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The Rhythm and Booze with Felipe Schrieberg

American Whiskey And Rye: A Marriage Made In Spirits Heaven

Editor: This article was first published on Forbes on 28/06/2016. Find the original article here
 

 

Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is an award-winning London-based whisky writer, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He is also a musician and co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that fuses live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events and multimedia.

Follow Felipe on Twitter, Linkedin or his website.


 

I’m happy to admit that while I know my Scotch whisky, American whiskey is somewhat of a black hole to me.

Though I’ve tried a few here and there, I’m fairly ignorant of the differences between Scotch and American whiskey in taste and their production processes, as well as the kinds of flavors found in American whiskeys compared to Scotch. Never mind the intricacies and differences between rye whiskeys, bourbons, and other varieties out there.

So while on the St. Louis leg of an American tour with my blues band earlier this month, I decided to close this knowledge gap and get educated on American whiskeys with the help of John Joern, all-around whiskey connoisseur and owner of the best whiskey bar in the city, The Whiskey Ring.

 

This is what an all-around whiskey connoisseur looks like. His name is John Joern Photo: FelipeSchrieberg

 

As ryes seem to be reaching new heights of popularity, I asked John if he could give me a primer on rye in American whiskey to provide more of a focus for the tasting and for understanding this important aspect of the whiskey world. He happily obliged. 

 

My drinking buddy for the evening, the excellent Ryan Koenig, harmonica master with American musician and songwriter Pokey Lafarge Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

Before we get to the tasting list, here’s some useful information: First, there's a difference between a ‘rye whiskey’ and a ‘high rye whiskey’. A rye whiskey requires the mash bill (the recipe of grains in an American whiskey) to be a minimum of 51% rye, much in the same way a bourbon needs to be a minimum 51% corn. A high-rye whiskey will contain between 16-20% rye. So take note of these delicious whiskeys incorporating rye.

 

 

  1. Four Roses Single Barrel

 

Taking phone photos in dark places while drinking lots of whiskey may not be what I do best. Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

This high rye bourbon from a classic bourbon distillery was a perfect place to start the tasting. It helped get me used to the fact that rye whiskeys and high-ryes, compared to Scotch whiskeys, have a lot of wood, toffee, and vanilla flavors that you have to fight through (in a good way) in order to discover more subtle aromas. This one had a bit of cinnamon and butter besides the big wood/toffee/vanilla thing, but not much else for me. It might be that my taste buds weren’t quite sure what to handle, but John didn’t scowl when I registered my views. I take that as an encouraging sign for my entry into this brave new world.

 

 

  1. Rieger’s

 

Whiskey, with a hint of sherry Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

Another high-rye bourbon, the Rieger’s website informs me that this thing has a minimum age of seven years, and even boasts a dollop of aged sherry from Jerez. You won’t get that in Scotch. This Kansas company is typical of many American bourbon companies - they source their spirit for mixing and bottling from a different distillery to create their own unique product. From what John tells me, many of these companies operate like Compass Box in London, pulling in different kinds of spirit and sometimes adding their own unique maturation processes as well. Unlike Compass Box, their recipes are a complete secret.

For this whiskey, I suspect my taste buds were warming up as orchard fruits (cherries on the nose) and licorice came through in the taste.

 

  1. Bourye

 

Upper echelon jackalope Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

A product of the High West distillery of Utah, John tells me Bourye is considered to be in the ‘upper echelons of blended bourbon’. By ‘blended’ he means there's been a mix of rye whiskeys and bourbons thrown together into proportions that are kept secret. The bottle doesn’t even reveal if this classifies as either a bourbon or a rye. It sure is tasty, though. This is the most complex of the lot so far. Dark fruits combined with bakery butteriness on the nose give way to a kind of sweet tartness that is definitely comparable to... Warheads candy.

 

  1. US 1 Straight Rye Release

 

A mix of beets and graham crackers. Yum. Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

Our first proper rye whiskey of the night, this release from Kentucky's Michter’s distillery (named after a shuttered Pennsylvania distillery) showcases the mix of vanilla, caramel, toffee, graham crackers and bitterness that can be typical of a rye whiskey. There’s also a slight vegetal edge that I can’t quite identify. Beets? Carrots? Maybe you can find something closer to the mark. Let me know, please.

 

  1. Russell’s Reserve

 

Bottled from barrels picked by the master himself Photo: Felipe Schrieberg

 

Wild Turkey's master distiller, Jimmy Russell, is revered in the American whiskey world and one of the most important figures in American whiskey. This release from Wild Turkey bears his name, which makes sense as Jimmy and his son, Eddie, selected the barrels that go into this six-year-old release. They picked them well - this is the best whiskey of the night, and I suspect John knew what he had created. The rye bitterness is missing, happily, from this one. Citrus, mango, and butter on the nose lead you into a peach crumble on the mouth, with that classic American background of toffee and caramel.

 


By Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is a London-based whisky writer, musician, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He writes for internationally renowned publications such as Forbes, Whisky Magazine and The Whiskey Wash. He has been awarded the Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year award at Whisky Magazine's 2022 World Whiskies Awards.

He is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. His past projects encompass performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of the band's own show Two Guys, Three Drams which combined live blues with whisky tasting, and building the world's first bass drum made from an entire Scotch whisky cask with a barrel of Lagavulin.

He is also a judge for the World Whiskies Awards and The Independent Bottlers Challenge. Through his online tastings hosted at The Virtual Whisky Masterclass, he has welcomed over 3,000 guests across 250+ tasting events.

His first book, London Cocktails, is now available worldwide. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @schriebergfr, or at www.felipeschrieberg.com