In my humble opinion, what this winter has lacked in snowfall it has made up for in bleakness. Unrelenting freezing cold temperatures have gone hand in hand with these insane monkey viruses that everyone has been passing around like playing cards, and at this point in February I just thank God for whiskey. And this particular season, what I’m really loving is the rye from Rittenhouse. Rye! Yarrrrr. What the hell is rye, anyway?The story goes that before Prohibition, rye whiskey was the most popular spirit consumed in the whole US of A. Good, hardworking Americans drank it straight and in cocktails by the droves, presumably while dancing to the Michigan Rag. It was even used as a salve to help teething babies! To be a baby in 1918 must have been something, friends. But sometime after that ridiculously dry 18th Amendment was repealed, it was unfairly stigmatized as the preeminent choice of your neighborhood’s red-nosed morning drunkard. Many decades later, a broad base of whiskey lovers rediscovered it and now happily there are dozens of stellar ryes to choose from at your local package shop. A final Cliff Clavin fact: rye whiskey is only designated as such when 51 percent of the headline grain is in fact actual rye (much as a bourbon whiskey must be 51 percent corn.) In layman’s terms, I think what makes rye different is that it’s less sweet and more spicy. It has some of the feisty attitude you find in scotch, but without the peat and smoke.And it’s been hard work, obviously, but I’ve spent many evenings trying different ryes. The Rittenhouse wins for me because it has all of the excellent characteristic rye flavors like pepper, cinnamon, and ginger but it also has a very pleasant orangey undertone to it. And it has a complex aroma: sort of like fresh leather, old wood, and perhaps an angry Viking. It makes a fantastic Manhattan, but I think it goes brilliantly over a few cubes as well. Best of all, at around $24 a bottle it’s a serious bargain, given most retail above $35. So next time, make it a Rittenhouse on the rocks! Bottoms up from your pals at On the Real.
Something about the holidays seems to encourage food and beverage makers to infuse so-called holiday tastes where they have no right being present. I personally don’t ever want my beer to taste like egg nog or sugar plums, but I will admit to wanting a stronger, darker beer as the weather gets colder and visits with relatives become more frequent. Enter a new beer from the tiny Oregon microbrewery Full Sail called Session Black. A “session” beer is so named because it’s deemed one a thirsty person can drink multiples of without feeling too full or saturated (as opposed to a Cranberry Spiced Pumpkin Ale.)Session Black manages to be easy drinking like a lager, but has a lot of the flavor profile you might find in a stout (roasty-toasty, chocolate and coffee notes.) So it manages to have wonderful richness and a full body without making you feel like you just ate an entire loaf of lard bread. And it comes in these sharply designed little grenade-sized brown bottles, which make it feel totally and erroneously innocuous to knock back half a dozen in a sitting. At least, uh, that’s what someone told me. Happy Holidays.