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Issue 9 - Return of the rye

Whisky Magazine Issue 9
April 2000


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Return of the rye

The bad guy's whiskey is set to leap off the history shelves and stage a magnificent revival. Scott Aiges makes an irresistable case for procurring some bottles.

With the snifter held aloft, the liquid inside displays a deep amber colour, the result of years spent in a barrel of charred oak. But with one whiff, it is obvious that this whiskey is like no other.

What is it? A 10-year-old bourbon may give off a buttery sweetness, a 16-year-old Islay malt a husky smokiness. But the mystery dram offers a tangy, biting scent with hints of peppermint and orange peel. Is it an armagnac? A Portuguese aguardente velha?

Then there's the taste. Compared to the oaky vanilla of bourbon or earthy peat of Scotch, this fruity brew yields a surprising, invigorating mix of hazelnut, pepper, rosemary and peaches. It lingers on the palate, finishing smoothly but with assertiveness, until its tart essence rebounds and lodges in the brain.

This is a flavour to remember. It will be hard to forget. But what is it? Like bourbon, it's usually distilled from a mash of corn, barley and rye and aged in new charred oak. Like an Islay malt, it is bold and feisty. It is a proud whiskey with a distinguished history. But it has fallen so far out of favour that it is difficult to find on the shelves of bars and liquor stores. The average drinker may never even have tasted it and probably would fail this quiz. The answer is: straight rye whiskey.

Ah, yes. Rye whiskey. Celebrated in song and legend, but rarely tasted these days. Just saying the words “rye whiskey” conjures images from history; musket-carrying settlers in colonial America, rough-riding ...

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