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  1. #1
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    Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    After asking Bettye Jo about the styles of blended whiskey produced by Heaven Hill, I realised I could glean some information from HH's (new) website. I did find a number of blendeds mentioned including the well-known Philadelphia brand.

    But what struck me was the descriptions of the two straight ryes made by HH, Rittenhouse and Pikesville. And in particular the statement that Pikesville represents by its "fruity nose" and spicy character the "Maryland/Potomac" style of rye whiskey as opposed to the "Pennsylvania/Monongahela" style represented by Rittenhouse. (Rittenhouse Square is a tony district of Philadelphia, PA while Pikesville is a locality near Baltimore, MY. Both brands were old labels in their respective areas and are now owned by HH).

    This is the first I read that Maryland rye whiskey had a "fruity nose". I must say Pikesville rye is very nice and has the spicy nose and taste advertised on HH's website but I can detect no fruity nose or flavour in this whiskey. No odour or taste of soft or any other fruit, just a rye/grainy-type smell and palate.

    I wonder how it is known that Maryland rye whiskey (regardless of whether the current Pikesville attains the palate) has a fruity nose and constitutes a different style of rye from the Pennsylvania/Monongahela style? Perhaps this information came to HH when it bought the Pikesville label..

    Can anyone shed light or offer an opinion on this suggested taxonomy of straight rye whiskey?

    Gary

  2. #2

    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    Well, in my tasting of rye, I have noticed two distinct types. One with a crisp, dry, cereal character and one with a fruity, sweet character. Old Overholt, Jim Beam, Rittenhouse and Wild Turkey all have the dry, cereal character. Van Winkle, Hirsch and Sazerac all have the sweet, fruity character. I don't know if this has anything to do with your question.

    Regards, jimbo

  3. #3
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    Thanks for this response. The ryes you classify as fruity are all much older than the crisp, dry ones mentioned.

    I agree Van Winkle rye in particular has a cherry-like taste (especially the Family Reserve 13 year old).

    Of course, all these ryes are now made in Kentucky but maybe Maryland-style rye was simply longer-aged than Pennsylvania/Monongahela.

    Why would extra aging impart fruity tastes? Maybe through the further conversion (by continued oxidation) of congeners in the whiskey to estery fruit odours and tastes.

    Or maybe, assuming HH is right about there being the two styles of rye whiskey, mashbill differences, the way the mash was fermented, or some other reason explains the fruity character of Maryland rye.

    Someone was asking recently about regional differences in the Bourbon country; the rye whiskey lands may (at least) have furnished an example. The tastes are lost in their original homelands but survive vestigially in Kentucky where memories take long to extinguish, even in this fragmented age..

    Gary

  4. #4
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    I had always thought the difference between the "fruity" and "spicy" ryes was a much larger rye component of the "spicy" and a barely 51% rye of the "fruity." I further assumed that the "fruity" ryes happened to age better--and so they were aged longer. Now that I see your post, I realize my assumptions could have been backwards.

  5. #5

    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    I had always thought the difference between the "fruity" and "spicy" ryes was a much larger rye component of the "spicy" and a barely 51% rye of the "fruity." I further assumed that the "fruity" ryes happened to age better--and so they were aged longer. Now that I see your post, I realize my assumptions could have been backwards.


    Why would extra aging impart fruity tastes? Maybe through the further conversion (by continued oxidation) of congeners in the whiskey to estery fruit odours and tastes.

    Or maybe, assuming HH is right about there being the two styles of rye whiskey, mashbill differences, the way the mash was fermented, or some other reason explains the fruity character of Maryland rye.
    I asked Malt Advocate Magazine via E-Mail about the difference between dry spicy rye such as Rittenhouse and sweet, fruity rye such as Van Winkle. They claim it is due to age. But, I don't know if that can really explain the difference. I had thought it was due to the mash bill. More rye in the Rittenhouse, less in the Van Winkle. I wonder if there is any one who really knows?

    Regards, jimbo

  6. #6
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    I don't think using a larger amount of rye in the mashbill of itself would make the whiskey fruity-tasting. The current Old Overholt uses about 64% rye in the mashbill. This is the highest percentage in the currently available ryes except for Old Potrero. The Overholt's does not have a fruity taste, nor did it under the aegis of National Distillers. Pikesville rye itself, despite the HH claim of a fruity character, shows spicy, herbal and resinous notes (all hallmarks of rye character) but little of a soft fruit character. For example, it is not plum-like or fig-like like Birthday Bourbon or certain other bourbons (Rowan's Creek showed nice fruitiness but the latest bottlings not as much).

    In my opinion, a high-congener rye whiskey will become more fruity with longer aging.

