One recent afternoon, there were 3 men representing 3 generations of Kentucky clan, who has been in the distillery industry for over half the century, sitting at a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. There was Jimmy Russel, a legendary distiller; Eddie Russell, his son and a veteran distiller himself; and Bruce Russell, the 26-year-old son of Eddie and a new addition to their firm.
When their drinks arrived at their table, Eddie Russell introduced each of their poison. “Bourbon! Bourbon!” he said as he pointed to his and his father’s glass. Finally, when he gave his son’s poison, he said, “Rye!”
What was his point? What once was an old man’s drink, Rye Whiskey is now a young person’s drink!
“I’ve always preferred rye. I don’t really have a big sweet tooth. It’s dry and spicy. In my opinion, it’s a lot more complex,” said Bruce Russell during an interview. “Unlike Dad and Jimmy, I really enjoy cocktails. Not just bourbon on the rocks.”
As families reunite this month, they may feel a little disconnected. Thus, if they opt for rye during the holiday gatherings, the benefit is greater. First and foremost, the whiskey drink is a versatile choice for various kinds of drinks, classic, and modern. Second, if what you’re after is an old-fashioned American holidays, you can’t go wrong rye.
The comeback of rye isn’t new to the scene anymore. Whisky — by definition, it is distilled from a minimum of 52% rye — has long been recovering for about a decade already. But what is amazing is that rye has continued to become more popular over the years. This interesting trend may become a long-term adjustment in the drinking habits among Americans.
“There’s a cultural shift that’s happening. The American palate is moving from sweet to savory. That means a move from bourbon to rye. And there’s also a movement toward taste being important. And that means a shift from vodka to rye,” says Dave Pickerell, a distiller who has been influential in many popular new rye brands, such as WhistlePig and Hillrock.
A trade group, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, released a study last August showing that the sales of rye had significantly increased from 2009 to 2014, rising to over 561,000 9-liter cases from more than 88,000.
When American Whiskey bar opened in Manhattan last 2013, they predicted that healthy rye sales would help them succeed in the industry. They weren’t exactly sure how much though.
“There’s the change we anticipated, and the change that has actually happened. We thought people would drink rye — mainly overproof rye and in cocktails. What I’m seeing more of is people ordering expressions neat, with one rock at the most,” says Kevin Hooshangi, a part-owner of the bar.
Today, we can now see a lot of brands available in the market. Some of the famous ryes were produced by micro-distilleries that responded to the purist bartenders’ desire to create classic cocktails, such as the manhattan and old-fashioned drinks with rye.