weekend. It was the Jim Beam brand (y'know, the little yellow bottle), and I was surprised to find that the rye is much smoother than "normal" Jim Beam. (Not to mention the single-batch bourbons I usually drink, which weigh in at 120+ proof.)

The bartender (at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis) told me that they special-order the rye for one regular customer, who drinks it with ginger ale. Ten minutes later, she came back and told me that it was, in fact, that same "regular customer" who had just selected Cheap Trick's "Surrender" on the jukebox. I heard the song, but didn't see anyone by the jukebox.

Rye whiskey. There you go.
posted by subgenius at 4:27 AM on July 3, 2002

Arguably being the key word here.

It was the Jim Beam brand (y'know, the little yellow bottle), and I was surprised to find that the rye is much smoother than "normal" Jim Beam.

As a very big Jim Beam white-label fan I'm afraid I'll have to denounce you as a communist sympathizer or heretic or something. Of course, I think the black label is far better that the white.
posted by revbrian at 4:32 AM on July 3, 2002

When I still drank (I know I know), Rye's and single-barrel bourbons were king. Now it's a snifter of home-made apple cider vinegar.
posted by anathema at 5:14 AM on July 3, 2002

Don't forget that Rye was the original kick to Mint Juleps too, before Derby Day and Bourbon co-opted it.
posted by trox at 5:30 AM on July 3, 2002

"Want some rye? 'Course ya do."
posted by majick at 5:52 AM on July 3, 2002

Rye was Jack Webb's (and "Joe Friday"s) tipple of choice. I remember seeing him order a rye & soda on "Dragnet", and my mom commented that rye was a cheap whiskey and tasted like (bad word). I'd never tried the stuff as a result, but I will now, as I'm curious.

I'm usually a bourbon does rye compare, taste-wise?
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:19 AM on July 3, 2002

Three cheers to Miguel for another one of his wonderful "Tribute to Booze" posts! Are you just working your way across your bar, Miguel?
posted by briank at 6:26 AM on July 3, 2002

isnt anyone a friend of Bill W.?
posted by clavdivs at 6:34 AM on July 3, 2002

Hey, Alumshubby — I just got back from Ireland and was floored by the quality of Powers — soooooo smooth and tasty! We brought some back but I’m trying to find some in the States. Where are you located? Where have you found luck finding Powers?
posted by mimi at 6:37 AM on July 3, 2002

FYI--I just blogged a piece on the secrets and history of bourbon.
posted by NortonDC at 6:40 AM on July 3, 2002

You guys should cruise down to New Orleans, where almost every bar carries Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey. Sooooooo tasty with a splash.
posted by chino at 6:43 AM on July 3, 2002

And I wasn't making fun of mimi; I actually stretched out my "so" independently.
posted by chino at 6:44 AM on July 3, 2002

Don't worry, clav, Miguel's evidently on his way. It is in fact intervention time. Miguel's Hopped-Up Licker Linkz: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Actually, all together, they read like a fabulous drunken Hemingway novella.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:55 AM on July 3, 2002

Friend of Bill W? Hell I played Bridge with Bill W. and Dr. Bob.

Sorry. Not much I can add to the thread. I'm allergic to alcohol. I break out in fights.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:34 AM on July 3, 2002

Don't forget that Rye was the original kick to Mint Juleps too, before Derby Day and Bourbon co-opted it.

Thanks, trox. That certainly makes Kentucky sense. I'll be rye-ing a julep tonight. The problem, here in Portugal and Europe in general, is that dependable Old Overholt(which actually has more rye than the expensive brands)and Jim Beam straight rye are nowhere to be found. So rye whiskies are very expensive, about double the price of a bottle of Maker's Mark or JD.

I have the bill for my latest rye purchase, bought last May in Lisbon's wonderful Whisky and Co shop, just for comparison purposes:

Wild Turkey 101º - €35.05
Sazerac 18 YO - €51.30
Van Winkle Res 13YO €31.34
Gentleman Jack €21.00

(One euro is about one $US dollar).

It's true that rye is wonderful with club soda and ginger ale, but it's too expensive to highball so people use bourbon and sip rye straight, making it last, as you would an old cognac.

