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!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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.

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