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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!




Cheap Whiskey Taste Test

When I turned 21 at the end of last year, I dived right in to the world of craft liquor. And because I went to college at a “dry” university, I totally missed the phase that most people go through at that time in their lives– shots of whatever’s cheapest.

Before this taste test I had never tried Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Dewar’s White Label, Jameson, or Johnnie Walker Red Label. At this point, I can sense heavy judgement coming my way. I know– shame on me for being late to the cheap whiskey party.

But, this disgrace actually turned into a shining opportunity, as these things do… opportunity for a taste test! I could nearly-objectively compare all these mainstream liquors!

So, with tiny liquor bottles in hand, my ever-patient boyfriend helped me set up a taste test. With little numbers on each tasting glass, he assigned a random number to each liquor and poured them accordingly. He hid the bottles so I couldn’t guess by color, set the glasses up in order by number, then I went to tasting.


First, I went through and wrote tasting notes only.

Second, I went through and rated each out of five stars. Disclaimer: they’re all judged against each other only– in no way am I comparing these to Glenfiddich or Suntory. The basic meanings of each star are as follows:

1 star = never again

2 stars = wouldn’t drink, unless by drinking it, it somehow it cured world hunger

3 stars =  would drink if I was at a house party with no other liquor options

4 stars = would order it with Coke at a dive bar

5 stars = would buy a bottle for my home bar

Last, I guessed which one was which, but that didn’t go super great. I didn’t get any right. Methinks I should practice my whiskey tasting skills more often. Practice makes perfect, right?

Mystery Whiskey #1

2.5 stars 

This one had the lightest color of them all; it was more straw-colored than amber. It smelled of caramel or toffee and grass. The taste is very light– its earthy and sweet at first. The finish verges on the edge of sour. It really hits the front of the palate and is moderately dry.

Mystery Whiskey #2

3 stars

I thought this one smelled of vegetables and dirt after a rain. The taste was vaguely sweet, solidly smoky, and dry. Primarily though, there’s a distinctive plain alcohol flavor.   The ethanol fumes made my eyes burn and tear up– it’s not a good look for me.

Mystery Whiskey #3

4 stars

This whiskey had a little bit of a leafy scent to it. Mildly peat-y. The mouthfeel was surprisingly thick. The flavor was quite ambiguous, and the aftertaste was “weird af” as I wrote on my notecard. Poignant writing, I know.

Mystery Whiskey #4

3.5 stars

Whiskey #4 had a sweetish hint in the nose. It had a drying quality, and tasted like toffee and smoke. Like, seriously, I felt like I was in a smokehouse barbecue restaurant that lets customers smoke cigars with their meal.

Mystery Whiskey #5

4.5 stars

The darkest out of the line-up, this one was hard to put into specific words. It has an identifiable caramel smell. The other scent that came to mind was “outside.” That’s very vague, but really the only word that describes it. The closest descriptor I can tell you is “field,” but that’s not quite accurate. Anyway, the taste was probably the richest of the bunch, hence the darker color. It was also sweet, and tasted kind of yellow. *shrug* Sometimes you have to accept ambiguity.

Now for the big reveal.

Which whiskey is which?

Drum roll please…..

Mystery Whiskey #1


Dewar’s White Label— I expected to like this one best, and I was surprised it turned out to be the lowest rated.

Mystery Whiskey #2


Jim Beam— perfect if you want a whiskey that tastes like it’s mixed with vodka.

Mystery Whiskey #3


Jameson— satisfactory.

Mystery Whiskey #4


Johnnie Walker Red Label— ~smoke on the water, fire in the sky~

Mystery Whiskey #5


Jack Daniels— color me impressed! I mistakenly assumed this would be the worst, but now I can wear my Jack Daniel’s shirt with a moderate amount of dignity.

As always my opinions are just that– opinions. Whatever your favorite whiskey is, go crazy. Not too crazy, because hangovers are terrible, but you know what I mean.


Review: Portland’s New Deal Distillery

Portland, Oregon is world famous for the sheer numbers of breweries in the city—more than any other city in the world. But there are also an insane amount of distilleries too. Part of the city is even called “Distillery Row.” I managed to visit 6 venues in the 2 days I was there, which is impressive because that’s a lot of hard liquor for one person to drink. Should I put that on my resume?

Anyway, out of the 6 I visited, one stood out above the rest: New Deal Distillery. That’s not to say that the others weren’t good; each has its own niche. However, New Deal Distillery excels in multiple niches.

They started out in 2004, as a vodka distillery, and have expanded into making gin, whiskey, rum and a variety of flavored vodkas and liqueurs. They were the first distillery in what is now “Distillery Row” and the second in Portland as a whole.

