Many here know my interest to recreate whiskey blends from the late 1800's. One Joseph Fleischmann was in those years in the whiskey business in New York, seemingly owning a rectifying and blending operation. He wrote a book in 1885 on blending and similar mixtures. Substantial extracts are reproduced at www.pre-pro.com, the excellent shot glass site (check out too its new library feature).
In the book, the author uses three types of flavorings for bourbon blends: one is a carob-based mixture (using a name of the period, St. John's Bread Extract), one a mixture derived from prunes and/or raisins, and the other an extract derived from peaches with other things added. These mixtures were prepared with a spirit base (GNS), probably to preserve them but also perhaps to add extra kick to the whiskey. I have made a number of bourbon whiskey blends using these flavorings. The recipe for each flavoring is given by Fleischmann and can be duplicated at home. I had very good results.
Fleischmann advises to use only a little of the flavoring, if you compute from his proportions it works out to about 1.5%. This way, the agent acts as a catalyst for flavor (i.e., it marries the blend) and lends a faint sweetness and taste but these are hardly recognisable if you didn't know they were there.
On the rye whiskey side, he advises to use - exclusively -"tea extract" for the blending agent. His recipe for tea extract is simple: macerate green tea and currants in spirit. For those not familiar with the book, his highest grade blends are all-whiskey. E.g., his best rye whiskey blend combines three genuine rye whiskies (he names them: Guckenheimer, Hainesville, Monticello) and the tea extract. His cheapest blends are mostly GNS with a little whiskey. The grades move up in quality as more whiskey is used. One blend is about 75% all-whiskey, 25% GNS and tea extract which Fleischmann pronounces is excellent. He gives the contemporary wholesale market prices for each blend which increase in strict proportion to the amount of real whiskey used. But he makes it clear the all-whiskey mixtures are the best provided the micture is, "judicious" but even here he advises the use of tea extract. He dispenses, for the all-whiskey blends (rye or bourbon) only with coloring, for self-evident reasons.
I always meant to get around to making and using his tea extract for rye whiskey blending. The other day at the LCBO I saw, "Meldea", a 20% abv German liqueur which is a green tea liqueur. The label states it is made from green tea, sugar, alcohol. The bottle also indicates the drink has been made since the 1700's, so it is no surprise Fleischmann was using something similar for his rye blends; it had been in commerce for a long time by then. Meldea tastes intensely of the green tea flavor and is sweet, which Fleischmann's tea extract would have been too, from the currants. I intend to soak some currants in the Meldea to add that extra filip but for the moment am making small amounts of the Fleischmann 1885 rye blends using the Meldea alone.
The result is extremely good. The tea marries very well with the rye flavor, I can see why Fleischmann reserves tea extract for rye whiskies and prune, peach or cocoa-like mixtures for bourbon. Many here know how prune- or cocoa- like flavors can characterise some bourbon whiskies, and this is true of peach and apricot flavors too. In 1885 some blenders were using green tea extract as the catalyst specifically to blend rye whiskies. I wonder if they borrowed from the idea of the mint julep. I have always thought that originally people added mint to bourbon to recall the taste of rye whiskey, but that is a another story (or is it ...?).
It is remarkable how green tea extract accents rye whiskey. The peppermint/wintergreen-like edge of rye whiskey marries perfectly with the green tea flavor. I used (only a very little) Meldea with a combination of Wild Turkey rye, Lot 40 and Classic Cask 21 year old rye, using only small amounts of the latter two because of their pungency. Another good mixture would be Overholt, Wild Turkey (or Beam rye) and even a high-rye bourbon, say Bulleit or Grandad 114.
It is easy to make this tea extract at home, the instructions Fleischmann gives are simple, all you need to do is scale down quantities because he makes it on a commerical scale. Or you can use the Meldea, for those with access to it, which is essentially the same thing sans the currants, but they can be added at home (just dump in a couple of tablespoons in the bottle, which I intend to do). Midori, the well-known Japanese liqueur might work well too - I think it is based on melon and tea.
The resulting rye whiskey blend is very good and there is a certain pleasure in knowing that people in 1885 drank pretty much the same thing.