Thursday, July 8, 2010

ooooh say it again


This is not a hot weather drink as such, but I have central air and a backlog of blog to get through.  A backblog.

First, about rye whiskey: now, we already covered the basics of what it is, which is a whiskey in which at least 51% of the mash bill is rye.  I think I probably also mentioned that rye means something completely different in Canada, where rye whisky typically contains very little rye.

There's much less rye whiskey on the market than bourbon, and that will continue to be the case for a long time to come -- the difference is so great that it would take several years for rye to catch up even if it were to begin doubling right now, which it can't do, because there simply aren't a shitload of ryes being prepared for market at the moment.  So.  You see how it is.  Furthermore, the rye whiskey market is less variegated.  You basically have the affordable ryes, the bullshit rye, and the sipping ryes.  The affordable ryes are Old Overholt, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam -- one to three of those are available pretty much everywhere, though they may be hard to find (my liquor store regularly stocks American rye whiskey next to Canadian blended whiskeys, a completely different part of the store than the other American whiskeys).  These are $20 or less.  The sipping ryes start at $50/75oml and can go for triple that.  The bullshit rye, which I guess you're wondering about now, is ri(1) or (ri)1 or Ry-Ry-to-the-power-of-one or some fucking thing, and it's an expensive rye aimed at vodka drinkers who don't like whiskey that tastes too much like whiskey.  It's mild not in a "smooth, subtle way" so much as a "there's no there there" way.

I haven't had Wild Turkey or Beam's ryes, but Old Overholt is far and away the best buy in your liquor store.  It regularly sells for less than $15, and dollar per quality, there's just nothing that beats it, not this side of a clearance sale or product discontinuation.  There's nothing on any shelf that approaches its complexity and quality for the price.  Weirdly, Old Overholt -- in this sense "the best rye on the market" -- is made by Jim Beam, who also makes ri-the-power-of-one, clearly the worst rye for the price.

But I don't want to oversell it: the key there is for the price.

There hasn't really been a Maker's Mark of rye, is what it comes down to, or a Bulleit of rye (well, except Bulleit itself, in a lot of ways -- it's a very rye-heavy bourbon with a lot of body) -- a solid, $20-25, low-premium entry that you'd happily drink a glass of but can afford to mix with.  The closest that I'd encountered until recently was the baby Saz -- Sazerac, a whiskey distillery (owned by Buffalo Trace) which shares a name with the cocktail but should not be conflated with it, makes both a 6 year and an 18 year rye whiskey, and if you live somewhere that carries the 6 (the baby), I highly recommend it.  I haven't been able to get it in NH since about 2007.  There's also the Rittenhouse bonded (that is, the 100 proof; Rittenhouse also offers an 80 proof bottling) which is widely praised but which I've only had in bars.

But as you see in this photo, there's a new rye on the market.  According to Google, Redemption Rye is made by Bardstown Barrel Selections, about whom I know nothing except that they make Redemption Rye.  Redemption Rye guys, if you google yourselves and find this entry, please add New Hampshire to your distribution?  I know it's a pain in the ass to get carried in this state, but look, I have this big fancy blog, I will talk about you all the time, it will be great.


Redemption is made with 95% rye.  95%!  That's huge.  That's so rye-y.  That's rye to the power of BAM, not "1."  

And it's one of my favorite whiskeys, tout court.  Unlike a lot of the recent additions to the whiskey shelves, this is a fully aged product -- the same "over two years in new charred oak barrels" that our existing options get.  Now, as much as I love unaged whiskeys, which we will talk about again soon, there is a rawness you get in slightly aged whiskeys -- those 6 month old whiskeys new distilleries offer sometimes -- which can get in the way.  There's none of that here, obviously.  Just rye whiskey greatness, at a mid-level price ($30 on DrinkupNY, roughly the same price as Eagle Rare bourbon or the baby Saz).

This is a great, great whiskey.

So what are we going to DO with it?

Well, let's talk about Herbsaint.

