Old Fashioned Nights

And the perfect rye whiskey to take off the winter chill

By Tony Cross

Whenever Mother Nature makes up her mind, and decides that she’s going to throw colder weather our way, I always seem to forget how much I love pairing a good whiskey with the chill. There’s something about the burn going down my chest after escaping a cold and rainy night. I’m not reminiscing about the hellfire from a sour mash that I would shoot when I was barely old enough to partake. That had its time and place years ago. Nowadays, especially in good company, I opt for a good rye. One of my favorites over the past few years has been from Utah’s High West Distillery.

Jack Daniel’s was the first whiskey I ever tasted. I hated it. I’m still not fond of the spirit, and I’ll probably get a lot of flak for being honest, but I’d be fine with never ordering it again. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t turn down a Jack & Coke if one was sent my way. It wasn’t until bourbon began making its presence on the market felt that I began experimenting, and understanding our native hooch. And then I tried rye, and it was all over. The element of spice in a rye whiskey had my taste buds intrigued from day one. Not only that, but I began to notice that rye added much more depth in the whiskey cocktails that I was playing around with. Any chance I got to purchase a new rye (as in new to our local ABC store), I would scoop it up immediately.

High West was recommended to me by a patron one night. He had just returned from a work conference in Park City, Utah, where he encountered the world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery and couldn’t contain his excitement when explaining the myriad food and drink choices on the menu. In addition to serving cocktails with their signature whiskies, High West has an extensive spirits list with everything from Green Chartreuse to, well, Jack Daniel’s. The way he explained the different nuances with High West’s whiskies sounded like an adolescent with every sense aroused. All I knew was that I sure as hell had to get my hands on some.

From my first bottle of their Double Rye! (a blend of two-year and 16-year rye whiskies) to one of their limited releases, Yippee Ki-Yay, a blend of two ryes that are aged in Vya sweet vermouth and Qupé Syrah oak barrels (I yelled it out like Bruce Willis after my first sip. Yeah, that good), proprietor and distiller, David Perkins has yet to disappoint. The mainstay on my shelf is the Rendezvous Rye, a complex rye blend that marries a spicy 6-year-old rye with a more mature 16-year rye that adds a touch of vanilla and caramel. It’s the whiskey you pour with those who will appreciate it. Perfect with a cube of ice, but fantastic in an old-fashioned (recipe below).

In the past few years that I’ve gotten acclimated with rye, more and more distilleries are becoming readily available throughout our state. The increase in sales of whiskey has gone through the roof over the past decade. Just last year alone, whiskey sales grew 7.8 percent. Americans aren’t the only ones with a thirst for our national spirit: Export sales have grown from $743 million in 2005 to $1.56 billion last year. That’s crazy. Even crazier, according to Fortune magazine, with all of the growth of beer distilleries in the U.S., “distilled spirit suppliers and marketers marked the sixth straight year of increasing their market share relative to beer.”

So, it was no surprise to me when I read that High West Distillery has just been purchased by Constellation Brands Inc., owners of Corona beer, Svedka Vodka, and Casa Noble tequila, who also recently purchased Prisoner Wine Co. and Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits. “Uh-oh,” I thought. However, the Wall Street Journal online explained that the 200 employees at the distillery will continue working there, including Mr. Perkins. “The same people will be making and selling it,” the article assured me.

Not log ago, I discovered a bottle of the Double Rye! on the shelf of our local ABC outlet. It’s good to see that our town is adding more premium spirits to their inventory. I have a lot of friends who are bourbon fans, some connoisseurs. If that’s you, I’ll say this: purchase a bottle of rye, take it home, and try it with an ice cube or two; it’ll open up the whiskey like a decanter does for wine. If you’re still not swayed, make an old-fashioned. You’ll blush and cuss.

Old-Fashioned

1 cube demerara sugar

Pinch of brown sugar

3 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes orange bitters

2 ounces High West Rendezvous Rye

Lemon and/or orange peel

This cocktail can be built in the glass you (or your guest) will be drinking from, or you can mix it in a cocktail shaker, and strain it into the glass. Either way, make sure the glass is a thick-bottomed 8-10 ounce old-fashioned glass. Also, spend a few extra bucks, and buy small and large ice cube molds. Last time I checked, Southern Whey on Broadstreet had those available. There’s no point in making a cocktail with a $60 whiskey, if it’s going to get watered down immediately with your crappy ice. Place both sugars at the bottom of your mixing vessel. Dash both bitters over the sugar, and muddle it into a paste. Add the whiskey, stir with a mixing spoon for a few seconds, and then add four small ice cubes, and stir for 50 revolutions. If you’re building this cocktail in your glass, carefully add the larger cube, and stir. If you’re using the smaller cubes, strain over the large cube in the rocks glass. I love using a lemon and orange peel for this classic. Express the oils of both peels over the drink before adding them in. Santé!  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern pines. He can also recommend a vitamin supplement for the morning after at Nature’s Own.

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