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  1. #1
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    Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    I was doing some research on rye whiskey and found a reprint of a Pennsylvania news article from 1902. It reported on a wine and liquor merchant in Green Lane, Pennsylvania (not sure if that locality still exists) with regard to rye whiskey. The merchant was a widow who took over her husband's business and considerably expanded it. There are many interesting details. Her ryes were between 5 and 20 years old. She bought in carlots to offer lower prices and only sold the best quality. She had just got in some 20 year old rye. It had been distilled in Pennsylvania in 1881, aged 13 years, then was sent in cask to Bremen, Germany because of the beneficial effect of sea transport on the flavour. The story said that most "high grade whiskey" was shipped overseas for that reason. The story said the whiskey was brought back 7 years later to be sold as 20 year old rye. It noted when the owner opened the casks, being 44 and a half gallon containers, between 14 and 20 gallons were left, reflecting the evaporation that occurs with long aging. The lady thought the rye so good she ordered numerous more casks to sell.

    There was a tradition of sending some wines and liquors across oceans to get the accelerated aging and other effects of different temperature zones and the salt seas. Those briny Islay and Campbelltown whiskies got the Atlantic maritime effect by staying right at home, of course. Maybe this shipment practice was done in part at least to emulate that effect. The Norwegian Linie Aquavit is still shipped across the world over the equator ("linie") to mellow in this special way. I think the effect on the rye in question might have been to give it a slight salt note and maybe a sherry-like fruitiness. There was a practice for many years of aging brandy and rum in London, England (and Edinburgh) to get the benefit of long aging in damp, sea-influenced cellars (the "old landed" cognacs, ports, etc.). It appears Bremen's warehouses did a line in the super-maturation of fine spirits as well.

    It is hard to think anything could improve Mr. Van Winkle's wonderful rye whiskies, but I wonder if sending them to a damp European port for 7 years might add that "extra special something"?

    Cy

  2. #2
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    Great info Cy. I wonder if the aggitation in the barrel while at sea might also do something to hasten or improve the process? I mean, would our favorite bourbons age faster or differently if they were constantly moving around?

  3. #3
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    Thanks Jeff. I was talking to Sam Cecil once about the aging noticed when the riverboats first took bourbon down south. He said that rocking motion may have given people the idea to move barrels around the warehouse and change positions ultimately. The rocking would help the spirit to interact more with the charred surface, take colour faster, etc. I don't think salt air though would help bourbon whereas I could see it helping and taming a rye-based drink. Those aquavits I mentioned likely were made with rye originally (geneva gin was, and still is, and it is an allied drink, and also exported early). But why didn't the Penn distillers just put the rye on boats to go up and down the Mon? Hard to say.. I think the "snob" factor may have had something to do with it. Old brandy was aged in London and Edinburgh; why not do the same for rye and sell it a high price on its return? Maybe..

    Cy

  4. #4
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    I am trying to put together pieces of information from my rye whiskey research. I found online reprints of the menu from the Titanic. The whiskey section of the first class lounge menu lists 4 whiskies: John Jameson Irish Whiskey 10 years old; Scotch whisky, 11 years old (no further details given); Canadian Club (bleeeeeeeeee!); and "Hannis". Hannis? Why, Hannis was the distillery that made the famed Mount Vernon (straight) Rye Whiskey, originally in Philadelphia and in later years in Maryland. (Rye still has friends in Maryland which is why Heaven Hill ryes are available there by the way). No bourbon - although I am sure other steamship lines carried quality bourbon. The Titanic never made it to North America of course, so it loaded its Mount Vernon in England. Rye must have been kept in reasonable quantity there to load or replenish supplies on swish liners and Pullman cars. Bremen was a centre of the steamship business, come to think of it. One can imagine rye was shipped over in cask to save on transport and reduce breakage. Storage in the damp ports of Europe, sometimes (with the ebb and flow of demand) for years, no doubt improved quality in ways different from aging in the Pennsylvania glens or (maybe) the Kentucky hollows. This was noticed and some of the whiskey made its way home (maybe when liner traffic was down) and was sold for big bucks as super-matured whiskey. A bit I suppose like the current experiment of a barrel of Maker's Mark resting in a Scots warehouse and a cask of Glenmorangie rubbing shoulders at MM with feisty American cousins (of which news on their progess would be gratefully received).

    But why is Mount Vernon Rye no more...? There is a Mount Vernon blend said to be available, which Michael Jackson calls "rye-leaning." That's good. Anyone finding some will taste an echo of what those unsuspecting swells might have ordered when sautering into the lounge of the Titanic sliding through a sea grimmer than they could imagine..

    Cy


  5. #5
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    At WhiskyFest NY last fall, the reps from Maker's Mark said that the aging barrels of bourbon and scotch in each others warehouses was an experiment certainly not to be repeated!

    Also, extensive data (on a foreign whisky list) about the affects of salt air on whisky indicate that it never results in a detectible amount of sodium chloride in the whisky. The source and even the real existence of "salty" flavors is a bit of a mystery.

