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Is there more than one style of straight rye??


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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.. smile.gif

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

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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.

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I love how in the review of the "Classic Cask" rye, someone used the term "Acetone" to describe it. skep.gif

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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

Well, Fritz Maytag claims that the rye whiskey George Washington drank was made from 100 % malted rye. And that is how Old Potrero is made.

And to another question, no, Old Potrero doesn't taste like rye bread. But what I have tried is too young. It will be interesting to see how it ages.

Regards, jimbo

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It is my belief that straight rye whiskey was often made from 80% or so unmalted rye and 20% barley malt. Certainly some recipes, also depending on what was available, would have employed some corn, in an obverse to the typical Bourbon recipe of today, this is how most rye is made today at any rate. With respect to evidence, this is fragmentary but I have seen in bottle collections 1930's bottles of Baltimore Pure Rye subtitled the "rye-e" rye with a statement that the product was made from 98% rye. The remainder may have been barley malt. I have seen other early 20th century rye labels in books, and I believe one bottle at the Getz, which referred to the contents being made from "the purest rye and barley malt". This ties into Byrn's recipe, in my view, so that until rye died out in Maryland and Baltimore I believe some of it always was made to Byrn's recipe if not using even more rye as BPR rye did. So Maytag was right that there was a tradition of all-rye whiskey - even Byrn admits that one could make rye from an all-rye grist, but he favoured the mix indicated for its greater efficiency (conversion in modern parlance). I believe that unlike Bourbon where corn is leavened with a measure of rye small grains and benefits from it, the mix of corn and rye in the proportions currently used for rye whiskey results in an unusual palate, a kind of "muddy" taste that I now like (I have acquired the taste) but would, I think, benefit from less or no corn. The reason I say this is the Maytag ryes offer much promise. Their only begative is their youth. I think at 8-12 years old they would be extremely good. Lot 40 from Canada is an all-rye, pot still whisky (a combo of malted and unmalted rye was used) and is very good, it has the perfumy taste of Maytag but (at about 8 years old) much more maturity and depth. Unfortunately it is not aged exclusively if at all in new charred casks. If it was, an extra dimension would be added which would likely approximate to the old Byrn-type Monongahela rye. Another reason I think an 80% rye-content whiskey would be good is my tasting of all or high-rye genever gins. One of these, Filliers of Belgium (actually made from corn, wheat, rye and barley malt but mostly the rye I understand) is very good and if enveloped in U.S.-style vanilla and barrel char would be extremely good and again I am thinking would get close to what Maryland rye whiskey was in, say, 1900. I do agree that ORVW rye is superb but in this case I believe the high corn content makes it almost a bourbon (ditto for the Michter's "original sour mash" whiskey until it closed in the early 80's. So the one thing missing from the current product ranges of the Bourbon makers is a very high rye content whiskey that is long aged in charred new oak. I am speculating but based on the historical evidence I would think the revival of this recipe would be well received. This may well offer the "rye bread" palate that has been spoken of. The Lot 40 is quite close to that taste with a perfumy overlay that may either be a house characteristic or something that aging in new charred barrels would have rubbed out, leaving the spicy rye bread palate untramelled.

Too bad that Fritz Maytag sells his products so young, it is a mystery I cannot fathom.

Gary

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Fortune magazine in November 1933 carried a series of articles on the impending end of Prohibition. It states in a sidebar entitled "A Whiskey Primer":

"All whiskey making begins with some sort of grain. Pure rye whiskey, as you might suppose, begins with rye: usually about 85%".

The need to use barley malt to aid in conversion would have left little if any room for corn. This provides, two generations after Byrn's statements, evidence that quality rye whiskey used almost all rye in its spec. I feel a "rye bread" palate (caraway, herbal, floral, "cereal") would have been the hallmark of such whiskey. Indeed Lot 40 tastes like that albeit it is overly (to my taste) perfumy and not sufficiently smoky from barrel char. Of the ryes currently available, Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey comes close to a rye bread taste. I like it a lot and would enjoy tasting it at about double its current age.

Here is an amusing and telling quote from the Fortune article:

"Suppose we glance hastily at the pre-prohibition whiskey business. Most of the whiskey that was drunk was blended and rectified (mixed with other whiskey and alcohol and water and some kind of flavoring - sherry, brandy, rum, prune juice, anthing). [in Chuck's lexicon, "ADT"]. Maybe one-fourth of it was whiskey, maybe less. It was this technique of the pre-prohibition whiskey men that the bootleggers borrowed, and, more precise in their diction, termed "cutting". And so the post-prohibition whiskey men can stretch their supply. One part whiskey to four parts alcohol and water will make a drink that might not satisfy a Kentucky Colonel but will be plenty good enough for you".

As Jackie Gleason used to say, "now that's FUNNY". smile.gif

Gary

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No, it doesn't. Maybe it will with some decent age, but I doubt it. I find the taste of Old Potrero interesting but not otherwise enjoyable. I also consider the whiskey and just about everything he says about it products of an active imagination, bearing no actual relationship to any whiskey-making tradition.

