The Basics of the New Empire Rye Whiskey

About a month ago there was a party celebrating the birth of a brand new classification of whiskey– Empire Rye.

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Here’s the specs of this new booze:

First of all, Empire Rye must be produced in the state of New York, just like Scotch must be produced in Scotland and Champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France. At minimum, 75% of the rye that the whiskey is made of should be grown in New York. The rest can be whatever grain the distillery chooses.

Second, like most American whiskies, it should not be distilled to more than 160 proof, (or 80% alcohol). But, unlike most American whiskies, it must be barreled at 115 proof or less– ten points lower than usual.

Next, Empire Rye must be aged for at least 2 years in charred, new, American oak barrels. No used barrels, no French oak. Capeesh?

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Fourth, it must be mashed, fermented, distilled, barreled– basically everything– in a single season at a single distillery. There are two 6-month seasons; January 1 through June 30 is spring, and fall is July 1 through December 31. Screw summer and winter, I guess?

Finally, if two (or more) New York distilleries mix their whiskies, all whiskies in the blend must adhere to the standards to be called blended Empire Rye. Otherwise, it’s a no go.

Okay, now that we got all that (really interesting) technical nerd stuff out of the way, now we can get to the actual taste of the whiskey which is what matters to those of us who don’t actually own their own craft distilleries. A girl can dream though, right?

So, just like any other classification of whiskey, there is variation within the type. I’ll go over a couple different Empire Ryes with you to help you make your drinking decisions.

My personal favorite out of the bunch is made by Coppersea Distilling, straight out of New Paltz, New York. It’s a very bold and spicy rye. It has a little bit of the bitter raw cacao flavor and — hear me out — a note of shiitake mushrooms.

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While this complicated whiskey is really good for people who already like and have tried a variety of whiskies, if you’re a whiskey n00b, you might want to try something still high-quality but a little more classic. Take Hudson Whiskey’s Manhattan Rye, for example. It still has some of the characteristic rye spiciness you can really find in Coppersea, but it’s much more toned down. The most prominent flavor is the vanilla coming from the barrel.

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If you’re a bourbon drinker, you might prefer Van Brunt Stillhouse Empire Rye. It’s a little sweeter, with some of the corn-y taste that you typically get from a bourbon. The rye spice is certainly there, but it’s secondary. There’s also a touch sourness, but not off-putting.

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If you want to try Empire Rye, but aren’t sure if you want to get a whole bottle yet, there are a couple places that you can go around the NYC area.

New York Distilling has tours of their distillery, and a free tasting with your tour. Alternatively, you can sip Empire Rye in their fantastic house bar, The Shanty.

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Kings County Distillery also has tours and tastings. They, too, have a house bar where you can try Empire Rye and all the other whiskies (and moonshine) they make.

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To find a distillery in New York making Empire Rye, click here.

Hopefully you find Empire Rye as delicious and interesting as I do (I have four different bottles of it already. Coming soon– a post on Kings County Distillery!

 

 

 

Pesto and Gin Pasta

We all know what to do with liquors we like. It’s not very difficult to figure out what to do with something good. Well, if you do need help figuring out what to do with good liquors, I’m always available with a million ideas. But what do you do when you have a whole bottle of liquor that isn’t good, isn’t bad, but is just mediocre?

I came into this situation with a bottle of dry gin we bought recently. It was good in the first drink. It was alright in the second drink. But after the 3rd or 4th try, it was just like any other gin. There was no way I was going to throw it away.

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Fast forward through my brainstorming session to my bright idea to make pesto pasta with gin. I’m going to walk you through the steps of making this surprisingly good recipe. This serves 2 people, but can be doubled or tripled or quadrupled or… I think you get the picture. Also, the way I made it was completely vegan, but you can add meat or cheese as desired. As always with pasta dishes, get your pot of water heating up while you prepare other things.


First, I prepared the pesto. Not including shopping time, this portion of the recipe takes literally 2 minutes.

What you need:

1 cup of fresh washed basil leaves– when you’re filling your measuring cup, pack the leaves tightly to get the most flavorful pesto.

1/4 cup pine nuts– did y’all know how expensive pine nuts were?? It’s insane. Substitute with walnuts if you don’t feel like spending $8 on one handful of nuts.

1/4 cup olive oil– olive oil works best, but can be substituted for other oils.

1.5 oz. gin– If you’re making extra pesto to save for later, skip the gin.

1 pinch of salt– this is especially helpful in bringing out all the flavors in the basil, but if you’re going to use parmesan, you can skip this because parmesan is pretty salty.

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Take all these ingredients and pour them into the blender. Puree until it’s all in little bits. Don’t worry about it being perfectly and evenly blended; that will give a little texture to the food. Save this pesto mixture for a little later on in the recipe.


At this point, I diced some onions to add a little extra flavor to the dish. I like onions, so I did 3 ring-slices worth.

This is also probably the point you should drop your pasta in the boiling water. I used De Cecco Farfalline because the only thing better than bowtie shaped pasta is tiny bowtie shaped pasta.  Set a timer for half the recommended cooking time.

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Pro tip: if you cook your pasta at a rolling boil at all times, it’s less likely to get stuck together.

In a frying pan, put just a dime sized drop of oil (there will plenty in the pesto, remember?) and turn the temp to medium low. When the pan is warm and the oil is a little less viscous and rolls around in the pan like water, drop in the onions and 1.5 oz of gin. You can season with a little garlic, salt and pepper if you like. The goal here is to brown the onions slightly– not so much that they get mushy… unless that’s how you like them, whatever. Turn the pan down to the lowest setting.

 

Now’s a good time to put your pesto in the pan, but don’t worry about stirring it yet.

When the timer for your pasta is up, taste it. I know, it’s not done yet, that’s the point! When the pasta is still slightly too chewy for your liking, drain it. Pour the pasta into the frying pan with the onions and the pesto. Pour another 1.5 oz of gin in with everything and stir thoroughly.

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Aaaaaaand you’re done. Dish it up or eat it straight out of the pan! You’re the chef, you can do what you want!

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Now you’ve successfully made a delicious pasta and managed to improve a significant amount of gin. Happy eating!