Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Michter's US-1 Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey

I love American Pie (the song, not the movie), there's no getting around that. I know all the lyrics of course and have many fond memories of Promo Night at the University of Miami Rathskeller, wherein last call was immediately followed by American Pie, oftentimes with some number of partially-inebriated students putting their arms around each other in large circles and singing along loudly with the music.

But that was the eighties. And for the most part, everyone was drinking beer, Absolut, Jack Daniels, or Bacardi (provided they weren't in the restroom doing a line, or in the alley taking a toke or two). When we heard about good old boys drinking whiskey and rye, we generally didn't know too much about it, one way or the other.

So for those unfamiliar with the terminology, rye is actually a kind of whiskey (not whisky, which is the spelling for such spirits emanating from Canada, Scotland, and Japan). And whiskey references most spirits that are distilled from fermented grain mash. By and large, most big name distilleries in the United Stated produce bourbon. Bourbon is whiskey made mostly from corn (there's almost always a mix of grains used, but if over half of the grain consists of corn, it's bourbon). But whiskeys can also be made mostly with malted barley (malt whiskey), with wheat (wheat whiskey), or with rye (rye whiskey).


So, the good old boys weren't really drinking whiskey and rye (which I think many people thought was the name of a mixed drink). They were drinking whiskey and whiskey, or more probably bourbon and rye. And that's still a fine time, still a reason to be hanging out at a dry levee singing "this will be the day that I die"...

Anyway, in general I drink single malt scotch, red wine, or beer (none to excess, of course). I had mostly given up on mixed drinks, aside from the occasional Bloody Mary. But a recent dinner out at a Wynwood eatery with some friends opened a door for me in this regard. The restaurant was R House. Sitting at the bar there, I opted for one of their signature cocktails: a Russell's Reserve Old Fashioned. The drink was served with either bourbon or rye, but knowing a bit of mixologist history, I opted for the rye (Manhattans and Old Fashions are properly made with rye). And it was quite good. Quite.

So I started to have Old Fashioneds now and again when I was out. But I soon encountered some problems. Not every bar or restaurant stocks rye whiskey. Worse still, not everyone stocks bitters. So I thought I'd add a bottle to my home bar, thus allowing me to make my own from time to time. After spending a good hour looking at the various ryes at Total Wine, I finally opted for this one, Michter's US-1 Barrel Strength Rye:

If it looks a little low, well that's because I've been drinking it.

Now, if I was reviewing a scotch here, I'd go into detail about it's specific characteristics, about things like its finish and the various flavors on its palate. The same is true if this were about a wine. But we are talking American whiskey here. And I'm buying it to make Old Fashioneds (and the occasional Manhattan). So here's the deal, short and sweet: this is an excellent rye, by my standards. It puts Kentucky bourbons (like Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey) to shame when it comes to an Old Fashioned mix. If you like a good Old Fashioned, this is the rye for you, no question about it. It's perfectly spiced, nice and dry, and mixes cleanly.

All that said, it probably behooves me to go over the proper recipe for an Old Fashioned. Here it is:
Old Fashioned 
2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3 dashes aromatic bitters
1 orange (preferred) or lemon peel twist
1 large ice cube 
Directions: Add syrup and bitters to an Old Fashioned glass (a short tumbler), followed by the ice cube, then the rye. Mix with small spoon or stick, then toss in the piece of orange or lemon peel. Sip.
Instead of simple syrup, a sugar cube can be used, but then it needs to be crushed in the glass first with a splash of water, as well. If you're at a bar, you order an Old Fashioned, and the bartender goes for some Maraschino cherries, please stop them. That's not an Old Fashioned. Look around on the Net and you might find some people insisting that the drink requires a mashed cherry (and maybe even a mashed orange slice). They're wrong. And by and large, they're also British. The Old Fashioned as an American drink, made with a truly American whiskey: rye. That's the way it is.

And again, if you're looking for a good rye for your Old Fashioneds, Michter's is a fine choice, especially given the history of the distillery. Cheers!

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