Herbsaint is an absinthe substitute that was first made after absinthe's ban in the US.  It was originally called Legendre Absinthe, despite not containing any wormwood, but the government made J. Marion Legendre -- who had become a fan of absinthe while stationed in France during the Great War -- change the name.  He went with Herbsaint, which sorta kinda sounds like absinthe in New Orleans.  The aforementioned Sazerac Company later bought the brand.

The modern version of Herbsaint is a little sweeter than the original, 90 proof instead of 100 or 120 proof, and is either distilled after infusing, or is made by blending flavor extracts -- I'm not sure which.  For Herbsaint's 75th anniversary, they went back as close to the original recipe as they could, even working with an Herbsaint fanatic in order to compare their draft to a sample of the original decades-old stuff.  The Herbsaint Original anniversary bottling is 100 proof, less sweet, and is flavored by steeping the botanicals in the liquor, just like in, you know, yore.

Herbsaint's not quite the same as absinthe -- like I said, it lacks that wormwood -- though the definition of absinthe is being quickly stretched by the microdistilleries now that the American market is reopened.  It's very licoricey -- in fact, more than anything, the nose smells like black jellybeans.

So that's Herbsaint.  Now what're we gonna do with it?

Well, there's another New Orleans product, Peychaud's bitters.  And they're the key ingredient in Louisiana's state cocktail, the Sazerac.

I never measure when I make a Sazerac, but you don't really need to: you "rinse" a glass with absinthe (add a couple drops to the glass and turn it over and over until it's coated the surface), sprinkle the bottom of the glass with sugar, add enough Peychaud's bitters and a twist of lemon rind to dissolve the sugar, and then add a little rye whiskey.

I'm now going to try two small Sazeracs side by side, one with Lucid absinthe (the first absinthe to be carried in NH, though I intend to try a different brand when it's used up) and one with Herbsaint Original.

First, I need to mention that the nose of the Lucid Sazerac is actually more licoricey than the nose of the Herbsaint Sazerac, even though the Lucid by itself seems much less licoricey.  I actually double checked to make sure I hadn't grabbed the wrong glass.

All in all ... hmm.  Okay, the absinthe seems slightly more pronounced.  It also has a thicker mouthfeel.  Absinthe is higher proof than Herbsaint -- Lucid is 124 proof -- but in such small quantities, I don't know how much effect that would have.

The flavor of the Peychaud's seems stronger in the Herbsaint Sazerac.  Man, this is far and away the best thing to do with Peychaud's, though.  It just goes so well with rye whiskey, and the absinthe or Herbsaint, whichever you use, brings out so much character from the Peychaud's.

I don't know, I can't pick a favorite here, but I'm kind of feeling like the Herbsaint Sazerac is a more balanced, rye-forward drink -- a little bit of absinthe goes a long way, and the bitterness itself of the Peychaud's seems a little lost in the Lucid version.

All right, LeBron, you camwhore mook, bring it on.


  1. Rittenhouse bonded, in New York liquor stores, is also in the $17-$20 range, not many shelves away from Old Overcoat and to my mind well worth the additional couple of bucks.

    I make my Sazerac with Rittenhouse rye, Nouvelle-Orleans absinthe, and (crucially) gum syrup, and it could scarcely be better.

    I haven't noticed Redemption in stores (DrinkUpNY has a storefront in Brooklyn but it's not much to look at) but I'll look around. There's a little small change left in my week's booze budget after you made me buy that rum yesterday (which I haven't tasted yet but smells like oloroso sherry).

  2. Picked up a bottle of Redemption Rye for $25 (750mL) near Boston. Very enjoyable on the rocks.

    Boston MA

  3. Under $20, I've tried all three and like Beam the best.

    Right now I'm sipping Redemption vs Whistle Pig side-by-side, both on the rocks. Not a fair comparison at all, but that's life. Redemption is sweeter, in a Bourbon or Canadian whisky kind of way that I haven't noticed in other ryes. I think I might prefer Jim Beam, not quite sure yet.