The Every Guy’s Guide: Rye whiskey
There are many instances in life for which an expert opinion is absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t recommend consulting me instead of Dr. House, and I would hope that Beyond Petroleum doesn’t cite my columns for its deep sea drilling policy. For most things though, the knowledge put forth by an expert is of no use in your everyday life.
Each week I’ll be bringing you the practical information you need to confront some of our most typical needs. Where Bill Nye, Roger Ebert, and Tony Robbins fall short, I’ll be there to throw you a lifeline.
It’s Time To Expand Your Drinking Repertoire
When it comes to liquor, whiskey is one of the most complex spirits on the shelf. There are arguments about which base is best, what age is appropriate, and whose country is king. People can’t even agree upon how to spell the word (Whiskey – American/Irish, Whisky – Scotch/Canadian). Then you have those who add a bit of water versus those who consider it sacrilege, which inevitably leads to someone getting called a little girl and tears starting to flow. Now all of a sudden a delicious glass of whiskey contains hints of salt and sadness.
Most guys walk into the store wanting something new and interesting, but end up leaving with Jim, John, Jack, or Jamo. While the comfort of last week’s booty call is reassuring, the excitement of a new fling is much more appealing, and that’s exactly what rye whiskey is. Picking up something doesn’t have to be that complicated though. Contrary to what some guy with a bottle of 25 year-old single-malt stuck up his ass will tell you, it’s quite easy to describe whiskey. Is it good or bad? Does it burn? Does it mix well or should you just take it straight? These are the types of questions to which you want the answer before splurging on an unfamiliar bottle, not whether it contains whispering echoes of cinnamon.
The Essential Info
Rye whiskey is just now coming back into popularity, so most people aren’t very familiar with it. Prior to Prohibition, also known as Volstead’s Folly (only by me), rye whiskey was one of the most popular alcohols in the United States. Even our fearless leader George Washington used to distill his very own rye at Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, after the repeal of the No-Fun Act of 1920, the spirit never made a comeback. The popularity of bourbon took over the hearts and livers of America, and rye faded to near oblivion.
Whereas bourbon is sweet and scotch is smoky, rye is spicy. I don’t know if it was a desire for something new or the recent trend of making undesirable things cool (think hipsters), but rye has managed to start picking up steam in the past five years. If you go to your local liquor store, they probably don’t have many options, but at least it’s there. The upside to the new found revitalization is that those in-the-know can pretend that they are high class drinkers by ordering the seldom spoken of rye. The obvious downside though is that its limited availability tends to make it cost more than your average bottle of whiskey.
My Three Whiskeys
Like any booze, the prices range from “I’m not sure humans should consume that” to “Man, I wish I was rich.” Because this is the Every Guy’s Guide, we will stick to reasonably priced bottles. If Sazerac or Rittenhouse wants to send me a bottle of their good stuff though, I will certainly do a follow up to share some info about their upper tier collections with all of you. The three main ryes that I drink are Jim Beam Rye ($22), Wild Turkey 101 Proof Rye ($24), and Russel’s Reserve Rye – Small Batch 6 Year. ($33).These prices are in Chicago, so they are likely to be less elsewhere.
Wild Turkey Rye
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Wild Turkey? For me, it’s a hot whiskey that’s great for getting the job done and not much else. Well, the same feeling applies here, only this actually tastes good as well. From talking to others in my imaginary whiskey circle, it seems to be pretty hit or miss. This baby burns all the way through, and I think that’s a deal breaker for some. It is 101 proof after all though, so what do you expect? There is a whole lot of spiciness, and that really makes it stand out as compared to the Bourbon you’ve likely been drinking. I prefer it on the rocks because the ice takes a bit of the edge off without ruining the flavor. Because of its big taste, you can definitely mix it with fine results. If you have any ginger ale lying around from the last time you were sick, throw this one in there and enjoy.
Verdict: I wouldn’t run out and buy Wild Turkey Rye first, but if you find yourself enjoying rye whiskey, give it a shot. You won’t regret it. Also, if you are looking to get really redneck for a night, this for some reason gives me that feeling.
Russell’s Reserve Rye
This whiskey, also a member of the Wild Turkey family, was the first rye that I ever drank. It was at WhiskeyFest 2010 and once I tasted it I immediately knew I was a fan of ryes. My first comment to the Russell’s Reserve rep as he was spouting more knowledge than I could possibly retain after trying 90+ whiskeys in three hours was, “wow that’s smooth.” I know I promised that we would avoid technical terms, but I think anyone who’s had a drink knows what I’m talking about. I could have taken a big swig and not given any indication that I had just thrown back whiskey. Because of that, RRR is the rye I’m most likely to sip. No need for ice, no need to chill the glass, just pour and enjoy. I typically try to sit back and savor it, but the lingering spiciness causes me to always want to take another sip to restart the process. There is a little bit of burn to it as it goes down your throat, but not in the cheap liquor sort of way. It’s just enough to remind you that you’re a man, you drink whiskey straight, and you make no apologies for it.
Verdict: If you are willing to spend a little more the first time around, this is a great way to ease yourself into the world of rye. Sip it neat at room temperature or mix it into a stiff cocktail such as the Manhattan.
Jim Beam Rye
We’ve now reached the one-night stand of rye whiskeys. Jim Beam Rye is America’s #1 selling rye, and there’s a reason for that. It’s easy to drink. There’s a bit of burn, but the sensation only lasts as long as the booze is in your mouth. While some whiskeys have an aftertaste that lingers in your throat, this is here one second and gone the next. That may be because it doesn’t have a big powerful flavor like some others, or it could just be how Jimmy B likes his whiskey. In any case, I don’t find myself wanting to sit down and sip it so I’ve relegated it to cocktails. Don’t take that the wrong way though, it makes for a great drink. Next time you feel like spending a night putting back Jack and Cokes, give this rye a shot instead
Verdict: The fleeting joy from this by-the-hour lover makes it a great choice for cocktails. If you are still hesitant to jump on the rye bandwagon, this may be the perfect way to start. It’s low price and range of suitable mixers makes it a good low-risk option.
Signature Drink: The Flint Manhattan
I got it into my head last year that I wanted to bring back the old-school cocktail. Given my new affinity for rye whiskey, the Manhattan seemed like a logical choice. I tried dozens of different combinations, but ended up with this recipe that is pretty close to traditional. It’s currently my go-to drink, and unless a bar has a Manhattan specifically listed on their menu, I will request it made just as I like it.
1 ounce Sweet Red Vermouth
2 dash Angostura Bitters
Pour into mixing glass filled with ice and stir.
Strain into chilled lowball glass. Drink. Repeat.
There are a couple key things to note here. While I know Manhattans are traditionally served in a cocktail glass, I think part of the reason that cool classic cocktails are out of style is because men don’t want to be seen drinking from stemmed glassware. Maybe we’re still insecure after years of our women watching Sex and the City and drinking Cosmos; I don’t know. I simply throw my glass in the freezer for a couple minutes beforehand and that does the trick perfectly. Also, don’t even think about putting a cherry in your drink. There is no reason to ruin your perfectly crafted cocktail by sinking a syrup bomb into it.
And there you have it folks, the Every Guys’ Guide to Rye Whiskey with no signs of words like hint, nose, or tone. Is this going to cure your stage fright when you find yourself in the aisles of your local liquor emporium? Probably not, but it might help you at least reach for something different for once in your life. Give these a shot and report back on your findings. Everyone’s taste in whiskey is different, so bitch if you must. Conversely, you could always give a suggestion of your own for people to try.
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