I never thought that the water used in making liquor had an effect because it’s all purified before it’s used, right? Why should one water with the chemical formula H20 taste any different from other water with the same chemical formula? When I was tasting all these different liquors, there was a common unidentifiable note between all of them not present in other boozes. I asked where their water comes from, figuring this was the source of the mysterious taste (or non-taste? it’s really hard to describe); apparently the water comes from Bull Run Watershed. This is the purest water source in the entire United States— unlike the Hudson river which is one of the most polluted. Without a scientific study, I guess I won’t know for sure if the water actually makes a difference. But at least I have a hypothesis.


The Vodkas

New Deal Distillery makes 2 kinds of vodka.

Portland 88 Vodka is made for mixing. It has a clean flavor that makes it versatile for a wide range of cocktails. If you want a vodka to hide in your Cosmo and get you drunk, this should do the trick.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a vodka for sipping, they make one for you too: New Deal Vodka. It is unbelievably smooth and well-rounded, with a minimal amount of the harsh ethanol flavor. Mainly it’s on the sweeter side, and slightly mineral. It’s only been distilled two times, so it still has plenty of flavor, but the good kind. It’s hard to find a vodka that doesn’t make you wince; the only thing New Deal Vodka makes you do is crave a martini.

The Rums

Both rums are agricole style, meaning they’re made with sugar cane juice rather than molasses. In fact, they’re both the same rum but one is aged for two years.


The unaged rum is mineral and dry. It has a green, slightly grassy flavor. There is a hint of ginger in both the scent and the taste. It’s fresh and would be great in a mojito or any tropical rum-based cocktail.

The aged rum has an intriguing duality. The scent is more fresh, with a faint bit of smokiness from the barrel. The taste is primarily barrel notes– some of the same you get from bourbon. It has a little bit of the minerality, like the unaged rum, but it’s mostly hidden. In spite of all the barrel brings to the table, it’s still remarkably fresh. If I were making a cocktail with this one, I would try a dark and stormy or maybe Planter’s punch.

The Gins

Luckily for me, even though I was just expecting to taste while I was there, I got a special chance to see the where the distilling happens, and the gin being hand labeled.


How cool is that?

I didn’t try the Portland Dry Gin 33 straight, the one that you can see being labeled above. But, I tried it in a Negroni Blanc, another fantastic way to drink gin. (As if there’s a wrong way?) You may know this cocktail as “Negroni Bianco” or “White Negroni”. Whatever you call it, it’s frickin’ amazing, and the best one I’ve ever had it was in New Deal. It’s definitely sweeter than your classic bitter Negroni, and this one was citrusy for sure.


The citrus isn’t just from the lemon peel garnish. The only botanicals in both Portland Dry Gin 33 and New Deal Gin No. 1 are juniper berries and citrus peel. This is endearingly minimalist, because I think there are plenty of gins out there that are just terribly bogged down by an endless list of botanicals.

New Deal Gin No. 1 is lightly colored. This is not due to barrel aging as I first assumed (get it together, Kim, geez!) but rather because some of the juniper and citrus oils are allowed to remain in the gin, giving it that yellow-y, green tint. It’s almost sweet but mostly fresh, and the flavor covers the tongue for a long finish.

The Whiskies


The most recently released whiskey at New Deal is Distiller’s Reserve Oregon Straight Wheat Whiskey. It is quite dry and medium-bodied because it was aged on char #1 barrels. It has oak and honey on the nose, but minimal sweetness on the palate.

From the Distiller’s Workshop series, the Smoked Bourbon really lives up to its name; it’s smoky all around. It’s a little reminiscent of mezcal. Surprisingly, I was told that the barrel is only a #3 char and it was aged for 2.5 years. I can only imagine how smoky it would get if it aged for 10 years. Overall, despite the prominent char flavor, it’s fresh with slight hints of citrus and minerals and maybe a little honey in the nose. Alex used the word peaty to describe it, but I’m on the fence about that.

From the same series is the New Deal Rye which is made with rye (obviously) and malted barley. Although this whiskey was aged for 2.5 years in a #4 char, it is very light-bodied and dry. The nose presents tobacco and oak. The oak is also pretty noticeable in the aftertaste as well. New Deal Rye is probably one best sipped straight.

New Deal is also coming out with another whiskey in October, which I got to taste before it’s released– very neat! This one is Straight Rye, and only 4 barrels were made. It is lightly sweet which is balanced with flavor from the barrel. A #4 char barrel was used, but it doesn’t have much smoke to it. In fact, there is a faint cherry flavor. If I had a bottle of this rye, I’d probably make an old fashioned.


