'Clap Your Hands' is part of a series of blog posts focusing on items which were previously only available out of state.

George Dickel rye is now available in Maine for about $25. This is a new rye so technically I don't know that it was available out of state before Maine had it or not. Still though, I thought it worth mentioning since decent ryes under $30 are pretty limited up here. This one's 90 proof and 95% rye.

Dickel rye appears to be another LDI/MGP product. Lawrenceberg Distillers Indiana (LDI), purchased at the end of 2011 by Midwest Grain Producers (MGP), supplies rye to a variety of companies that then age and bottle it and somewhere along the line bring it to the desired proof. These companies include Bulleit, Templeton, Redemption, Willett and others. Usually, if you see a label proclaiming '95% Rye' there's a pretty good chance it's an LDI/MGP based product. The exact recipe they use dates back to when Seagram's owned the company and while they tested several recipes they eventually settled on the current mashbill of 95% unmalted rye 5% barley malt. Rye is required by law to have a mash bill consisting of at least 51% rye (bourbon has to have 51% corn). Most ryes will also use corn and barley malt to complete the mash bill. More details here and here.

So, if everyone's got the same stuff, what's the difference? MGP does make the rye but there's still room for individuality based on aging/proof/barrels selected for use...etc. In the case of Dickel's rye there's a whole other filtration stage it goes through. Dickel's rye undergoes the same charcoal filtration process that they (and other Tennessee distilleries, notably Jack Daniels) apply to their corn based whiskies. However, it's interesting to note that Dickel's rye gets filtered after aging whereas their other whiskies undergo this stage prior to aging. Proponents say that this style of filtering, also called the 'Lincoln county process', contributes to a smoother, more mellow product. However, some argue it takes something away in terms of removing various congeners which may have contributed positively to the flavor of the finished product.

It's not an argument I try and make because I enjoy the stuff and personally, I think it's a big world - choices aren't a bad thing. Tennessee does it their way and I've long been a fan of Dickel's #12 whisky (like Makers Mark they buck the American and Irish tradition of spelling whiskey with an 'e'). I like that different companies have their own takes and preferences regarding methods of distillation, aging and filtration for their bourbons and ryes. It makes for different products that allow you to have some flexibility when deciding on what to drink - either neat or mixed. And the charcoal, while filtering out some things, enables other flavors to come through that probably wouldn't have without that filtration stage.

Plus, trying to suss out differences between the makeup of non-MGP brands isn't always much easier and rumors frequently abound. As an example, Jim Beam only has one rye mash bill so there's speculation that their ryes, including Old Overholt, Knob Creek Rye, Ri1 and Jim Beam Rye are all the same stuff just aged differently and with different proofs. That part may technically be true, to a point, but doesn't account for various other factors like which barrels were chosen, their age, their location in the warehouse, how much of each one went in to the final product...etc. On a similar note, Jefferson's rye and Whistle Pig are both 100% ryes from Canada, same age different proof. Are they based on the same product? I don't know. I like Jefferson's though and it's a lot cheaper than Whistle Pig.

But back to Dickel. I wanted to try it alongside something similarly priced (in this case, Old Overholt) in a few drinks and see how it compared.

First up, a Brooklyn (Rye, Dry Vermouth, Amer Picon, Maraschino Liqueur) a/b'ing versions with Dickel's rye and Old Overholt

Brooklyns - Dickel is on the left but they look pretty much the same.
Brooklyns - Dickel is on the left but they look pretty much the same.

The Dickel performed admirably here allowing the dry elements of the vermouth to contrast with the sweetness from the Picon and Maraschino while contributing some proof, a decent amount of body and a little spice at the finish (which also worked well with the Picon). The Old Overholt version made for quite a different drink. The body and flavor of that rye can sometimes prevent it from co-existing with less assertive flavors. It's richer, darker, thicker in mouthfeel with notes of caramel and burnt sugar. Sometimes I get some toasted marshmallow from it as well. I find this can sometimes work well...the Sazerac and Manhattan come to mind. For this drink though the Old Overholt didn't harmonize with the other components so much as push them to the background which resulted in a somewhat indistinct combination of ingredients.

