Resurgence of Rye



So one request that you will hear at most bars these days are for a classic American spirit, Rye Whiskey; yes, American Rye Whiskey. So, if we’re going to talk about Rye whiskey’s resurgence, first we have to set a ground rule. While Canadians may like to refer to their style of whiskey as “Rye”, it’s an antiquated term and it has virtually no similarity to the types of true Ryes that have always been made in the US. No, today we’re speaking solely about the real deal – American Rye whiskey made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye.

Now, Rye whiskey rose to popularity in the early days of the US, when it replaced rum imported from the Caribbean because of the prevalence of grain in the new world. Now, Americans could make their own locally grown and produced, tasty booze. Traditionally aged in charred oak barrels ; it had a lighter body than bourbon, with a spicy or fruity note depending on the producer. It was THEE style of whiskey in the US especially in the Northeast, until Prohibition put it in a sort of time-out and Americans kinda forgot about it. They moved on to what was available, which often happened to be Canadian whisky, and when prohibition was repealed, tastes had simply changed. Rye was considered an old man’s drink – ya know, for squares. Even the staunchest of  whiskey advocates had moved on to corn-based whiskey made in the south – where most American whiskey producers had fled during the dry-period. After that, the song remained the same for decades.

In an interview with Imbibe Magazine, Larry Kass, he’s director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill,who make three different brands of Rye out of Bardstown: Rittenhouse, Pikesville Supreme and Stephen Foster, he told Imbibe that , “We [spilled] more bourbon in a day, than we [sold] Rye in a year.”

So what brought it back? In an era of designer vodkas and house-infused gins, what has led Americans to rediscover the old toy in the back of their closets?

The first thing to keep in mind is that just like clothing fashion, booze fashion is cyclical. Spirits go in and out of style. Vodka had it’s heyday in the early 1990s, then rum in the late 90’s, then bourbon and now its  Rye’s time once again.

Some people trace the beginning of the resurgence to Old Potrero Rye. Made in 1996 by  San Francisco’s Anchor-Distilling, the same company that brews Anchor Steam Beer,  Potrero was a throwback to the Rye’s of old and won serious acclaim in the spirits world. The press it garnered seemed to push bartenders to rediscover the top brands in the Rye business like Michter’s and Van Winkle (love their bourbon) while helping with the building of a modern brand like Bulliet.

Of course the Liquor press can only get you so far with consumers. So, much of the spread of Rye’s new popularity came from the large-market-city bartenders and mixologists who began using rye again. Whether it was creating new concoctions or simply going “old-school” by showing people what a sazerac is or how a Manhattan really should taste, they’re the ones who slowly got the word out about what people were missing.

And finally, probably another factor; you can never underestimate the power of popular culture, AMC’s Mad Men, has to have had some kind of hand in the process as well. When Don Draper, the coolest man on TV, orders an Old-Fashioned in every other episode, which of course, even if its probably made with bourbon, it is making whats old, new again. it’s no wonder hipsters are hitting up their local watering hole with a new favorite cocktail.

Written By: Jared Harmon of B&B Ristorante

Edited by: Adam Rains of Las Vegas Cocktail Weekly



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