  6. #6
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    That's interesting, but why I wonder was the experiment not to be repeated? Did the bourbon aged in Scotland taste "scotch" and vice versa? Seems unlikely if spirit does not absorb salt.. Is there some other reason which makes this kind of storage not useful?

    Cy

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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    I got the distinct impression they were NOT happy with the results. If I had to guess it would be the maturation was too fast for Scotch in Kentucky and too slow for bourbon in Scotland.

  8. #8
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    This may be instructive. I was told many years ago that the Japanese love Scotch so, in typical Japanese fashion, they tried to see if they could make it themselves. They tried everything. They duplicated the stills exactly, they imported peat, they imported barley, they even tried importing water. Nothing worked. Japanese-made whiskey is still prodominantly in a Scotch style, but the Japanese will be the first to tell you they never figured it out, never managed to make a Scotch-type whiskey that rivaled the real thing, and Japanese consumers still prefer imported Scotch to the less expensive, locally made version.

    It's nice, in a way, that there is still something that stumps modern technology.

  9. #9
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    That's right, there is seemingly something "indefinable" about a truly local spirit (or any local product) although sometimes one can lay a finger on why. Taking Scotch as my example too, consider McCarthy's Single Malt Whisky, an artisanal whisky made from all-Scottish, peated barley malt in Oregon. The maker is a brewer who distills on the side. The whisky is very good, and very much in the Scottish style, but it is "missing" something, I think it is missing the cold briny effect imparted to Scotch in Scotland in warehouses at or near the cold Northern sea. McCarthy's taste is close but is not quite there. Possibly the cold humid air in Scotland also affects fermentation in a unique way. Sure, there is ocean not far from even the interior of Oregon, but it is a different ocean, in a different climate in a different country.

    I am not sure though that straight whiskey can't be duplicated. Canadian distillers make straight "bourbon" and "rye" to flavour their high-proof neutral-tasting whisky. They do not market these straights as such, so it is not possible to see how close these spirits are to the "real" thing. Would Ontario-aged whiskey made from the same mash that informs, say, Maker's Mark, aged in new charred wood, really taste all that different from that whiskey or any of Kentucky's best? Maybe it would, I don't know. Michter's, made from very close to the usual bourbon recipe (just accented more than normal toward the rye) never tasted like any bourbon I know, though, it tasted like Michter's. Hirsch's 16 year old Michter is close to (in fact better than) the original (youngish) Michter's of yore, and it tastes like ... Michter's, not like bourbon of Kentucky. The cold aging in the Pennsylvania vales may have had a special impact as compared to the different microclimate of Kentucky. This was Lew Bryson's theory, and Lew knows a lot about whiskey (and beer).

    Yet, is this the "narcissism of minor differences"? Not to the whiskey mavens of the world, I suspect...

    Cy

  10. #10
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    Re: Rye and Bremen, Germany circa 1900

    Just to further the discussion about local products, an example of making a classic whiskey style that results in something seemingly quite different is the Canadian Lot 40, a Corby's product. Corby's is part of Hiram Walker/Allied Domecq, the huge U.K. concern. Intent on making a traditional (ie. non-blended) whisky, they made, in a pot still, a whisky from all-rye. Both malted and unmalted rye are used, no barley malt as far as I know. Presumably, the malted rye is used to saccharify the raw rye grist. The result is a rich, pungent whisky, very flavourful. It does not really taste like any American straight rye I know. It has more depth than Maytag's rye and quite a different taste although there are some resemblances. I think it does not taste like any other American rye whiskey because it lacks corn content. I tried mixing, say, two-thirds of a high corn content bourbon with one third Lot 40, and the result is very good and much closer to a good American rye such as Rittenhouse or Old Overholt. (I think the combo would even impress those who admire the Old Rip Van Winkle ryes which are the best there is). So here we have a local product that, as it should, ends up tasting unique. Even if Lot 40 had been made with a mash akin to that used for most modern straight ryes, I'd like to think it would taste local, unique in some way. Our water, air, climate, grains, would all conspire I think to produce something unique although no doubt recognisable broadly as straight rye whisky. The maker of Lot 40 might argue Lot 40 tastes like Pennsylvania and Maryland rye of 100 years ago. Almost certainly, it tastes like some of those old ryes did, but no doubt they themselves must have varied quite a bit. I have noted the American F. Byrn (1875) wrote that rye whiskey was usually made from a mash of 80% rye and 20% barley malt. He also stated that when barley malt was not available, all-rye could be used. I think that version, at least when aged, likely tasted like Lot 40. Lot 40 is likely the closest we have on the market today in Canada to the straight whiskies made in-house by Canadian distillers to flavour their high-proof light tasting whisky or (if used in Canada, I am not sure) grain neutral spirit. I also tried adding a dash of Lot 40 to a dram of Canadian Club and the result again was great, it tasted like extra-special Canadian Club (more like the 12 year old CC which is a fine whisky by the way).

    Cy

 

 

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