Rye Whiskey I Cry!

Someplace way back in my youth I thought I should like rye whisky. It may have had something to do with hearing the cowboy movie star, Tex Ritter, sing, “Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry. If I can’t get rye whiskey I surly will die.”

old overholt labelDoug McLaughlin may have played a part. I have this vague memory of the two of us sitting in his kitchen eating crackers, Swiss cheese, and drinking rye whiskey.

Whey my ship was in the Boston Navy Yards in 1962-63 I remember hanging out at a couple of jazz clubs and drinking Old Overholt over ice.

Rye whiskey is so named because 51% of the grain used is rye. At one time it was the most popular of American whiskeys and even George Washington distilled rye whiskey at Mount Vernon. Sometime following prohibition it lost out to bourbon and almost disappeared from liquor store shelves.

They say that’s changing and rye whiskey is experiencing a comeback. I’m not sure about that since I’ve had somewhat a hard time finding any. I’ve always liked Scotch, can’t stand bourbon, and have this memory of rye. So about three months ago I began looking, without success, for half a pint of rye to refresh my memory. Yesterday I happened into an out-of-town liquor store and asked the clerk if they had any rye. Turned out they has about three fifths of Old Overholt so I picked one up.

Old Overholt is one of the oldest whiskey brands in America, having originally been distilled in Pennsylvania since 1810. The name even turned up in an episode of Boardwalk Empire when Nucky Thompson conspired with Andrew Mellon to secretly distill liquor at then closed down distillery. Fact or fiction it shows the historical importance of the brand.

That evening I unscrewed the bottle’s lid and poured myself a small neat sample.  Wow, was I not ready for what unfolded. No doubt this is not bourbon and certainly not Scotch. They talk about whiskeys and wines having hints of fruits and spices and flowers and being effected by the soil they came from. To me that was never more true than a splash of Old Overholt and it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. From this first sip I felt like I was licking the dirty dew off my neighbor’s crop of hay. It was spicy with a distinct flavor of grain and a not so subtle hint of soil.

Rye whiskey is definitely an acquired taste and I can’t believe I had ever actually acquired a taste for it. I suppose I play around with it and maybe rediscover what I think I thought back in the 1960. Or maybe it will join the several other dust-covered bottles of hooch I’m never going to drink.

By the way, Canadian Whiskey is historically referred to as rye whiskey but to day it often doesn’t contain rye.

“Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I’ll try. But if I have to drink rye whiskey I surly will die.”

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