    Another possibility is that the beers from which Maryland rye was distilled may have been intensely fruity-tasting and this carried over into the spirit. Many beers are very fruity in taste, some English ales (e.g. Ruddles, Theakston's) have in particular a strong character of soft fruit. This derives from esters produced by top (warm) fermentation. So perhaps the Maryland distillers' beers were these old-fashioned top-fermented beers (formerly very popular for beverage beer in New England and down the seaboard in the English-settled areas). Whereas in Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky perhaps the beers were fermented at cooler temperatures (this is lager brewing) for whisky no less than for beer in general. Cool fermentation results in a much less estery ferment than top-fermentation. For example, Budweiser is round and smooth, Sierra Nevada is fruity and piquant; the former is bottom-fermented, the latter is the top variety. If hard apple cider produces (as it does) fruity-tasting applejack (or the appley Calvados in Normandy, France) it stands to reason a fruity tasting cereal wort would likewise impart its estery character to the distillate.

    Gary

  7. #7
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    It is unlikely that either Jim Beam or Heaven Hill is making more than one rye mashbill. Therefore, the only difference between products released by either of those houses would be age. However (and I know I'm like a broken record on this subject), don't forget that distillers can and do manipulate the taste of a finished product in order to match the product's established taste profile. They do this by mixing (we dare not say "blending") whiskies of different ages and whiskies from different parts of the warehouse that have aged differently. They can even, though I don't know that they do, obtain straight rye stock from another distiller if they need a certain characteristic they can't get from their own inventory.

    I don't mean to overcomplicate this because, for the most part, these taste profiles are not difficult to achieve.

    My personal assessment of the available ryes is that none of them are much good except the Van Winkle Family Reserve, which is wonderful. I find the rest to be on the bland side with an unpleasant "muddy" flavor. Old Grand-Dad BIB has more rye character than Beam Rye, Overholt, Pikesville, Rittenhouse or WT Rye.

    I don't know the Sazerac Rye well enough to comment on it and Old Potrero is unlike any other whiskey made, while all of the rest are at least in the main of the American Straight Whiskey style.

    I have heard expressed the opinion that, historically, Western Pennsylvania "Monongahela" rye was of a significantly different style than the ryes made in Eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland, and that all of the current ryes are more of the "Monogehela" type, which was closer to bourbon, while the Eastern type was lighter, more like a Canadian or American Blended Whiskey.

    It would be nice to think that Heaven Hill and Jim Beam, each selling at least two different rye brands, are doing so in order to express two different historic styles. The truth is more merchantile. Those brands were preserved because they had sufficient sales to justify their continuation.

  8. #8
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    Thanks for these thoughts. The acknowledgement of historic, and differing (if they are) styles, by extant distilleries does not have to be conscious to have the kind of value I indicated. In fact, an unconscious offering of these whiskeys - one prompted by mercantile considerations -
    may be more a clue to the authenticity of the tradition than if it was all too neatly packaged and presented. My point was in the South, people have longer memories of what may sell..

    I tend to agree most current ryes aren't that good, and I'll tell you why. All (save the idiosyncratic Old Potrero) are made from a mashbill combining rye and corn. Straight rye whiskey before the Second War wasn't made like that. I think the melange of corn and rye leads to that muddy palate in most cases (ORVW rye, and one or two others, are exceptions). Byrn in 1875 in his Complete Practical Distiller gave the classic recipe for true rye whiskey: 80% unmalted rye, 20% barley malt. I believe that recipe informed the great ryes which were made until the 1950's (Emerson's XXXX, Large, Mount Vernon, Guckenheimer, Melrose, etc. etc.). After the war though, I think those tasting young rye in the distillery and with an eye (increasingly) to perceived consumer taste felt rye whiskey needed to be tempered with corn to sell, and the traditional formulation was forever changed. But the classic 80/20 recipe at, say, 8-12 years of age was (I believe) a champion drink, one forever lost to contemporary taste..

    Gary

  9. #9
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    To be legally called straight rye, the mashbill must be at least 51% rye. It's my understanding that today's cheaper ryes are about 60% rye, 25-30% corn and 10-15% barley malt. The better products contain a higher percentage of rye, but still some corn. I have no idea what the mashbills were of those Pennsylvania and Maryland distilleries that came back after Prohibition. Were they the 80/20 recipe you suggest? I just don't know. I suspect that the products of the distilleries west of the Appalachians always contained some corn for cost reasons, but I'm just guessing.

    My dad maintains that the rye whiskey he remembers drinking as a young man in the 30s and 40s tasted like rye bread. I have bought him virtually every rye on the market today and the only one he really enjoys, naturally, is ORVW.

  10. #10
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    Re: Is there more than one style of straight rye??

    I have never tried straight rye whiskey because I was afraid it would taste like rye bread.

    Tim

 

 

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