Okay, first all Todd, you couldn't have gotten responses from better people. Well, at least not until I showed up [cough, cough, cough... wheeeeze
]. Thomas McKenzie is a distiller whose range of practical experience and awesome depth of technical and hands-on knowledge would (or at least ought to) bring shame to many a "legendary" master distiller in the Bourbon Belt. Jeff (Mozilla) is one of the most enlightening posters you can find in that particular area of whiskey lore that attracts my interest, namely how the industry -- and especially the "forgotten" parts of it -- so closely illustrate the real stories of Americans from the very beginning. Mike (BourbonV) Veach's realm may be a little more limited, as he focuses mainly on Kentucky whiskey, but within that area he is THE authority. In fact, I think it's safe to say that just about any knowledge ever published about Kentucky bourbon is either directly quoted from Mike or from someone who paraphrasing him. And then there's Gary Gillman who, like myself, seems fascinated perhaps even more by all the DISinformation and mythology surrounding American whiskey than by discussions of "which one's better than which". Gary shares with me a basic determination to make observations from completely outside the prescibed viewpoints, and I cherish his fearless disregard for whether his often speculative postulations might bring negative response from sometimes over-rated pundits. Even when I'm one of 'em. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he REALLY IS "outside the box" for these discussions, since he lives in Canada and his view of American (meaning U.S.) whiskey is peripheral to his main interest, Canadian whiskey.
Okay, that said, here's a couple of responses of my own. Please forgive me, for I know not what I do, but I'll try not to stir up too much trouble...
PaulO wrote wrote:I have tasted modern ryes such as Beam's version of 80 proof Old Overholt, Sazerac Rye, Rittenhouse BIB, and Wild Turkey Rye. I am not sure how any of these would compare to Maryland or Monongahela rye.
Of course all of these are Kentucky rye whiskeys. And, just as some folks believe only Kentucky whiskey can be called "bourbon" (not true), many folks are amazed that Kentucky has a very long and honored reputation for rye whiskey going all the way back into the 19th century. As for comparing them with the non-Kentucky ryes, you need to keep in perspective that what we call "Maryland" or "Monongahela" has evolved very twisted and often interchanging paths -- with roadsigns that were often, uh, shall we say, unreliable. Although the evolution of Kentucky bourbon is complex and draws heavily upon the interactions of powerful distilling (and legislative) families, it is also well-documented. And the heritage of the whiskey industry is revered in Kentucky. Not so with the whiskey industry in Pennsylvania, which was once far larger. Nor in Maryland, where Baltimore attorneys once devoted whole successful careers to protecting clients from phoney "Maryland Whiskey" knock-offs, such being the panache of the term. Not to mention that rye whiskey was also produced quite successfully in states such as New York, where you'd think they'd never heard of th' stuff.
But the trick to remember is this... regardless of the plethora of pre-prohibition brands "returning" after the National Drought, those brands were all owned by only about a half-dozen spirits merchants. And those were nearly all focused on Kentucky distilling sites.
Reasons? Ask BourbonV. My simple answer is that Kentucky's state government was quite proud of its distilling heritage thankyouverymuch and that made it far easier to do business there than in the other states. But the end result is that, while some of the qualities that distinguished between Kentucky rye and the others persisted through the forties and fifties, mostly the distilleries were being shut down and production moved to Kentucky distilleries. The rye whiskey that Wild Turkey sold was originally Pennsylvania rye. Said so right on the label. Jimmy Russell didn't make it in Anderson County, Kentucky; he was busy making fine bourbon there. Austin Nichols bought the whiskey, probably from Publicker/Kinsey or PennCo (maybe both/and). That's who made Rittenhouse before Heaven Hill bought the brand. The fine folks from Bardstown call that brand "Monongahela-style", because it's an old Pennsylvania name, but it was (a) not that old, and (b) from Eastern Pennsylvania, meaning it was -- even originally -- more similar to Maryland-style rye. And Heaven Hill also produces Pikesville, a revered old Maryland rye whiskey that they bought from Majestic in Baltimore. However, the original Pikesville was related only by name to the product sold before prohibition. And Majestic stopped producing whiskey in the early 1970's, continuing to bottle Pikesville Maryland Rye Whiskey from other Maryland sources. Later bottlings were labeled "Maryland-STYLE" whiskey. The whiskey itself came from Pennsylvania, perhaps also Publicker whiskey produced at Kinsey. Or maybe Faust whiskey from Glen Rock, PA, only about forty miles from Baltimore and already producing Maryland-associated brands.
In fact, much of the whiskey called "Maryland" rye came from south-central Pennsylvania. A look at a U.S. map offers a good explanation: There's not much difference between Berlin, PA and Cumberland, MD (about thirty miles) and even less in the people who distilled whiskey in these communities. Now, "Monongahela" is another story. Rye whiskey production in the Western Pennsylvania counties dates from about the time the first pioneer set foot there. America's first armed conflict between our federal government and our own citizens began less than three years after the Constitution was signed, and it all revolved around Monongahela whiskey. By the time rye whiskey became popular in the taverns and public houses of Philadelphia and Baltimore, the spirit whose red-brown color was already well-known enough to have been used as a familiar reference in Herman Melville's Moby Dick ("unspeakable old Monongahela") in 1851 was long only a memory. Like New England rum, whose top position in Atlantic Coast taverns some believe to have been filled by Monongahela whiskey after the "triangle trade" collapsed in the first decade of the 1800s, there are no bottles of Monongahela to examine. Whiskey was sold only by the barrel at that time, and even then sometimes the whiskey was called rum, or cognac. It's not unthinkable that tavern customers never realized that Monongahela WASN'T rum. Melville refers to "old Orleans whiskey", as well as to punch and to red wine, but Monongahela is not further identified as to its nature.
