From the 1780s to the 1910s, more Americans reached for rye whiskey than any other distilled spirit. And that made them true patriots.
Gin, you say? Dutch and British. Vodka? From the northern latitudes of Europe, distilled to have no taste, with its widespread presence in American drinking life the result of an advertising campaign. Rum? A drink born from colonies and empires, unfit for the free-born. Scotch? A fine liquor for those who own multiple homes and flaunt their wealth with a put-on sense of entitlement and faked sophisitication. Canadian whiskey? A whiskey so smooth that in most incarnations, it suits only those who don't like whiskey. And bourbon? That fine American spirit? Well, it damns no souls. But it's not rye.
Weaning themselves from West Indies rum--a supply cut off by the Revolution--the first generation of Americans turned to native drinks, distilled and fermented under independent skies. Though the elite kept their taste for madeira and port wines, common women and men turned to hard cider. Made from a wide variety of easily procured apples, and easily fermented, it became one dependable source of alcohol.
Meantime, in the realm of distilled spirits, rye--derived from that hardy grain that grew where few others would--came to reign supreme. Western Pennsylvania, home to 1794's Whiskey Rebellion, became one distilling center. Maryland emerged as the other. Both regions produced distinctive ryes, whiskeys found nowhere else in the world. Long before the barons of the bluegrass began bottling bourbon (derived from the distillation of corn), rye swept over American tongues and won American hearts.
Why then, do most Americans find rye whiskey so unfamiliar in a renewed era of fruit-flavored cocktails full of flashy color and inane liquors? Evil-eyed purveyors of temperance destroyed America's rye tradition. In the years after Prohibition, it became harder and harder to find rye. Only in the last ten years has rye whiskey reemerged as a liquor of choice for those with a discerning palate and a sense of adventure.
Yes, yes. But why rye?
Rye's got pizazz. Rye is the drink of our founding fathers and mothers. Rye brings a sparkle to any classic whiskey-based cocktail (many of which were invented with rye in mind), let alone the drinker's eye. Rye is the liquor of independent-minded women and men. Rye's salubrious nature eases daily discomforts. Rye is the choice of those who accept the responsibilities as well as the rights granted by our Constitution. And finally, rye tastes good.