Rye is America’s first indigenous whiskey style, but its popularity has dwindled precipitously through the centuries. Much of it produced today is blended into other whiskeys to give them structure, while dedicated straight rye drinkers are few and far between. Its place in popular culture is cemented more through its use as an easy-to-rhyme song lyric (as in "American Pie") than as a bar order.
We surmise rye’s demise is due to its pungent, powerful and unforgiving nature that worked better in American pioneers’ rough-scrabble lifestyles than those of modern metrosexuals. The phrase “smooth rye” seems oxymoronic, but it aptly describes Russell’s Reserve Rye Whiskey, a new release from Kentucky. Despite being nearly half alcohol, it goes down smoother than any rye we’ve ever tasted.
This handcrafted six-year-old, small-batch 90-proof spirit sports a rich, tawny color, with an aroma that hints of vanilla and allspice. Sipped at room temperature on its own, the power is present in the mouth, but with an alluring caramel flavor that pleases rather than puts off. Unlike other ryes, there’s no need to immediately reach for a chaser. The high alcoholic content still rewards drinkers with a warmth that is easy to trace from mouth to stomach. We were surprised that even women who eschew the spirit were able to enjoy Russell’s straight from the bottle.
If you prefer your rye tamed in a cocktail, try a Rye Manhattan:
RECIPE Russell's Rye Manhattan
3 parts Russell’s Reserve Rye
1 part Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with three brandied cherries.