I see from the U.S. price lists that the price of a very decent rye(Old Overholt is about $16)is cheaper than the worst bourbon and that the very best ryes(except for Old Potrero which is $70, even though it's only 3 or 4 years old!) are about the same price as the second-best small-batch unfiltered, cask strength "boutique" bourbons.

So, at least seen from here, it pays to drink rye in America. I wonder whether the law of demand and supply isn't at work there, as there do seem to be a lot of sellers for very few buyers.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:53 AM on July 3, 2002

I happened to be enjoying a rare snort of my favorite bourbon, the sublime Elijah Craig, as I read Miguel's tribute to Rye. I think that the reason most American's don't drink rye is that it sounds like something from a lame-ass cowboy movie, and if you ordered it, you might have to defend yourself against ridicule. I have bought Beam Rye once, but I'll give it another go if Miguel is so passionate.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:58 AM on July 3, 2002

It is in fact intervention time.

Heh, you beat me to it. This month in Reader's Digest: "I'm Miguel's Kidney!"
posted by rushmc at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2002

Rye rye rye. mmmmmmm. It does tend to get me in trouble, though. There are a couple of fantastic small-batch canadian ryes out there, including but not limited to lot 40 and pike creek. For more info
posted by sauril at 8:27 AM on July 3, 2002

I'll drink it next time I drive my Chevy to the levy and I kick it with them good ol' boys. (Someone had to make the gratuitous American Pie comment)
posted by Bag Man at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2002

But Bag Man, why does McLean sing they're drinking whiskey and rye? I've never understood that bit. Or any of the others, come to think of it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2002


Perhaps McLean had a little too much Rye Whiskey when he wrote the song.
posted by Bag Man at 9:18 AM on July 3, 2002

Can someone confirm this:

7. The song American Pie has the lines "Drove my Chevy to the Levy, but the Levy was dry... Them good old boys were drinking whisky in Rye.." The Levy was a bar and Rye is a small city in New York. Most people think the levee is the thing that holds water back and rye is the liquor.

Sounds dubious to me.
posted by anathema at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2002

Or more likely he doesn't know rye from a buzzard's eye. In any case, this song is much better, if drowning cows in rye still means something nowadays. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:30 AM on July 3, 2002

anathema, according to Don McLean, the author of American Pie, the lyrics are:

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ol' boys were drinkin whiskey and rye
Singing "This'll be the day that I die,
This'll be the day that I die."

Via The Annotated American Pie.

And now, I return you to your regularly scheduled boozy thread. :)
posted by dejah420 at 9:47 AM on July 3, 2002

Whiskey = bad bad hangover.

It tastes horrid as well (to me anyway) and that's why I don't drink it.
posted by mark13 at 10:12 AM on July 3, 2002

uisce is God's Gift to his chosen..... the name comes from the Gaelic for "Water of Life".....

And, Powers is amazing. In the Atlanta area, you can find it at Sherlocks on the north side (hwy 120 or Barrett pkwy).
posted by dwivian at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2002

Update on Don McClean:

My father comes from his town (Don McClean was a year older) and they both went to Resurrection, a Catholic boys school in Rye New York.
My vote: Whiskey in Rye
posted by goneill at 10:52 AM on July 3, 2002

Except I just spelled his name wrong, twice. (I'm so uncool) Sorry
posted by goneill at 10:53 AM on July 3, 2002

Mimi -- since I know you're here in Milwaukee, try Gilbert's on Oakland or Discount Liquor for Powers. I think Downer Liquor and Otto's up on Oakland also carry it. It's not as hard to find as it used to be.

I've also noticed a lot more pubs around here are carrying it. I know for sure that Paddy's, the Harp and County Clare all have it.

Uh... not that I spend a lot of time with my whiskey, mind you. :)
posted by aine42 at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2002

This month in Reader's Digest: "I'm Miguel's Kidney!"

Next month: "I used to be Miguel's liver"

Seriously Miguel, 35 for Wild Turkey? It's a cool liquor store, but do they ship it over to Portugal in first-class seats instead that cargo?

