Father’s Day is here. Never mind that it’s a manufactured holiday, the dad-bods of the world deserve a little hoopla. But along with the festive streamers, skywriting and midlife-crisis psychotherapy, why not give ol’ dad a bottle of rye?
Rye is bourbon’s rougher-around-the-edges brother. The basic difference is simple: Bourbon has to be made in the U.S. and calls for a mash bill (the percentages of corn, wheat and rye used to make the spirit) that is at least 51 percent corn. In the U.S., rye must be at least 51 percent rye (in Canada it’s a different story, but the short version is that products labeled Canada Rye or Canada Rye Whiskey don’t require a minimum percentage of rye; odd but true).
The real difference for drinkers, though, is in the taste. Rye tends to be somewhat spicier, occasionally with a slightly fruity, citrus note; bourbon, to generalize, is somewhat sweeter and more rounded. But if you set a rye whiskey that’s made from 51 percent rye, 39 percent corn and 10 percent wheat next to a bourbon made from 51 percent corn, 39 percent rye and 10 percent wheat, they’re going to be pretty similar. So it really comes down to the decisions made by individual distillers.
Anyway, time is pressing, and Dad requires a present. Here are three excellent ryes to look for.
Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye Whiskey ($23)
This new-ish release is an update on the classic Jim Beam Rye, bottled at higher proof (90) and with a new look. It’s a bit unclear to me why this is “pre-Prohibition style,” except to capitalize on the craze for pre-Prohibition cocktails, but whatever: The whiskey’s still a good, straight-up, spicy rye for a fair price. Ideal for pretty much any rye-friendly cocktail: Manhattans, old-fashioneds, Sazeracs.
Alberta Rye Whisky Dark Batch ($30)
An aromatic, dark amber whiskey, new to the U.S., Alberta's Dark Batch is unusual in a number of ways. First, unlike many things labeled as rye whiskey that come from Canada, it actually is 91 percent rye. Second, the rest of it is 8 percent bourbon (from the U.S.) and 1 percent sherry (from Spain). It’s a bizarre combination that actually works: The whiskey is rich, oily and slightly sweet, with citrus peel and nutmeg notes and a fair bit of barrel character. My inclination would be to use it in a Manhattan but cut back on the usual vermouth percentage.
WhistlePig 12 Year Old World ($118)
WhistlePig is one of the big success stories of the craft spirits world, born along by its impressive 10-year-old straight rye. Over the past year, they released several wine-barrel finishes (Sauternes, Madeira, port); now, the new Old World combines all three. Fragrant with oak spice and a distinct fruity scent from the wine barrels, it has dark cherry-honey flavors, a little candied citrus and a spicy end. This one? Sip it straight.