Rye is seen as a quintessentially American style of whiskey often associated with pre-prohibition days. But like a lot of things in America – I’d argue it’s an immigrant from the old country.
There is a long tradition of growing rye in Northern European countries. This grain has found it’s way into many breads, beers, cereals and of course – whiskey.
The current growing demand for rye in whiskey terms has precipitated countries not normally associated with rye whiskey to begin to explore the market.
My small selection of 4 ryes – well a loose interpretation of that style – reflects this.
I’ll let The Presidents of the United States of America have their say first.
Peaches. A colloquial term used to describe a close & good friend.
Rye whiskey is definitely a close friend of mine!
That rich, warm dry spiciness with a long finish is what I’m looking for & elevates rye to being a peach among whiskey styles in my book.
Real peaches come in a can – as the song goes – but rye comes in a bottle. Let me introduce you to my 4 bottles.
Ireland; PrizeFight Whiskey, 43% NAS, blend
Produced by West Cork Distillers for a 3rd party – this whiskey is a blend of Irish single malts & grain whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, NH.
Ireland/America; Brothership Whiskey, 45%, 10yo, blend.
Belgium; Sunken Still Rye, 45% 4yo.
Yes that’s right – a Belgian Rye Whiskey produced with predominately Belgian rye grain in ex-bourbon barrels for 4 years by the Filliers Distillery.
USA; FEW Rye, 46.5%, NAS.
An American rye whiskey made with predominately american rye grain in charred virgin oak barrels by the FEW Distillery, Evanstown, Chicago.
I like to see a variation in the colour of the whiskeys I drink. It foretells of the different smells, flavours & overall drinking experiences to be enjoyed.
FEW came out the darkest – reflecting the use of charred virgin oak casks. There was a jump down then to the paler duo of PrizeFight & Brothership with Sunken Still coming in with an almost pale yellowy hue.
Brothership kicks off with a soft barley sweetness before developing muted rye spice. PrizeFight comes across with a more fresher, clearer nose & an equally enjoyable spice. Sunken Still has a wonderfully aromatic floral bouquet whilst FEW delivers a classic peppery rye punch.
The soft smooth delivery of Brothership quickly develops into a lovely rich dry spice. PrizeFight has a cleaner palate with a slightly less intense rye spice.
Meanwhile the Sunken Still’s fragrant bouquet flows through into a wonderful cornucopia of taste on the tongue with a rich dry spice that is simply divine. Beautiful.
The FEW doesn’t disappoint either. To start there is that caramel/vanilla bourbon like feel followed by an almost classic rich peppery spice that tingles & teases as it drys the palate.
PrizeFight’s lovely spice fades slowly, only marginally beaten by the warmer, drier spice of Brothership. FEW lasts the longest whilst Sunken Still manages that dry floral spice right to the end.
What stands out to me is that whilst having no rye grain in the original mix – the rich dry spicy notes of a decent rye whiskey still come through in the PrizeFight whiskey simply by it’s time in the ex-rye casks. It may lack the overall dry mouthfeel of a true rye – but it certainly makes a worthy addition to the rye cannon.
Brothership benefits by the addition of a real rye whiskey in the mix which heightens the rich dry rye spiciness on both the taste & finish which is not initially apparent on the sweet barely nose.
The FEW could almost set the benchmark of what a good rye whiskey should be. A straight forward crisp peppery spice with a marvelously long dry finish. Superb.
Sunken Still adds something extra to that dry spice by giving it a floral display of flavours.
For taking rye whiskey the extra mile – Sunken Still from Belgium comes out tops in this taste-off.
FEW from America comes in a close second
The Irish-American hybrid that is Brothership follows closely behind – leaving Ireland’s PrizeFight bringing up the rear.
I would commend PrizeFight for being able to hold it’s own among such worthy competition in that they all contain rye in their original mix.
It just goes to prove the powerful influence the maturation in wood has to the overall taste.
You pays yer money – and you takes yer choices!