Overall, I was extremely impressed with New Deal Distillery. I think it’s one to keep an eye on. They’ve already shown they’re capable of making unique liquor in a versatile range of types. This kind of promising craft has nowhere to go but up. Cheers!

Whole Foods Mac and Cheese Showdown

If you follow me on Instagram, you know how often I talk about Mac and Cheese. I eat it even more than I talk about it– which is probably already too much. Even recent studies didn’t do anything to deter me from my cheesy pasta. Morning, noon, or night, I’m eating the stuff. I definitely have my go-to brands, but I got thinking… which brand is actually the best?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the question we are here to answer today. I picked 5 boxes of mac and cheese from Whole Foods and taste tested them– just for you. Who are we kidding? I wanted to eat 5 boxes of mac and cheese, and this was a prime excuse.

The basic rules I adhered to when picking and making the mac and cheese are as follows: a) must be cheddar or cheddar flavored and b) must be cooked to the minimum time specified on the box.

Let’s get to the eating part, shall we?

Daiya, deliciously dairy-free, deluxe cheddar style, Cheezy Mac was the first box. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free and soy-free if you have any allergies and need to know that kind of stuff. It has 5 grams of protein per serving and plenty of calcium (and sodium, too). All of the packaging is recyclable, so a big plus there.


The noodles: classic-with-a-twist pasta shape cooked to the minimum time of 7 minutes, they were pleasantly chewy, though they did get a little more gummy toward the end of the bowl.


The cheese: out of all the mac and cheeses I tried for this test, this one was the only one that came with already-liquid cheese sauce. Normally, this would be a negative for me, but the cheese sauce covered all the noodles evenly, and there was plenty of it to go around. Aside from being a little salty, the cheese was delicious, as the box promised! If you had a hybrid of nacho cheese and sharp cheddar, this was what it would taste like.


Alrighty guys, now comes Road’s End Organic, Dairy-Free, Shells and Chreese…. yes. Chreese. That’s not a typo. Normally I try not to *ahem* shit on things that I don’t like. There’s enough mean people on the Internet, and I don’t need to add to the furious masses. Ordinarily, if something sucks, I would just not write about it at all. However, this is a showdown of mac and cheese, and I must express my extreme confusion and rage at this product. I ate about 5 bites trying to give Road’s End a chance, but I came to the end of my rope.


The noodles: I cooked them to the minimum time of 6 minutes and they were already like hot, soggy, cereal. If you try this mac and cheese, don’t even think about cooking the shells for the full 10 minutes. The box also says to “strain and thoroughly rinse pasta with cold water.” Noooooooooooooooooooooooo! I would add more “o”s to that “No” but I would honestly run out of space. Don’t! Rinse! Your! Pasta!!! That’s like rule #1 of cooking pasta. Nonononono. I don’t know who wrote this recipe, but they have certainly never watched an episode of Chopped. 


The cheese: frankly, this cannot be called cheddar style. It’s more like the factory consists only of a giant machine just built to crush Parmesan flavored Goldfish crackers into powder, which is then mixed 50/50 with garlic powder, and put into packets. I guess there are people who might like that flavor, but in no way is it remotely cheddar flavored.


I do appreciate that this product is vegan, organic, soy-free, nut-free, lactose-free, egg-free, and cholesterol free. I really do. But why does the packaging need to tell me it’s Candida Albicans-free? In case you are too lazy to click on the link I put there, Candida Albicans is a type of bacteria found in the human intestinal system and mouth. Since this is a food post, I won’t describe what happens when this bacteria becomes pathogenic. But really, should a food company have to tell me that a particular kind of bacteria is not present in my food? Shouldn’t it just be a given that there’s no potentially infectious pathogens in my food? I digress.

Heading off the dairy mac and cheeses is 365 Everyday Value Organic Macaroni and Cheese, aka Whole Foods generic brand. This one is the closest you’ll get to classic Mac and Cheese out of all the ones I tried. Tastes just like the stuff that my mom used to make me, but it’s certified organic and vegetarian, and has 9 grams of protein per serving. Score!



The noodles: another case of classic macaroni shape, this pasta tastes just unhealthy enough to make it a comfort food, but like I said, it sneaks in some protein to my carb-craving mouth. I’m not going to say this is the healthiest dinner choice you could make, but it’s better than just eating Krispy Kremes and Vienna Sausages.


