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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rye Whiskey - For All the Rye Reasons

By Steve Siciliano

In the Academy Award winning film The Lost Weekend (see trailer below), Ray Milan won an Oscar for his portrayal of an alcoholic writer who goes on a three-day drinking binge. Strictly from the perspective of a purveyor of packaged spirits, I find it interesting that the booze Milan’s character imbibed on his bender was cheap rye whiskey.

Until recently one would have a difficult time finding enough rye on liquor store shelves to get a good buzz on let alone fuel a weekend drinking spree. Rye at one time was the predominate whiskey in America, especially in the northeastern states, but after prohibition it gradually sank into obscurity. It is now being produced again by a small group of distillers and is making a small yet noticeable comeback.

In order for whiskey to be designated as “rye” in the United States it must be made from a mash consisting of at least 51% rye with corn and barley making up the remaining ingredients. It is distilled to no less than 80 proof and is aged in charred, new oak barrels. The preponderance of rye in the mash imparts distinctive, spicy notes to the whiskies that are noticeably drier than those made predominately from corn, wheat and barley. Siciliano’s currently has three rye whiskies from three different distilleries on the shelves: Jim Beam Rye ($19.97), Bulliet Rye ($25.95), and Redemption Rye, ($28.98). All come in 750ml sizes.

While it is doubtful that rye will ever replace Bourbon and blended American or Canadian whiskeys in popularity, its distinctive flavor offers a fine alternative, either as a straight sipper or as the main feature in a variety of classic cocktails.

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