The Spirits world is just as prone to trends as the fashion world, to whit, the Tequila moment of a few years ago and that absinthe thing that happened; both of which have taken a temporary backseat to that fine American institution, whiskey and rye. As an LA friend recently noted, “Swing a hipster by the tail in this town and you can’t help but hit a whiskey bar!”
We have the Scots to thank for whiskey’s grown up brother Scotch, but we have Prohibition to thank for Rye, and we certainly do have the Hipster’s love of ironic, throwback culture and small batch, hand crafted appreciation to thank for the moment that’s producing some of the smoothest, finest sipping whiskeys to enjoy this winter.
A little background on the differences of the three before enjoying, just so you’re in the know. Rye, whiskey and bourbon are differentiated by their base mash and how they’re aged. American whiskey, in general, is fermented from cereal grain and aged in oak barrels that have not been previously used or charred, further, the addition of flavorings or colorings is prohibited. This is a very loose definition, there are many variations of American Whiskey with slightly different regulations. Rye, the preferred spirit in a Manhattan, is distilled from, at least, 51% rye grain to be considered a Rye. Bourbon, traditionally, is distilled from corn and aged in uncharred oak barrels. Of course, these are the basic requirements, many small batch producers have been experimenting with aging in charred oak, and previously used zinfandel and port wine barrels, that impart layers of flavor to the bourbon not traditionally associated with a bourbon. But really, for every regulation, there’s a variation. Don’t get too caught up in the science, it’s really about the smooth and mellow flavors. Here are a few of each that will keep you warm all winter long, and put you in the know before sidling up to that new whiskey bar on the corner.
Oregon based Big Bottom Whiskey produces small batch bourbons and dabbles in the craft trend of “specialty finished” bourbons, a second aging process in used zinfandel, port and Cabernet wine barrels that further impart the bourbon subtle finishes. Try their traditional American Straight Bourbon Whiskey, or experiment with their Zinfandel finished Bourbon, recently awarded a Gold Medal as one of the best Bourbons of 2013. ($38.50)
A much storied, legendary prohibition era recipe favored by Al Capone, Templeton relaunched with the original rye recipe as a legal entity in 2006. Made according to the strict code of Rye in Iowa, the Templeton, informally known to connoisseurs as “the good stuff” more than lives up to its name. Enjoy it straight or in a Manhattan. ($38.75)
Made in Kentucky where Bourbon was born, Buffalo Trace has been making whiskey for over 200 years. Much lauded and one of America’s top distilleries, Buffalo Trace’s smooth, aged, blended mash is a harmonious blend of warmth and whiskey tradition that’s as all-American as apple pie. ($23.50)