Mix it up: Take some time to consider the ryes and the wherefores

Philip Salter
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WE LIVE in an age obsessed with what we eat. We want to know it all – down to whether the dead animal on our plate had an emotionally fulfilling life; if her parents were of good stock; and whether she suffered from dandruff. Yet many of us throw back alcohol without even knowing what’s been fermented to pleasantly poison us. In short, we have a bad relationship with our booze. It’s time to stop taking her for granted – before knocking her back we should get to know her.

Whiskey is arguably the least understood of the base spirits – but the basics aren’t really that hard to understand. In essence, all whiskey is fermented grain mash. The most common categories are scotch, Irish whiskey, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye. Scotch must be made in Scotland with malted barley, while Irish whiskey is blended in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland. Bourbon must use 51 per cent corn and be made in the US, while Tennessee Whiskey is bourbon made in the state of Tennessee (which is why some people drink out on that smuggest of smug factoids: “Jack Daniel’s isn’t a bourbon”). American rye whiskey must come from the mash of at least 51 per cent rye; however, Canadian rye whiskey has no maximum requirement on rye content. This glosses over many of the complex regulations, but it would be dull to bring that up on a first date.

Quality whiskeys exist across all categories, but you have to start somewhere. One worthy of consideration is based on a family recipe from the 1830s – although its actual incarnation wasn’t so long ago: 1987. That was the year that Margaret Thatcher began her third term as Prime Minister; the year that Alan Greenspan succeeded Paul Volcker as chairman of the Fed; and the year that Thomas E. Bulleit Jr decided to quit the law and revive his great-grandfather’s old bourbon recipe. It’s a good job he did. Bulleit is a fine bourbon – and its spicy 95 per cent rye that hit the British market this year is equally impressive.

Like all whiskeys, rye is versatile. It can work well in a ménage à trois – or quatre, cinq, or six for that matter – cocktail with other spirits, or be taken on its own. On the cocktail front, rye works well in all three of the holy trinity of whiskey cocktails, namely the Old Fashioned, Sazerac and Manhattan. But if you want to try something a bit different you should pop over to Shoreditch’s Callooh Callay for a Rye me to the Moon. It’s a spicy, aromatic cocktail that lives up to its constituent parts and it will leave you positively beamish.

Put down those 20 shots of liquor you can’t pronounce; it’s time to show some commitment and make your next drinking session the first in your efforts to rebuild your broken relationship with alcohol: because she’s worth it.


■ 35ml Bulleit rye
■ 35ml Amontillado sherry
■ 10ml bay leaf syrup
■ 2 dashes Abbots Bitters
■ 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

■ Stir over ice
■ Garnish with orange zest and bay leaf