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> I also consider the whiskey and just about everything he says about it products

> of an active imagination, bearing no actual relationship to any whiskey-making

> tradition.

Do you happen to have a written rebuttal addressing Maytag's claims? (I'll

confess that I don't have a subscription to the Bourbon Country Reader,

which would probably be your main outlet for more formal writing.)

It's my feeling that Maytag has some fanciful ideas, but that American

whiskeymaking in the early days showed a fair amount of variation in

style and technique. Add poor documentation into the mix, and we

could honestly justify just about anything... including Maytag's

stuff.

Tim Dellinger

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Maytag says his purpose is to recreate pioneer whiskey and he casts his year-old "toasted" barrel product as "18th century whiskey" and his 3-year-old, charred barrel product as "19th century whiskey." He offers no historical support for these claims and from my reading of the history that is known, I know of no sources that support his claims.

His other, equally unsupported and even more far-fetched claim is that 18th and early 19th century distillers were distilling from 100 percent malted rye. In other words, not malting rye and using it as 10 to 15 percent of the mashbill as bourbon distillers do now with malted barley, but using a mash of 100 percent malted rye, a parallel to the 100 percent malted barley distilling of the Scottish highlands.

I suppose one could take the position that since so little is known definitively, one theory is as good as another, but what little evidence there is seems to lean in the opposite direction. A Kentucky recipe from about 1800 shows proportions of corn, rye and barley malt similar to modern bourbon mashbills. George Washington's distillery in Virginia is being extensively researched and we know his distillery included a malt kiln. We also know the mash bill he used was 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn, and 5 percent malted barley. We also know that this malt kiln was built in December of 1798, more than a year after the distillery began operations, so prior to that he was acquiring malt from an outside source. Malted barley would have been readily available from maltsters serving the brewing industry. I know of no reason anyone would have been producing malted rye.

With Maytag, it appears as if he decided to do something (i.e., make a whiskey from 100 percent malted rye), then devised a corresponding historical theory. The fact that he offers zero evidence to support his theory is more telling than any evidence I might offer to refute it.

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It is hard to imagine that anyone used 100% malted rye to make whiskey. Or any malted rye for that matter, when there was readily available malted barley from the brewing industry. The 80% unmalted rye and 20% malted barley seems more likely. And it seems that I have read somewhere that about 15% malted barley is needed to provide the starch to sugar conversion for the other 85% of unmalted grain, so that also fits the 80-20 recipe.

I think corn comes into the picture as a low cost source of starch. I imagine early brewers and distillers experimented with the addition of corn to the mash bill as a cost cutting step. Probably the same thing is true of the use of wheat in beer and bourbon.

Anyway, it all led to a wonderful variety of taste and style.

I also wonder why Maytag sells Old Potrero so young. My best guess is that he wants the cash flow to sustain operations until he accumulates an older inventory.

Regards, jimbo

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I also wonder why Maytag sells Old Potrero so young. My best guess is that he wants the cash flow to sustain operations until he accumulates an older inventory.

That's more-or-less what he says, and that since the whole project is an experiment he wants to share the results with the public.

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Okay but it has been a good dozen years or so since Maytag first made rye whiskey. He could easily have released his whiskey at 6, 8, 10 or even 12 years old, but has not done so.

Mr. Maytag is wealthy through the (well-deserved) success of his brewery but also by being a scion of the Maytag washing machine family, and fortune.

I cannot believe that cost considerations have prevented him from releasing a whiskey older than 3 years.

I think that rightly or wrongly he is fixed on the idea of selling whisky which is young because that supposedly is how it was sold in the 19th and 18th centuries.

That may be true for the 1700's but by the mid-1800's well-aged rye and other whiskey was prized. He is presumably sitting on well-aged stocks that could fetch a pretty penny. The fact he won't sell it in this form leads me to think cost issues have nothing to do with it. At the very least one has to admire his "ideological" committment..

Gary

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Then what does he plan to do with that older stock? If he has the older inventory, what will he do with it if his strategy is to market young whiskey for ideologic reasons?

Regards, jimbo

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Trying to figure out and explain Fritz Maytag is an excercise that will get you only so far. It's better to stop before you hurt yourself.

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I agree one possibility is he does not have any older stock, having ensured that everything went out at 1-3 years old. This seems unlikely, however. All distilleries should be so lucky to sell everything they make, especially start-ups! On the other hand, maybe he intentionally only made enough to sell in this fashion. If this is true, it seems an opportunity lost because early on in both America and Canada the long aging of rye whiskey (whether in charred or other barrels) took hold. And this was due to the beneficial results of the aging on the spirit.

I do commend Fritz Maytag for making any kind of rye whiskey, however. This has created interest in the category and may stimulate the efforts of others.

Gary

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