Secrets of Rye!

As in every single industry, there are trends in the bar life that develops and disappear every year. Some will last weeks, some years, some will be a proper rebirth. I’m talking here about home-made bitters, flavoured vodkas, barrel aged cocktails and so on… Some are not new. Some are rediscoveries. And I am talking here about… Rye Whiskey! Until a couple of years ago, not many bartenders would have been able to talk you through the upsell of your Manhattan to a rye. As we know, until early 2000’s, it was hard to get a proper Manhattan, including bitters. It’s only been about 10 years that bartenders came back to respecting traditional old school recipes, and using rye, as the originally prescribed.Image

So a quick analyse of this return to Rye whiskeys. The interesting flavour profile developed by the darker cereal is a reason good enough. But, as cocktail bars are opening every month all around the biggest cities in the world, there are more and more true, professional bartenders, with real skills and proper knowledge .Concurrence is around the corner, and you need to make a difference in your products, and chat. The return to old recipes, the respect of traditions long lost, and the clear (and justified) will to show off the skills (come on, you know it’s true), partially explains the recent booming of the sales in rye. Professionals can, and will, judge a good cocktail bar (also) by the selection of Rye. On the customer point of view, it becomes easier to awake their curiosity on what is known as a “grown-ups” spirit. You know, that average Joe with his date on a Tuesday early afternoon in your bar, well, he recently understood that ordering a cosmo or a pina colada for himself will not help him marking virility points.Image

A very basic legal reminder of the legal term for Rye. There are several categories with different legal requirements for each one of them.  Rye whiskey and straight Rye don’t have geographical boundaries within the US, just like bourbon. Also, Rye whiskey needs to be distilled from a mash made of at least 51% of rye, and just like bourbons it must have been aged at least 2 years in brand new charred oak barrels. To get the appellation “straight Rye”, it must be distilled at no more than 80% ABV (160 proof), and barrelled for ageing at a strength above 62,5% ABV. This will guarantee the preservation of the flavours during distillation and the strength of the spirit after several years of ageing.  Image

Canadian Whiskeys are usually believed to be the same thing as Ryes. That is just a misunderstood. They do contain rye, but in lesser proportions. The base is usually a corn spirit then blended with another whiskey that will act as flavouring. If you do make a tasting you notice they are less challenging, not as bold as their American counter parts.

Now rye is to cereal pretty much what pepper is to seasoning. It will give these spicy notes, boldness to the spirit that makes it more interesting for expert opened palates. The regulations on distilling and ageing make everything to guarantee a fully developed flavour, and it makes a truly significant impact as an ingredient for your classics. The product is bolder, spicier, less sweet, more complex. Just as you will find the difference between a smooth grey goose wheat based vodka, and a Belvedere rye vodka, the same applies to whiskeys. Wheat and corn predominant mashes will give you softer, more approachable spirits. You can even feel the difference trying 2 different types of bourbons. Both largely corn based, but one with more wheat (Maker’s Marks) and another with more rye (Woodford’s Reserve). The difference is notable.

How to drink it:

Rye can be drunk the way you want it. A bit of ice will help opening the flavours. They usually are at a higher ABV than average, so you might want to go easy on your little taste buds. If you are to mix it, or use it in cocktails, be reasonable. Go for classics, and don’t overdo it. No need to go crazy, you want to enjoy the thing at its best. Go for classics, pre prohibition, golden age, archaic era… And just to make it clear, Manhattans are to be made with Rye. And I insist on Rye there, and even if a bourbon, or a Canadian whiskey will do, keep it as a second choice, it just won’t be the same. These classics where born like this. In fact, before the spectacularly failed noble experiment (Prohibition), Rye whiskey was THE stuff. Not only to show around your knowledge and pair of balls, but if you open any old school cocktail book, you will see it mentioned specifically. RYE, not bourbon, nor Canadian whiskey, nor whatever. RYE! For a good reason. Try a Blinker (rye, grapefruit juice, grenadine, straight up) with Canadian Club. Nothing exceptional. Now try it with Sazerac, or Russel’s reserve. Dude! You know it’s the stuff. And the stuff had issues getting back on every bar’s shelves after the Volstead Act was repealed. Well that’s what we are here for. Making sure our patrons imbibe themselves with potable poison. Educate the drinking, expand the flavour horizons…Image

 

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