Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Savoring Colonel E.H.Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye

Rye is “a very inferior grain, and is only employed to avert positive famine.”
--Pliny the Elder (Roman author, 23 AD-79 AD)

Though Pliny was dismissive of rye, and there was some justification for his position, rye still possesses potential, especially in its use in whiskey. Rye is not the easiest grain to grow and it can be difficult to work with, which is why it was mainly popular in certain regions, primarily colder ones. Rye is resistant to the cold, and can survive a harsh winter much better than almost any other grain. That is part of the reason why early settlers in New England planted rye, needing a grain that could survive the cold winters.

When people started making whiskey in America, they began by using a blend of grains, such as rye, corn and wheat. Whiskey with a high proportion of rye became very popular, especially in Pennsylvania and Maryland. George Washington distilled his own whiskey, which commonly was a blend of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% barley. However, the popularity and availability of rye whiskey nearly vanished after Prohibition.

Before we get there though, let's explore a little more whiskey history. In 1869, Edmund Haynes (E.H.) Taylor Jr. bought a small distillery in Kentucky which he renamed the Old Fire Copper (OFC) Distillery. Taylor modernized the distillery, as well as instituted a number of innovations, which eventually earned him recognition as the father of the American whiskey industry. Taylor was also instrumental in helping to get passed the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897, which required spirits seeking this label to be the product of a single distiller at a single distillery during a single distillation season. Plus, the spirits needed to be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least 4 years and bottled at 100 proof.

Currently, rye whiskey must be produced from a mashbill that is at least 51% rye and it must be aged in charred new oak. "Straight rye" must be aged for at least two years, and any rye aged less than 4 years requires an age statement. In recent years, rye whiskey has seen a resurgence of interest and production, and I think that is a very good thing. I like the spicy notes that rye provides to whiskey, and I know that I am far from alone in that regard. Interestingly, three classic cocktails, the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sazerac, called for the use of rye. After Prohibition, when rye was more difficult to find, then bartenders started using bourbon as a substitute.

A good friend of mine, Fred Minnick, who also is a compelling whiskey writer, gifted me a bottle of Colonel E.H.Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye (pictured at the top of this post) and I recently tasted it. I was thoroughly impressed and have to say it is one of the best, if not the best, rye whiskey I have ever tasted. It earns my highest recommendation.

Over 100 years ago, E.H. Taylor, Jr. was producing this style of rye and Buffalo Trace Distillery decided to honor that memory with this unique rye. The mashbill contains only rye and malted barley, omitting any corn. The rye is obtained in the U.S., which differs from many others which use rye from Europe and Canada. In addition, most ryes are produced by a single distillery in Indiana but the E.H.Taylor is distilled in Kentucky by Buffalo Trace. The E.H.Taylor is bottled-in-bond so it has been aged at least four years and is 100 proof. It also has a vintage style label and sells for around $75.

I was surprised by the E.H. Taylor Rye as I was expecting something with a bold spicy profile, and instead it was far more elegant and subtle. The taste was complex, silky smooth and filled with an intriguing melange of flavors. There were delicious savory spice notes, but also some sweet vanilla and caramel, complemented with hints of mocha and dried fruit. It was seductive on my palate, and the lingering finish left me craving more. Though this Rye is 100 proof, it doesn't show in the taste so you should be careful of how much you drink as it goes down so easy. A superb sipping whiskey, I highly recommend and owe huge kudos to Fred for such a fine gift.

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