Rye whisky was once a staple of the American liquor cabinet. Today, it seems a novelty, or at best a tiny niche.
As it happens, I am part of an expedition headed out to an old moonshiner's cabin next weekend, and want to honor ol' Harvey by drinking something close to what he was known for, which was rye whisky. At the local licquor store, I could only find two types - one a European, very expensive, the other a Wild Turkey 101 varietal, more reasonably priced. I'll be sampling it for the first time upon arrival there.
Anybody have any experience or knowledge about rye spirits they care to share?
EDIT: Upon further research, found some tasting notes, sounds like this might be better than I thought it would be. And there's a couple of drinks in there for JMad to learn.
...Which is how we came to talk about Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey. Why do you make a rye, I asked. The answer was pure Jimmy Russell: "Well, I guess because we always have. People like it." The Rye is made pretty much like the bourbon, except there is about 65% rye in it (along with about 23% corn and 12% barley malt). I say "about" because Jimmy doesn't hold with giving out exact figures, or too much information in general. The rye's not a big seller -- no rye is, these days -- and they make pretty much all they need in one day a year of distilling. http://www.epinions.com/review/pr-Wild_Turkey_Rye_101_proof/fddk-review-1843-339B9C0-391B7211-prod1
Wild Turkey's Rye comes at the familiar 101 proof/50.5% alcohol by volume. The gorgeous hunter green label really sticks out on a shelf, and if you see this in a bar, take my advice: get it. Someone at the bar loves you, and has left this gift for you.
Open it up, and let's have a look. You can see that this is six year old whiskey; it's much darker than the 4 YO Jim Beam Rye, a dark amber. The nose is sweet, yet spicy and restrained. You can get some light leather notes, sour cherry or maybe blackberry, and a good dose of the mother grain itself, like a slice of rye bread. It's an earthy, solid aroma, makes you think of the steppes and broad fields of eastern Europe, where this spirit has its roots.
Taste the soothing fire. Rye is never subtle and will never be lovingly called "smoooooooooth." This is a drink for people who want something more than smooth. Yet while the explosion of zesty rye is detonated on your tongue, there is a big pillow of hot, 101 proof honey slapping down all around it, the hallmark of Wild Turkey whiskeys. This stuff goes absolutely vaporous in the mouth, fuming whiskey body and flavor like a cognac. It is rich, it is snappy, it is crisp and expansive. The rye comes on big in the aftertaste, along with a surprising thrill of peppermint. You know you've been drinking whiskey.
Try rye. I urge you. This was America's spirit, even before bourbon was, and it has been left behind, almost wiped out by Prohibition. Experience its fiery power and sweet soul. Try the classic Rye Presbyterian -- rye, ginger ale, and lots of ice in a tall glass -- or the Horse's Neck -- a spiral-peeled lemon zest trailed down the side of a tumbler, filled with ice, a double shot of rye, and topped off with ginger ale. Great hot weather drinks, and rye and ginger ale have a tremendous synergy.
I have a lot to say about rye whiskey in general, and I will probably say it in an upcoming review of Jim Beam Rye. For now, focus is the key: Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey is an incredibly good whiskey at any price, full of flavor, a boldly sophisticated drink that gives any single malt a good run for its money. At the price you are asked to pay, it is a laughingly great bargain. If you don't know rye, here's a graduate level education in a glass.