I have to check out my neighborhood store, but that seems pretty steep. I only spend that much money for Grey Goose, but that's another DrunkFilter thread I'm afraid.
posted by matteo at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2002

I know, matteo. The funny thing is that you can get plain Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Four Roses or Wild Turkey for $12-13 and Maker's Mark for $15. It's *sob*just the rye that's expensive. Perhaps it has something to do with the European Union's taxes on alcohol proof as most ryes are in the 90-100(45-50º)range...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:49 AM on July 3, 2002

This thread is so much happier than the one a few posts towards the top. A lot of anger in there.

Not much of a drinker, but did sample some single malts in Scotland under the tutelage of a connoisseur. Was a pleasant experience.

Have a nice holiday all.

Cya Monday
posted by a3matrix at 11:52 AM on July 3, 2002

the Sazerac [Chuq's MeFi recipe is my favourite.]

Why thank you, sir.

Miguel, have you been able to find a bottle of Peychaud's bitters? If not, email me. I can help.

Getting back to the previously mentioned thread ... as much as I like Amer Picon, I can't imagine it as a Peychaud's substitute. (I prefer it in a Picon Punch, or a Picon-Limón.) Peychaud's has a lovely, fruity, cherry-like quality on top of its spiciness and bitterness that's almost impossible to duplicate. I'm afraid I'm rather insistent on Sazeracs always being made with Peychaud's -- if you try to substitute something else I'll probably have to send you a bottle. :-)

We use Overholt as our "house rye", 'cause it's really tasty and very affordable, but I'm also becoming fond of another couple of top-shelf ryes -- the aforementoined Pappy Van Winkle, and A. H. Hirsch's 13-Year-Old, which I think I prefer to the Van Winkle. 'Spensive, though.

As much as I respect Martin Doudoroff and his rye tasting event, I must disagree with his assessment of Sazerac 18-Year-Old rye. I found it to be big and rich and complex, spicy and absolutely lovely. In fact, we found it to be a bit overwhelming in a Sazerac, which led me to compensate by adding a bit more bitters. The Sazerac Company, understandably proud of its product, has apparently altered their "official" Sazerac cocktail recipe to include this rye.

By the way, Martin and Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh are working on what's already proving to be an amazing site that grew from the old drinks database. CocktailDB already has 4,733 cocktail recipes in its database, all of which are authenticated from reliable published sources going back over 100 years (rather than the myriad Jägermeister-and-anything frat-boy concoctions that plague The Webtender. The ingredients database, although unfinished, is already astonishingly comprehensive as well as being a bit of a museum. When it's all finished, it'll be a truly monumental resource.

Read the CocktailDB manifesto, and for more cocktail chat please come by the Community for the Cultured Cocktail (which I wish wasn't on MSN, but it is).
posted by chuq at 12:06 PM on July 3, 2002

No, thank you chuq. Wow. Aren't knowledge, experience and generosity the most wonderful things! I did try several Sazerac recipes - I gather the Herbsaint isn't indispensable, then? - and yours, even with Angostura and without Peychaud's, was the most delectable.

So I'm definitely ordering myself six bottles of Peychaud's tomorrow, after seeing that Sazerac Company link. They should last me a lifetime. As your other links will.

Cheers a million times, chuq!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:25 PM on July 3, 2002

This is my kind of post. God Bless You, Miguel.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:55 PM on July 3, 2002

aine42: you rock!! Thanks much, I will. Didn’t realize it was so common.
[Looks up aine42 profile...] Anne? OMG. I know you. Small Internet!
posted by mimi at 2:16 PM on July 3, 2002

Mimi -- No problem. I'm here to help. And congrats on your engagement. :)
posted by aine42 at 2:59 PM on July 3, 2002

Thanks! :-) Say Hi to Joel and Tammy and Laura!
posted by mimi at 5:14 PM on July 3, 2002

During one of our long-ago drunken jaunts through Europeland many years ago, my rye-whiskey-only buddy The Bearman and I found a dusty old bottle of Seagram's VO in a crappy little booze shop deep in a backalley in Rome, for about 12 bucks, which was cheaper than it was in Canada.

We carried it like a holy relic back to the youth hostel, and drank it in the bar in the basement with some wackjob Tasmanian guy. There was much rejoicing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:25 PM on July 3, 2002

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