In the Spirit: Rye... or Rye Not?

by Kristen Siebecker

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 12, 2014

With a bit of chill in the air throughout most of the county, you may want to opt for a cocktail that warms you up -- and if you want to stay on trend, consider American rye.

If you imbibe in the brown spirits, you've likely been drinking all kinds of soft and sweet bourbons, peaty Scotch or some Irish, Canadian or Japanese whiskey (or all three). American rye is now returning to the forefront and there are more small batch, quality producers than ever.

The drier, spicy, peppery cousin of bourbon is coming on strong in the "everything old is new again" sprit and cocktail renaissance. Rye has a long-standing American history including President George Washington making his own rye (with a mash bill of 60 percent rye) as well as being used as a mainstay in every bar in the early 1900s -- before prohibition, of course.

Rye production is similar to bourbon (see previous article, In the Spirit: Bourbon), with the major exception of the grain used. To be called rye, the mash bill (defined by Whisky Magazine as the proportion of different grains used for mashing) must be at least 51 percent rye. The rest of the mash bill could be made up of other grains such as corn, barley or wheat.

There are huge differences in smell, flavor, texture and taste of different kinds of rye. Think of the difference between the smell and taste of corn bread versus rye bread. Rye imparts a drier taste with deep, earthy, peppery aromatics and flavor. But rye flavor profiles can really run the gamut: some have bold spices that are terrific for cocktails and others are soft and round, better for sipping.

For the continuously trendy world of cocktails, rye is quintessential. A proper Manhattan or Old Fashioned should be made with rye, although these have often been made with bourbon in modern times. If you try these with rye, it will change your perspective on these classic cocktails.

EDGE offers three unique picks to stock your home bar.

Breuckelen 77 Rye and Corn

Located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Breuckelen Distilling is adding to the recent history of New York State’s licensed distillation fever not only with this rye but also with their bourbon and "Glorious" gins. They are taking distillation to the future and beyond. They use grains only made in New York and mostly by their farmer, Thor, located outside Ithaca (who is pictured on Breuckelen’s website). This has a mash bill of 90 percent rye and 10 percent corn, which brings a whiff of banana bread component to the nose and the flavor profile. The corn softens the rye spice and combined with the oak to round out this tasty sipper.

Breuckelen 77 Rye and Corn
$46, 750ml

Redemption Rye

Redemption starts with rye from the Midwest, is distilled in Indiana and bottled in Kentucky. It has a 95 percent premium rye mash bill and is aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels. Redemption is bottled in small, hand-numbered batches, and features a mostly youthful note of cinnamon along with caraway and even a little mint -- it is a perfect rye for your classic cocktail.

One general rule is to use ryes that don’t have as much age for cocktails since they tend to be a bit harsher, while the other ingredients of the cocktail recipe balance it to make the perfect drink.

Redemption Rye
$27, 750ml

Corsair Ryemadeddon

Corsair takes their spirit-making seriously, but also celebrates the saucy side of the business, as the website states, "Booze for Badasses." Ranked as the best Craft distillery of the year in 2013 by Whisky Magazine, Corsair makes their goods out of rye from Bowling Green, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.

This American rye whiskey is distilled from a mash of 80 percent malted rye and 20 percent chocolate rye, aged in new charred oak. The innovators at Corsair, Andrew Webber and Darek Bell, are really throwing everything at the consumer and making it super fun. This rye adds to their unconventional offerings such as Quinoa Whiskey and Pumpkin Spice Moonshine.

Ryemageddon is the aged version of their "Wry Moon," rye white whiskey and offers a flavor profile to interest newbies and experts alike. It has a super racy nose of baking spices and milk chocolate and finishes with a hint of mint on the palette.

Corsair Ryemageddon
$59, 750ml

Kristen Siebecker is a Certifed Sommelier and lover of cocktails. She is the co-host of I Feel Vine, a weekly podcast about the power of positive drinking. She also hosts recreational wine classes under the title, Popping Your Cork. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at @WineWithKristen.

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