Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: Rye

Review: Jim Beam Pre-prohibition Style Rye

Owned by Beam Suntory, Jim Beam Pre-prohibition Style Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is distilled at the one of the Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $16-$25

In early 2015, Jim Beam launched a reformation of their straight rye whiskey. But, as far as anyone can tell, the only difference between the old Jim Beam Rye (with a yellow label) and the new Pre-Prohibition Style Rye is that the label is now green and the whiskey is bottled at 45% ABV rather than 40% ABV. However, we do know that because there is no age statement on the bottle the whiskey inside must be at least 4 years old. This is one of the odd quirks of US labeling laws in that any whiskey aged less than four years must say how old it is but, no age statement is required at 4 or more years. We also know that since this is a straight rye whiskey it was aged in new charred oak barrels and that it has at least 51% rye grain in its mash bill. The rest of the mash bill isn't public but a reasonable guess puts it at 51% rye, 44-39% corn and 5-10% malted barley.

Jim Beam Rye has been around for decades and it is likely that this so-called reformulation, upping the proof to 90, is an attempt to say relevant in the booming rye whiskey category.  Rye whiskey has enjoyed renewed popularity these past few years, in part due to MGP and Whistle Pig. MGP based in Lawrenceburg, Indiana was once owned by Seagrams and made their easily identifiable 95% rye, 5% barley mash bill to blend into Seagrams 7 and other whiskeys. However, MGP now sells their spirits (rye whiskey, bourbon and even gin) to other companies that bottle it and sell it. Some of the most well know customers of MGP Rye are Bulleit, George Dickel, Templeton and High West. Whistle Pig on the other hand is buying a 100% rye whiskey from Alberta, Canada and bottling it in Vermont. Both of these whiskeys demonstrated the boldness and potential of rye whiskey and as a result, bartenders and whiskey drinkers were inspired to re-embrace a type of whiskey that mostly fallen out of favor.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Immediately notes of vanilla and oak are carried up on a blast of alcohol, followed by baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. Once the whiskey has had some time to breathe a little, light fruity notes like blueberries or black currants comes through.

Palate:  The palate is sweet with a medium to full body and very harsh. After your palate adjusts to the alcohol, slightly spicy grain notes come through with strong oak flavor.

Finish:  The finish is short, slightly sweet and slightly spicy. Pleasant flavors of iced black tea are overshadowed by an odd note of raw dough.

Conclusion:  This is not a whiskey to drink neat. Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye has lots of oak flavor and lots of heat from the alcohol, underlaid with only the faintest hints of rye spice. It makes an OK Manhattan that seems to plays up more of the herbal character of the Vermouth. All in all, I will not be buying another bottle. 

Women's Initiative Wine & Whiskey Event

On Wednesday November 13, a couple hundred of people filled the historic Banking Hall at 400 California street in support of the Women's Initiative for Self Employment. People happily mixed and mingled as they sampled wine and whiskey from a number of sponsors. Four Roses, Mitcher's and Compasbox all poured from their extensive whiskey lines. St. George poured their Breaking & Entering Bourbon, Dry Rye Gin and Absinthe. Bender's Whiskey Company, based on Treasure Island was pouring samples of their Bender's Rye whiskey. The event bar was expertly staffed by Romina, the General Manager of Nihon Whisky Lounge, and featured a number of classic whiskey cocktail. I tried their version of a Sazerac, made with Bender's Rye Whiskey and St. George's Absinthe, which mixed together very nicely.

The main program for the evening was emceed by San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascón, and his wife Fabiola Kramsky. The highlight of the evening was a talk by Atrid Lopez, a Women's Initiative graduate and owner of Elite Sports. She shared how the training she received from the Women's Initiative helped her and her family start and successfully run their business since 1989. After Astrid spoke, her son, Ivan Lopez shared about how through his family's success he now owns and operates Artillery Apparel Gallery, a hybrid art gallery/retail space that features art and clothing from local designers and artists. The Lopez family is a great example of how empowering women to become small business owners not only helps them and their family but also ripples outward to the surrounding community.

The event was able to raise over $40,000 which will go towards funding the next cohort of women who sign up to take their training on how to successfully run a small business. I for one was happy to participate in the event and was glad to see local wine and spirit produces supporting the next wave of small business owner. 

Review: American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye

Clay Risen, American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit, (New York: Sterling Epicure, 2013), 304 pages, $24.95.

Clay Risen is the editor for the Op-Ed section of the New York Times, and he has written for a number of publications including The Atlantic and Smithsonian magazines, and authored A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination.  He is also the author of the blog Mash Notes where he writes about his passion for whiskey.  Out of his love for whiskey and a desire to inform those interested in learning more about the growing panoply of whiskey options in the US, he wrote American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit.

All together the book is very well executed.  As a physical object, American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye is beautifully constructed with counter-relief gold type and color photographs of about 200 whiskey bottles on high-gloss paper.  While Risen suggests the reader stick the book in their back pocket as they head out to the bar, the book seems a bit big for that. Though, maybe the paperback version will be more compact.  The text of the book is organized into two major components: an introduction, and tasting notes.  The introduction covers the history and methods of whiskey production in the United States from its first appearance in the colonies to the current whiskey renaissance.  While it is very well researched and written it also seemed an odd choice to have a 70+ page introduction rather than split the already segmented material into separate chapters.  Before the section on tasting notes, Risen included a short tutorial on how to read a whiskey label.  This is an important addition considering that he wrote the book for the un/under-trained  whiskey drinker.  However, this section could have been stronger if Risen had also explained how to read the back label and used more than one example.

The majority of the book is comprised of tasting notes for 206 American whiskeys, bourbons and ryes.  The reviews are organized by brand name and each includes a short description of brand including if they are from a distillery or merchant bottler.   The reviews are brief and boxed into separate sections that allow the reader to get a good deal of information at a glance. Each whiskey is rated from NR (not recommended) to Four Stars (excellent) and given an approximate price range with one to four dollar signs.  Some of the reviews were a bit puzzling considering that a whiskey described as tasting of asphalt and burnt tire got over three stars.  Risen acknowledges that each person's palate is different and creates a subjective frame of reference when drinking.  So to combat this he often tasted the whiskeys with other people to approach a more objective analysis. 

With any new book of reviews it's a good idea to sit down with the book, crack it open and drink sample of what you have at home and compare your experience with the notes.  In this way the reader can get an idea if the author's palate and vocabulary for describing spirits is similar to the reader's.  If it is, then the reader can be reasonably sure that the tasting notes and ratings will match their own.  I, for one, am looking forward to tackling this fun and arduous task with American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye at my side.