April 2009

Rye Cocktails

Rye is that quintessentially American whiskey. It's Rye that Humphrey Bogart drinks in The Big Sleep in part because it's so very American. Here, watch it yourself:

American Rye

Cowboy movies seem to invariably have at least one scene where someone swaggers into a saloon and orders a shot of Rye.

Singing cowboy Tex Ritter has a famous song devoted to the subject of Rye Whiskey. There was a time, in fact, when the word "whiskey" in America meant Rye Whiskey, almost exclusively. From the 1700s, when farmers in the foothills of the Alleghenies discovered the soil and weather were ideal for growing the rye to make this distinctively American spirit. Even after the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, when farmer/distillers relocated to corn country, whiskey meant Rye. In terms of American mythology, any cowboy bellying up to any bar in the west asking for whiskey was actually ordering Rye. That situation lasted until sometime around the Prohibition in the 1920s. The spirit was so omnipresent in the developing frontier that our mythological cowboy didn't have to specify what kind of whiskey he wanted, because it was already understood.


Vermouth is a fortified wine, a wine that has had alcohol added to the wine, in this case, usually brandy. Vermouth is typically made with white grapes and flavored with herbs. Vermouth was inspired by the practice of creating "tonics," wines mixed with herbs of various sorts as a household practice. While the specific formula, and herbs used depends on the maker, the name vermouth itself is from French vermout, derived from German wermut, itself from Middle High German wermuot, or "wormwood," from Old High German wermuota. Vermouth, in other words, was originally made with wormwood.

Evan Williams Black Label Kentucky Bourbon

Evan Williams is another of the Heaven Hills Distillery bourbons, a cousin, so to speak, of Elijah Craig. I tried it on a whim, since I quite liked the Elijah Craig, especially in an Old Fashioned, and it was on sale at the local liquor store. It's fairly standard Kentucky bourbon, aged somewhere between four and seven years in oak barrels, depending on the bottle. I note that this bottle has no age statement on it, but that other sources state that the current Evan Williams "Black Label" is aged five years. It's roughly comparable to Jack Daniels, in other words.