And it would be another century before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, so we can only wildly guess as to what might have actually been in those barrels. THAT was the "real" Monongahela. The nearest thing we have today (and that's only near to the version National Distillers was making (or buying from PennCo) in the 1980's) is Old Overholt. National Distillers had been pretty good at maintaining the brand's pre-prohibition characteristics (we have examples that can be taste-compared), but had changed the formula dramatically by the time it sold its brands to Jim Beam. Beam, for it's own part, did right by what they got; Even today, over twenty years later, and even while supporting a rye brand of their own (which, despite Jim Murray, tastes almost nothing like Overholt), the flavor of Old Overholt is quite recognizeable when compared to N.D. Overholt from the late '80s.
bourbonv wrote:The one thing that is not discussed here is the yeast. It is my opinion that a lot of the fruity flavors come from the yeast and that is where you should look to duplicate those flavors.
Maryland Rye was hit hard after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Maryland rye depended highly on rectification of the whiskey.
To add to what Mike is saying...
Tastings of pre-prohibition (and even some pre-PF&D) whiskeys will quickly dispel the myth that "rectified" whiskey means "cheap, imitation, low-class" whiskey. Some of the greatest whiskeys ever produced were the result of blending aged whiskey with (a) other whiskeys, (b) other spirits than whiskey, (c) other fruit products, and/or (d) tinctures or powders of spices or herbs. The stigma about "evil blended whiskey" appears to have been popularized by proponents of the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act (straight whiskey distillers, of course), and intensified a decade later in the campaign to pass the Pure Food & Drug Act. That campaign was aimed primarily toward atrocities in food and drug packaging, of which distilled spirits were only a small part. But horror stories of the meat-packing "jungle" and such practices as coloring canned peas with copper sulfate to make them appear green were eagerly expounded by those spirits producers whose agenda was to concentrate the attention of prohibitionists on products they deemed to be of lesser quality than their own. They actually succeeded, too, for a little while. From its passage in 1906 until the Taft Act, overruling it, went into effect in 1911, it was actually against the law to use "whiskey" on a bottle of anything not meeting the standards of Straight Whiskey (as determined by legislators representing those distillers). Can you imagine anything like that happening today? (well, not counting healthcare reform anyway). We have an example of W.H. McBrayer's Cedar Brook from that era. It's rich and sweet and just a lovely... uh, something. Not quite sure just what, though. The word "whiskey" (let alone "bourbon", which it certainly tastes like) does not appear anywhere on the label. We have also examples of Maryland and Pennsylvania ryes which date from before that period, and I'm certain that many (if not all) of them would not qualify as straight rye whiskey today. That doesn't stop them from being delicious.
Todd, while things like the yeast strain and mashbill are certainly important, I think you'll get the most mileage toward capturing the essence of the old rye whiskeys by taking it off the still at around 100 proof -- or less -- and barreling it at that proof. In a charred barrel (it doesn't have to be a NEW charred barrel unless you're making STRAIGHT rye whiskey). And bottling it after 4 to 7 years at 86-110, depending on what kind of warehousing you're doing. I think most of the Pennsylvania and Maryland ryes didn't increase in ABV like Kentucky whiskeys do, but if your 100-proof rye comes out at 107, I wouldn't be complaining. I believe it was Gary who suggested that one difference between the East PA/Maryland style and Monongahela may have been that the latter was nearly all rye grain, and that might be a good way to go for a meaningful differenciaton if you're making both varieties. Also, I'm not sure what the effects of the malted/unmalted ratio might be. I understand rye isn't the easiest grain to malt, and since the Western Pennsylvanians were certainly no strangers to beer, I'm sure malted barley may have played some role, but perhaps not as significant as when corn is being used for 30% or so of the mash.
By the way, Gary also brings up...
gillmang wrote: ...As for molasses, young rye whiskey was sometimes served from barrels (this in Western Pennsylvania) that had held molasses.
Remember what I mentioned about the ORIGINAL Monongahela and its possible relationship to New England rum? I didn't know about "the molasses connection"; THANKS GARY!! One thing I do know... there are many references to settlers selling rum to the Indians. I've driven many, many times through Western Pennsylvania, and y'know, I don't recall EVER seeing a single cane field anywhere around there. I wonder if that (perhaps rye-based) "rum" might have been the same stuff being sent back over the mountains to the East Coast? I wonder what contribution all that residual molasses might have made to its rum-like character? Hey MikeV: Did the old bourbon-makers ALWAYS use straw to char their barrels? Or might they have used sorghum instead? Wonder how that would enhance the product by the time it got downriver to those taverns along Bourbon street?
Okay folks, I'm older now and slower and it took me most of the afternoon to write this.
THAT's the reason I don't hang out here like I'd really like to. I'd love to sit and drink and chat with y'all, on account of I can still do that just as fluently as I ever could. At least, until I fall over.