John Pogue and I were talking recently and he told me something that I found to be a very profound thought. He said the MGP rye whiskey is the best thing and the worst thing to happen to rye whiskey in the last 50 years. They have been a blessing in that they made aged rye whiskey to many bottlers and introduced rye into markets that would not have existed without MPG rye. They have been a curse in that now everyone thinks rye whiskey needs to taste like MGP rye. In my opinion John Pogue is 100% correct in making this statement. The rye whiskey coming out of Lawrenceburg, Indiana is being bottled as Bulliet rye, George Dickel rye, Templeton rye, and a score of other rye whiskeys being bottled by independent bottlers and craft distillers who do not have aged whiskey to sell at this time. There is some variation in the flavor as the expressions do vary in age and proof, but the basic flavor is pretty close between the expressions.
This rye tends to be a very high rye mash bill with as little as 5% malted barley and in many cases no malted barley and only artificial enzymes for conversion. This style of rye is very good but very one dimensional. There are some very good rye whiskeys in the market that have been there for all along. Wild Turkey rye from Wild Turkey, Jim Beam and Old Overholt rye whiskeys from Jim Beam, Pikesville and Rittenhouse rye whiskeys from Heaven Hill, Sazerac rye from Buffalo Trace. These are all very good rye whiskeys and different from the MGP and each other in mash bills and flavor profile. Many of these are “barely legal” ryes with very little over 51% rye in the mash bill. The problem is that they have been hard to find for the average consumer. Many times their market is limited and they all seem to be in short supply.
There are a few new ryes being produced by the craft movement. John Pogue’s Five Fathers Rye deserves a mention here. This is very different in that it is a rye malt recipe developed by John’s ancestors before prohibition. It is a very different flavor profile than the MGP rye. I find it to be not as sharp in flavor with more maltiness/sweetness from the grain. It is still a very young product with another year or so to go before they can offer even a four year old expression, but it is still very flavorful. I expect it will be even more complex and flavorful as it gains more age.
Another rye whiskey I am looking forward to drinking on a regular basis is the rye being made at the Peerless Distillery. I am not sure if they even have a brand name picked yet for this rye because they have only been distilling since March 2015. I am not sure of their mash bill but I suspect a fairly high rye content. They are using a low barrel entry proof and I have tasted this whiskey at four months old and really like it. It has a very nice molasses sweetness with some sweet spices. It reminds me of a ginger snap cookie.
Rye whiskey is a very complex and flavorful spirit. It would be a real shame if it was cornered into being a one dimensional product that tasted the same from brand to brand. I do appreciate the MGP ryes on the market, but I do hope that consumers also look for different styles in rye like they do in bourbon.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl