While many people view July as an opportunity to take a break from drinking, we think if you’re not abstaining, then why not turn a Dry July into a Rye July.
Rye Whiskey has a wonderful spicy, dry and almost dark flavour to it that brings a whole new level to cocktails. Yet unlike its other whisk(e)y cousins, the characteristics of Rye can often overwhelm or alienate drinkers who are more accustomed to sweeter, smoother spirits.
Over the years, Rye whiskey has featured in several cocktail recipes, from timeless classics to modern creations that all offer extraordinary, complex flavours. It is a spirit that strikes a good balance between being flavourful enough that it doesn’t get lost behind other ingredients, while not being so overpowering that it takes over.
The thing about Rye is that while it’s signature spice will always let you know it’s there; it is still an amazingly versatile style of whisk(e)y. A lot of the original classics from back in the 1800s used Rye as their base. Whether you’re talking about the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or a Sazerac, you’ll find that Rye was the ingredient with which they were initially designed to be mixed.
The Rise, Fall and Rise Again Of Rye
When you think of Rye, you tend to think of American Rye whiskies. Historically, Rye whiskey was the most prevalent whiskey in the northeastern states. But Rye was a more costly whiskey to make than Bourbon, so after Prohibition, it largely disappeared.
A favourite of fictional detectives like Philip Marlowe, Rye took on a rather hard edge in popular culture during the 20th century. Especially in Hollywood film of the day, it went from everyone’s favourite whiskey to what drunkards and layabouts drank on their never-ending quest for a quick, cheap fix.
Everything moves in cycles and in recent years, Rye popularity has been on the upswing. It went from the favourite tipple in every 1930s gangster’s hipflask to being the darling of bartenders and consumer who were looking for something more adventurous.
Today, it’s not just the US which produces good quality Rye Whiskey. In Canada and places as far off as the Netherlands and Australia, Rye is being produced by some fantastic distillers.
So What Is Rye?
The rules for when a spirit can be called a rye and the bottle guidelines are the same as those for a bourbon, with one crucial difference: Instead of using at least 51 percent corn as the base grain, distillers substitute rye.
Here are some other parameters an American whiskey-maker must follow in order to call it rye on the bottle:
- It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels
- It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80 percent abv)
- It must be put into the barrel at no higher than 125 proof (62.5 percent abv)
- It must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40 percent abv)
- “Straight” rye must be aged at least two years. If it is aged less than four years, the bottle should carry an age statement. If a bottle labelled “straight rye” lists no age, it should be at least four years old. Many distillers who release bottles of rye aged more than four years will tell you that, though, even if they don’t have to.
Rye In The Mix
Rye has often played second fiddle to its closest cousin, bourbon, ever since U.S. corn production increased in the decades following Prohibition. Yet with its spicy, full-bodied taste, the spirit has been steady making a comeback on cocktail menus across the world in the last decade.
Rye cocktails can be as simple or as complex as you like. Rye can be either dressed up with sugar and bitters, or mix in with a variety of liqueurs, aromatized wines, and fresh juices.
Ulytimately Rye is makes a great cocktail base as it carries more weight on the palete, so the resulting drink will have a little more complexity to it, rather than just being ‘sweet’.