Straight rye is arguably America’s original whiskey. It predates Bourbon by over a century. Prior to the onset of Prohibition in the USA, straight whiskey outsold bourbon by a significant margin.
At the beginning of the 19th century, straight rye whiskey was widely cultivated throughout the northeastern United States. Distilled from a single-vineyard blend, this whiskey had a low corn content and a high sweetness-taste. The distiller notes had notes of licorice, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. They were lightly roasted to achieve a more balanced taste and the flavor was light-bodied with hints of mocha and spice.
The process of making straight rye whiskey typically involved combining sugars (sometimes brown) and alcohol in the form of a straight whiskey. The resulting mixture underwent distilling and underwent the same maturation as American whiskey. Different distillers used different methods for distilling, but the result was a flavorful and smooth drink that went through several processes including but not limited to baking, air roasting, browning, coiling and aging. The resulting whiskey had a rich amber color and a mellow aroma.
Straight rye whiskey is produced by four master distillers throughout America. There is a difference of opinion about when exactly distilling the whiskey takes place. For some, it should always be finished smoking. The newer masters, however, say that there is no longer any smoke involved when they bottle their products after the distilling process.
If you are looking for the smooth, smoky taste of young straight rye whiskey, then the best thing you can do is find a bottle of NAS (also known as non-wheated) rye. This is not the same as flavored wheat, which means it is not sweet or delicious. It is not even 100% rye, so it does not have the same aging properties that the distilling process does. It is a very affordable alternative if you are looking for an alternative to the traditional wheated version of this beverage.
Straight rye pairs well with a wide range of food including breakfast items and barbecue. The alcohol imparts a smooth, earthy taste that goes well with eggs, sausage, or any kind of egg-based dishes. For the most part, whiskey pairs better with tomato, apple, mint, herb and cheese. For instance, the fruity cinnamon roll that goes great with Shepherd’s pie is made with a rye whiskey rather than an apple. Other great choices for a whiskey-and-eggs breakfast include pancakes, waffles, bagels and French toast.
Straight rye comes in various grades including expressions that are high rye, low rye and straight tobacco. Distilling the corn used in making the whiskey produces a product with a higher rye percentage. The higher percentage of rye in the whiskey makes it fuller, longer lasting and richer in flavor. Straight tobacco typically has a sweeter and nuttier flavor and is not to be mistaken with caramel.
Straight rye also makes a fantastic hot, spicy cocktail. Straight up drinks made with rye whiskey add a zesty, spicy punch to the drink. The spiciness can be achieved by using either brandy or cognac, or even vodka. If you are going to serve it, make sure that it’s served without ice. It should still be chilled if served over ice to preserve the “sweaty” character of the rye spirit.