Next up - Sheldon Street - Rye, Cynar, Sweet Vemouth, Campari, Xocolatl Mole bitters

Sheldon Streets - Small glasses are nice for splitting drinks which is not a bad thing when you're trying to taste a few
Sheldon Streets - Small glasses are nice for splitting drinks which is not a bad thing when you're trying to taste a few

Here the results flipped as you might imagine. All of those dark and weighty elements of the Old Overholt integrated nicely with the Cynar and sweet vermouth (I like how Martini's sweet vermouth mixes with Old Overholt so I used that here). Campari kept things from getting too heavy and the chocolate bitters, even at just a dash, pick up and run with all of the richer, spicier elements adding a very nice bitter chocolate undertone.

The Dickel version was fine and made for a drink that I would be happy to have in front of me but lacked the depth and character of the one made with Old Overholt. While it may not be practical to keep two (or three, or four...) moderately priced ryes on hand I think the results of these two comparisons illustrate how handy it can be to have choices in the same family of base spirit. Slippery slope? Yes, especially when you consider the same situation applies to spirits at the next price point.

To that end I made a round of Fratellis (Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Branca) in an effort to evaluate the Dickel alongside the spicier, wilder and more expensive Russel's Reserve rye. The experience was similar to the results from the Sheldon Street. The Dickel one was fine and that might be the version I make when I run out of the Russel's Reserve. However, that version, with the RR, was layered and more complex and allowed for the rye's bold warm spices to stay intact while navigating their way through the Fernet.

A/B'ing the Fratelli
A/B'ing the Fratelli

Finally (this didn't all happen on the same day, by the way), I wanted to make an Old Fashioned with the Dickel rye. Not really for the sake of comparison though. The Old Fashioned is a favorite and I was curious how this rye would hold up without much adornment.

Rye Old Fashioned
Rye Old Fashioned

The Dickel rye makes a decent enough Old Fashioned. Dark fruit, some wood with hints of warm spices and a bit of heat on the finish. Nothing crazy, but plenty smooth and not without some character.

So, I guess the bottom line is that we have another rye to choose from that's fairly priced and easy to mix with. Rye, as a grain, is somewhat expensive to use for distillation so moderately priced choices aren't abundant. Maybe someday we'll see Rittenhouse on shelves up here...that would be a wonderful day. However, making a case for Dickel's rye is easy. It's smooth but not too smooth, has some nice rye flavor and enough of it's own thing going on to warrant consideration when deciding between similarly priced options.

Recipes:

Brooklyn - Jack Grohusko, Jack's Manual, 1910
2 oz Rye
3/4 oz Dry Vermouth
2 tsp Amer Picon
2 tsp Maraschino Liqueur
Garnish - Cherry

Stir with ice, strain, up.

 

Sheldon Street - this is one I came up with
2 oz Rye
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Cynar
1/2 oz Campari
1 dash Bittermen's Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Garnish - Orange oil, expressed from peel over drink then discarded

Stir with ice, strain, up.

 

Fratelli - Jamie Boudreau
2 oz Rittenhouse (I subbed as listed above)
1/2 oz Carpano Antica (I used Cocchi's Vermouth di Torino)
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 oz Fernet Branca

Stir with ice, strain, up.

 

Old Fashioned - George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895
3 oz Base Spirit - in this case, rye
1/2 tsp Sugar
2 dashes Angostura (or experiment at will)
1 tsp water (I don't actually measure this, I just turn the sink on and quickly pass the glass under it) Garnish - Orange peel (or lemon peel or both)

Stir sugar, bitters and water together until sugar dissolves. Add the rye. Stir briefly with ice and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.