May 2016: American Straight Rye Whiskey

by Stephen Netherton

Prior to Prohibition, rye was the most popular grain American farmers distilled with regularity (including George Washington). Prohibition, however, ushered in bootlegged Canadian whiskies. While these still featured a majority rye-based mash bill, Canadian rye is much softer. The American palate adapted, and after Prohibition was repealed, rye took a back seat to sweater, smoother grains, such as corn. Bourbon, thus, took over as America’s most popular whiskey.

But, times are changing. Rye is surging back (riding the building tidal wave of all whiskey, really) and is reacquainting itself as the primary grain. In Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible, the top two overall world whiskies were rye whiskies – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye and Pikesville Straight Rye.

What distinguishes a simple rye whiskey from “straight” rye? Any rye whiskey must contain a mash bill of at least 51% rye. Straight rye is distilled at no more than 160 proof and stored at no more than 125 proof in charred new oak barrels. Finally, it must be aged at least 2 years and contain no added flavor, color, or additional spirit or blend. 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).

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2015 End of the Year Bottle 2: Caol Ila 18-year

Paired with the Port Ellen, we also tasted another Islay Scotch – the Caol Ila 18-year

Located on the eastern coast of the Islay region in Scotland just across the straight from Jura, Caol Ila can trace its roots back to 1846.  However, the current large-production distillery, sitting on the site of the original distillery, was completed just over 40 years ago.   Expansion was warranted as Coal Ila positioned itself to a supplier for outside blenders.   Not surprisingly,  it is now owned by Diageo.

Caol Ila is often known as one of the more approachable Islay whiskies, which are known for their extreme smoked peat character.  Caol Ila’s offerings, however, often soften the harsh smoke with floral, peppery and fruity notes.  Because of this softer approach to smoke and peat, much of Caol Ila’s production is used by Diageo in other branded blends (like Johnnie Walker) or sold to outside blended scotch producers.

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January 2016: Irish Single Malt Whiskey

by Dr. Stephen Benson

Often overlooked due to its Scottish neighbors, Irish Single Malt whiskey is rich in variety and quite delicious. The art of distilling in Ireland goes back more than 1,500 years. It is thought that Irish monks traveling back from the Far East brought the art of distilling back with them. The general rules for Irish whiskey are that it has to be distilled in Ireland, distilled to less than 94.8%, and aged for at least three years in wooden casks. There is a burgeoning microdistillery movement in Ireland that only serves to raise the bar in the years to come. Slainte!

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