In the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry met Sally, Meg Ryan fakes her climax then calmly takes a bite of her sandwich, what looks like a turkey on rye bread. Harry’s sandwich looks like the more traditional deli order, a corned beef on rye. I know, I know, the sandwiches are not what makes that scene memorable, but bear with me here…when I go into a Jewish-style deli, I want good rye bread (and corned beef, please), and nothing else will do. I love rye bread, and rye toast with butter and a fried egg is a comfort-food breakfast for me. So why don’t I like rye whiskey?
You regular readers know of my difficulty in coming up with adjectives when I go to whisky tastings (you complain about it often enough!). Describing a rye whiskey poses quite a challenge for me because I can’t really put my finger on what it is that turns me off…the spicy nuttiness? The slight anise tang? Maybe the dry tannic quality? I haven’t tried too many rye whiskies, so just like with scotch and bourbon, maybe I need a wider sample before I wall off an entire class of whiskey. With that thought in mind, I went to the Hochstadter’s Rye Party at Gordon’s DTX last night. I had my trepidations about tasting these rye expressions (not quite as bad as going to the dentist when I haven’t flossed enough…I know I’m not going to enjoy that experience), but I told myself to be open-minded. And just like with my Irish whiskey experience (see Expectations Upended), I was surprised. This rye was really quite good.
Before I get to my tasting notes, let’s talk a little bit about rye whiskey in general (oh boy, here we go…). According to that most respected of Internet sources, Wikipedia:
In the United States, “rye whiskey” is, by law, made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye. (The other ingredients of the mash are usually corn and malted barley.) It is distilled to no more than 160 U.S. proof (80% ABV), and aged in charred, new oak barrels. The whiskey must be put into such barrels at not more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV). Rye whiskey that has been so aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits may be further designated as “straight”, as in “straight rye whiskey”.
Canadian whisky is often referred to as “rye whisky”, since historically much of the content was from rye. There is no requirement for rye to be used to make whiskies with the legally identical labels “Canadian Whisky”, “Canadian Rye Whisky” or “Rye Whisky” in Canada, provided they “possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky”… most Canadian whiskies are blended to achieve this character, primarily consisting of a high-proof base whisky typically made from corn or wheat and aged in used barrels, together with a small amount of flavouring whisky made from a rye mash and distilled to a lower proof.
So far, so good. Next, I got a quick education about rye whiskey from Augie DeHainaut, one of our Whisky Wednesday crew at Gordon’s DTX and a good blogger, too. He said that many of the big-name brands of US-made rye whiskey are actually distilled by one company, MGP (Midwest grain products) out of Indiana, then blended and bottled under various brand names (such as Angel’s Envy, Bulleit Rye, and George Dickel Rye). What’s remarkable about this fact is that MGP’s mash bill is made of 95% rye (and 5% barley), so if you see MGP somewhere on a label, you know the taste will be predominantly rye. In contrast, The Canadian firm Alberta Distillers produces 100% rye grain whiskies that have a distinct grassy rye flavor, so you’ll have a much stronger rye flavor than the general Canadian whisky.
By the way, check out Augie’s blog Do not operate heavy machinery…random notes on alcoholic experiments for some very interesting reading!
Where was I going with this little dissertation? Oh yes…why I liked The Hochstadter’s rye whiskey. For that let’s jump into the tasting, shall we? (we thought you’d never get there!)
Here’s how Gordon’s introduced the event:
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rye is an American tradition revitalized. Inspired by the original “Rock and Rye” whiskey of the 1800’s, this whiskey will let you step back in time. Whiskey tended to be harsh and unaged so bartenders would serve rock candy alongside the cocktail or shot. Hochstadter’s played on this concept with its first launch of Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rye infused with raw honey from Pennsylvania, navel oranges from Florida and actual rock candy. It is the perfect amount of sweet and peppery spice from the rye. Along with this rock candy infused rye, we will also be pouring the Straight Rye 100 proof from the Hochstadter’s Family.
Hochstadter’s Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Proof
A blend of 4 finished whiskies 4-15 year olds sourced from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alberta (provides the heavier spice and finish), 50% ABV,
- Nose: cream, rye rises, light caraway
- Taste: oily, grass notes, rye picks up in the middle, sharpens up to anise
- Finish: white pepper rises, rye lingers in a soft way
- Comments: Surprisingly good! Has bourbon notes (vanilla, caramel) so rye isn’t overpowering, but do have those green flavors from the Alberta rye, well balanced
Hochstadter’s Rock and Rye Slow & Low Straight Rye Whiskey
It’s a cocktail in a bottle (rye whiskey, oranges, honey, rock candy, and Angostora bitters), 7% sugar by volume, no rye visible
- Nose: Strong orange, strong honey
- Taste: orange candy slices, creamy body, caramel underneath
- Finish: lemon at the end, sweet & sugary
- Comments: This so reminds me of the orange fruit gel slices that my late grandmother used to give me. Very sweet, but you can lessen the sweetness with a little ice.
Both of these expressions really changed my mind about rye, at least from this brand. Maybe it was this particular blend…the anise-nuttiness-spiciness wasn’t overpowering, letting the bourbon flavor shine (and I do like bourbon spiciness). The Rock and Rye was very good and I did buy it, especially for my husband who has quite the sweet tooth. The orange is so predominant that I really don’t notice the rest of the flavors. Also, the sugar tasted soft and natural, not the artificial sweetness of some flavored whiskies.
I like to be surprised, and I like that I can be adventurous and open-minded about trying new brands. I’m sure not all the experiences will turn out as good as this one did, but one can hope. Have you ever tried a new whisky, bourbon, or rye and been pleasantly surprised? Let me know about it in the comments. Who knows, maybe that will be my next trial!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!