Rye is the best way to warm up in the winter...
A friend of mine once described drinking rye was like having a "mouthful of pennies." Unfortunately, when I heard this I thought of the "rusty coin." This "rusty coin" is also a less-than-flattering way of describing oral sex with a woman - having her period. Obviously, I find my friend's description of rye whiskey's taste disturbing. Although I have not experienced the "rusty coin," I can say that the taste of rye whiskey is nothing like having a "mouthful of pennies" and does not bring to mind such repulsive things. I admit that this was the wrong way to start this post, however, I always have that statement in the back of my mind whenever I drink rye. With each sip I search for the answer to the question: "where did he get that taste?"
I've mentioned in previous posts my love of rye - as both a beer and whiskey grain. Rye Whiskey, as previously mentioned, was actually the preferred whiskey in the U.S. prior to Prohibition. Even George Washington, our nation's first President, distilled his own rye. There's a bit more to the history than that but it's easiest to describe it like this: the largest population densities in the U.S. were in the Northeast, with a lot of Central and Eastern European immigrants, and they preferred rye (both the grain and whiskey). Washington's rye precedes the influx of Central and Eastern European immigrants so those two aren't connected, but rye does have a long history in the U.S.
Canadian Rye probably gets its name due to rye's popularity. Prohibition in the U.S. meant the only whiskey providers left were no longer legally bound to properly label their product. They could call it "rye" but it didn't actually have to fit the standards of rye - especially if corn (or other grains) were cheaper. Rye, in the end, just became another name for whiskey. Like Chapstick for "lip balm" or Band-Aid for "self-adhesive sterilized bandage."
Rye whiskey, like bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, has to follow certain guidelines in order to be called "rye". While bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey have to be distilled from a mash comprised of 51-79% corn, rye whiskey's mash has to have a mash bill of at least 51% rye grain (there is no ceiling - except the mathematical limit of 100%). Consequently, the end product has a lot of spice and fruit in the aroma/taste.
This particular rye, Van Winkle Family Reserve, happens to be my favorite. Having recently cleared some space on the drink cart, I wanted to buy myself another whisk(e)y. I stopped in to the store I used to work at to purchase some other items and asked whether they had this rye back in stock - they did. Unfortunately, the price had doubled (since my last purchase). I hesitated but bought it because I knew this whiskey was worth it. The label says 13 years, so this rye is blended from barrels that are at least 13 years old. The great thing about American rye is that it has to age like bourbon - in new charred oak barrels. However, most rye whiskeys on the market do not exceed 6-8 years, so an extra 5-7+ years soaking in the barrel really make the difference with this rye. There are dried fruits, clove, cinnamon, and a touch of honey on the nose but has a smokey oak and peppery piquant sip. This is great neat or on the rocks. Worth every penny.
I have to apologize for how I opened this post again - the whole "rusty coin" comparison. Yet I want you to keep this in mind like I do, because when you have a great rye like this, it will be the furthest thing from your mind. You'll keep on sipping and thinking "where did he get that taste?"