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David Wondrich: ‘How Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey Lost Its Way’

David Wondrich:

Scan a menu in a craft cocktail bar and it’s a lead-pipe cinch you’ll find something on it made with rye — straight rye whiskey, that is, made right here in the United States. For drinkers under, say, 35, it’s even a given. But those of us older than that can recall the days when if you asked for a rye Manhattan they would give you something made with Canadian “rye,” which oddly enough can be made with no rye in it at all. Indeed, things got so bad that the whole category almost completely disappeared. The troubles really began at the turn of the century with World War I and Prohibition on the horizon and then they only got worse.

The story of Old Overholt, which I began in my last column, is really the story of the whole Mid-Atlantic rye whiskey industry, and of industrial America. The rise, the fall and the rebirth — it’s a history that to my knowledge has never been fully explored and needs to be for this style of whiskey to be more than a fad. Here is the full unabridged story of how rye whiskey, our first indigenous distilled spirit (it goes back to 1648) almost became a footnote in American history.

Fascinating story. I love rye whiskey (particularly in an Old-Fashioned), but I didn’t know any of this history.

Friday, 30 September 2016