The Tasting Panel magazine

Nov 09

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Page 71 of 92

From barrels, then bottles, rye made its mark in America's cocktail culture and resulted in such classics as the Vieux Carré, the Sazerac and the Ward 8. This in turn inspired Ogden Nash—who, fittingly enough, was raised in Rye, New York—to pen a poetic tribute to rye, with this 1945 excerpt from "A Drink With Something In It." It is worthy enough to recite to customers: There is something about an Old Fashioned, When dusk has enveloped the sky, And it may be the ice, Or the pineapple slice, But I strong suspect it's the rye. Although not the largest spirits category, rye has grown 12 percent this past year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Indeed, most back bars have long stocked such straight rye whiskey staples as the emi- nently mixable Jim Beam, the slightly bolder Old Overholt or San Francisco World Spirits Competition Gold Medal winner Wild Turkey. These are not only used for classic rye cocktails, but often replace a recipe's call for bourbon with the thicker, peppery-sweet tang of rye. And that has given way to a whole cat- egory of nuevo rye whiskeys, the likes of which Jesse James never drank. Although Fritz Maytag has long been producing Old Potrero Single Malt 18th Century Style Whiskey made from a pot-distilled 100% rye mash, one of the newest ultra-premiums is Beam's (rı) 1 (pronounced "rye one"), which is blended with younger rye whiskies especially for mixing. Its luxuriously light, dried fruit finish belies its 92 proof and made it a SFWSC Double Gold medal winner this year. Another Double Gold winner, Sazerac 18 Year Old, has a gentle, honeyed smokiness that showcases the complexity that is key to rye's newfound popularity as a sipping whiskey. Likewise, 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve is flowing with sweet, mellow oak that works in a shaker or straight. Even older is the 22- year old Hirsch Kentucky Straight Rye, with deep, resiny caramel and cedar nuances. But the granddaddy of them all is the just-released Rit- tenhouse Very Rare 25-Year Old, a single barrel, non-chill-filtered bottling that explodes in the mouth at 100 proof with multiple bursts of citrus, cherries, toffee and toasted marshmallows. No reason to add anything, except perhaps ice. To take advantage of the rye revo- lution, it pays to stock more than one brand, as no two are alike. "I prefer (rı) 1 for our Easy Classic Sazerac," says Head Bar Chef Josh Renfree of BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood, CA. "It has a smoothness that's very workable for me." On the other hand, mixologist Josh Steffen at Proof on Main in Louisville, KY, uses Old Overholt for his Manhattans. "It's a classic rye with good brown spices and a touch of fruitiness," he says. So set up the snifters, rethink those old rye recipes and conjure up some cocktails with America's most patri- otic pour. At BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood, Head Bar Chef Josh Renfree substitutes (rı) 1 for bourbon in his Rooibos Cherry Manhattan, which is made with Rooibos herbal tea from South Afr ica. "Normally I stir a Manhattan, but with this tea, it must be shaken," Renfree observes. The Manhattan, made with rye, as served in the 1910 ambiance of The Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. It was here that Dinah Shore made her singing debut in 1949. At the recently restored Majestic Café in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, bartender Sydney Ortega prepares a classic Vieux Carre, using Sazerac, cognac, B&B, sweet vermouth, and both Peychaud and Angostura bitters. november 2009 / the tasting panel /  71

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