Editor's note: Last week, The Year of Drinking Adventurously author Jeff Cioletti shared some spicy cocktails that would be perfect for the upcoming holiday, Valentine's Day. This week, he'll share a different kind of spice that would make for an equally adventurous Valentine's celebration!
When we think of “spicy” we immediately think of heat. But that isn’t necessarily always the case. Spice can take many forms, like the faintly tart elements inherent in the rye grain. Rye whiskey is making a huge comeback these days—what I’ve dubbed the “rye-naissance.” So any chance you get this Valentine’s Day—as well as the other 365 days of this year (it’s a Leap Year, after all)—try some rye neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Here are a few of my faves:
WhistlePig 10-Year Straight Rye Whiskey
Distiller extraordinaire Dave Pickerell—master distiller of Maker’s Mark for 14 years and now a consultant on several dozen whiskey projects—is the creative force behind WhistlePig. It’s distilled in Canada from 100 percent Canadian rye and bottled in the U.S. It’s no overstatement to call it the rye-lover’s rye.
Darek Bell of Nashville’s Corsair Artisan Distillery is one of the true trailblazers in the craft distilling movement. He’s made whiskey out of everything from oats to quinoa and certainly knows his way around a batch of rye. One of his most celebrated creations is Ryemageddon, distilled from 80 percent malted rye grains and 20 percent chocolate rye grains grown and harvested by local farmers. After distillation, it’s aged for nearly a year in charred American oak casks.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Northern Harvest. Famed whisk(e)y writer Jim Murray named the Canadian brand World Whisk(e)y of the Year in the 2016 edition of his annual Whisky Bible. It’s highly affordable—expect to pay around $29.99 for a 750-ml bottle and a terrific gateway spirit into rye, as well as Canadian whisky in general.
If you have a hankering for a good, classic cocktail, I’d suggest using rye in an Old Fashioned. Here’s my preferred recipe
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 2 teaspoons agave syrup (I prefer it to simple syrup because of its flavor and low glycemic index. Maple syrup also adds an interesting dimension—especially if you’re using Canadian whisky. The leaf is on the flag, after all!)
- 3-4 dashes of bitters (live a little, go for five, if you like it bitter!)
- Ice cubes (If you can get your hands on the proper mold, a single, extra-large cube or even a sphere works great).
- 1 orange slice
- 1 maraschino cherry
Place ice cube(s) in Old Fashioned/rocks glass. Shake rye, agave syrup and bitters. Pour over ice. Rub orange slice around the rim of the glass, squeeze and drop in the cocktail with maraschino cherry.
Cheers to the most ridiculous holiday of the year! Hope you’re toasting with someone special!