The cheese: two words– more, please! Seriously, it has a nice sharp cheddar flavor. Probably my favorite cheese of all the powdered kinds, except there wasn’t enough for all the noodles and it was kinda clumpy 😦


Now we’ve arrived at Banza, Chickpea Pasta, Classic Cheddar, Shells and Cheese. Overall, this one is a winner in the healthy-but-still-tasty department. Its gluten-free, rBST-free, lower-carb, high in protein (18 grams!), and high in fiber(8 grams!).


The noodles: chickpea pasta cooks quickly and even after only 3 minutes of boiling, it was already a little bit more soft than I usually prefer. It also definitely tastes different from regular pasta, so if that’s an important factor to you… sorry. I still prefer regular pasta, but chickpea pasta is so high in protein in fiber, it’s worth it.


The cheese: uhhhhh, average. It tastes nearly as good as the 365 brand cheese. It helps you forget for a minute that you aren’t eating real, carb-heavy, pasta– sorry, I’m still stuck on the fact it’s not normal pasta! It’s good, but it’s different.


Finally, let’s talk about Annie’s Homegrown, Organic, Bernie’s Farm Fun Pasta Shapes with Yummy Cheddar, Macaroni and Cheese. That is a really long name, but it’s really important. Did you read the “Fun Pasta Shapes” part? and the “Yummy Cheddar” part??? I may be in my twenties, but pasta shaped like bunnies and cows is still much more appealing to me than normal shaped pasta. I purposefully ate this one last because otherwise I would have gotten hung up on the shapes and automatically declared this one the winner. Aside from these obvious benefits, there are no artificial flavors, preservatives, or synthetic colors. It has 10 grams of protein– not as much as Banza, but not bad for a carb-centered meal. It’s USDA certified organic, and made without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides. The box is also made of 100% recycled cardboard. Kudos to Annie’s for the environmentally friendly effort!


The noodles: did I mention the fun pasta shapes already? Aside from this, they came out nicely al dente when cooked to the minimum time of 10 minutes. One downside is that your boyfriend will definitely make fun of you for enjoying kid’s food… at least that happened to me.


The cheese: the cheese certainly is not as potently-flavored and prominent as previous cheeses, but it is easily the creamiest powdered cheese out of the bunch. Again, I definitely would want more cheesiness– it is mac and cheese, after all– however, it evenly coated all the noodles. In all honesty, I was so excited to eat the “yummy cheese” and “fun pasta shapes” that I forgot to take a picture first…… whoops. Self-control level: -1

Time for the Whole Foods Mac and Cheese Showdown awards ceremony.

Award for the Leftovers Most Likely to Sit in My Fridge and Never Get Eaten goes to Road’s End Organic Shells and Chreese! Congrats!

Award for Most Balanced Mac and Cheese goes to Banza Chickpea Shells and Cheese for being both good and good for you!

The Award for Most Environmentally Conscious Mac and Cheese goes to Annie’s Homegrown for caring about the environment and the people (and animals) who live in it.

Most Classic Mac and Cheese Award goes to 365 Organic Macaroni and Cheese! This one will transport you back to your childhood with strong nostalgic elements.

And the highest award in this showdown– Best Overall Mac and Cheese— goes to Daiya Cheezy Mac. Excellently creamy, generous cheese, and classic noodles won this dinner the grand prize.

Thank you all for attending the Whole Foods Mac and Cheese Showdown! Stay tuned for more carbs and booze– coming soon!

Review: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

When you think of brunch you probably don’t think of beer.

And when you think of coffee, you definitely don’t think of weasel poop. What?!

I got ahead of myself, let’s rewind for a minute.

Continue reading “Review: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel”

Milk Chocolate Day & Definitive Ranking of Lindt Flavors

July 28th is National Milk Chocolate Day!

Because today is also moving day for me (new apartment– woo!) I didn’t have time to go any cool artisan chocolate factory like Cacao Prieto. Instead, I bought  box of Lindt chocolates from Walgreens.


C’mon, you didn’t really think I was going to let a chocolate themed holiday pass me by, did you?

Lucky for you, I ranked the flavors of the Lindt chocolates, so you can eat the best ones out of the box first and give the rest to your roommate. You’re welcome.

Here is my definitive ranking, in reverse order because ya gotta have a little suspense in your life.

Continue reading “Milk Chocolate Day & Definitive Ranking of Lindt Flavors”

Bee Happy: Catskill Provisions New York Honey Whiskey Review

“Happy Bees Make Better Honey!”

This slogan appears on the jar of raw wildflower honey I received from Catskill Provisions, and I couldn’t agree more! Their honey is also infused into their New York Honey infused Rye whiskey.


Continue reading “Bee Happy: Catskill Provisions New York Honey Whiskey Review”