Have you ever tried a new spirit and been pleasantly surprised? I know I was when I learned I enjoyed rye whiskey, like Hochstadter's Slow & Low Rye
Rye bread vs. rye whiskey
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)...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 couldn't really put my finger on what it is that turned me off…the spicy nuttiness? The slight anise tang? Maybe the dry tannic quality? I hadn’t tried too many rye whiskies, so just like with scotch and bourbon, maybe I needed a wider sample before I walled off an entire class of whiskey. With that thought in mind, I went to the Hochstadter’s Rye Party at Gordon’s DTX. 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, I was surprised. This rye was really quite good.
Here comes the talkin'...
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 are usually corn and malted barley)
- Distilled to no more than 160 U.S. proof (80% ABV)
- Aged in charred, new oak barrels, and put into barrels at not more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV)
- Can be called "straight rye whiskey" if it has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits
- 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" provided they "possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky"
- Most Canadian whiskies are blended from a mash 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 whisky made from a rye mash and distilled to a lower proof.
But wait, there's more...
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!
To the whiskey then...
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!)
A bit of background from Gordon's: (i)nspired by the original “Rock and Rye” whiskey of the 1800’s when whiskey tended to be harsh and unaged, bartenders would serve rock candy alongside the cocktail or shot. Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rye is 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. (sounds yummy!)
Hochstadter’s Slow and Low Rye Party
At Gordon’s DTX, June 7, 2017
Hochstadter’s Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Proof
- 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, carameso 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
- 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.
I like it. I really like it!
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, even to say that I like rye whiskey. 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!