Indignation over caramel colouring has withered to a whimper and most whisky lovers now accept that sulphur is an important ingredient in whisky flavours. This year, whole foods mania has spilled over into whisky, and it's grain that's all the rage.
Thursday 2 October, 2014
Canadian Club is launching a new whisky made solely from rye grain. For the first time, a traditional Canadian whisky brand name will appear on all rye whisky. I'm at a high-end launch party for Toronto media and whisky elite. In case you're wondering, I'm definitely media.
Mixologist Matt Jones wets our whisky whistles with Rye and dry Manhattans then sends us on a glee-filled spree of whisky glazed beef satay and Canadian Club mushroom crostinis. Even Davin, always restrained at these events, is cramming beef satay into his mouth like a mother bird with many young to feed.
Canadian Club brand ambassador, Tish Harcus walks us through the Canadian Club portfolio, each whisky paired with chocolate and cheese. A wafting epicurean jet steam draws my eye to food stations being replenished at the back of the room as Davin's sleight of hand produces yet another glass of rye from a place across the table.
Tish wraps up and I bolt for the food like the Roadrunner sliding into a plate of Acme birdseed. And with no Wile E. Coyote waiting to drop an anvil on my head, I savour the rye blended with hot smoked salmon on corn bread. I should have worn track pants.
Sipping a 'Rye and only Rye and Ginger' I wolf down 12 hour slow-roasted pork shoulder drizzled with 100 per cent Rye barbecue sauce. Then Davin points to the corned beef cabbage rolls. Forget the track pants; I need my stretchy Elvis jumpsuit (cape and all).
The dessert station is a blur. Through chicken scratch notes stained with sauce I read something like this: 'Dessert: Rock and Rye cocktail…sticky toffee pudding…chocolate pudding…Davin smiling like John Cleese and offering a single wafer-thin mint.'
Saturday, 18 October, 2014
We're at Whisky Live in Toronto, devising our plan. With these liquid smorgasbords, samplers such as Blair and I need a strategy before tasting opportunities become gleeful sprees. "How about we focus on single grain whiskies?" Blair suggests. "Not multi-grain whisky from a single distillery, but one single variety of grain."
Still beaming from a breakfast television appearance, I'm up for anything. A simple on-camera tasting of Canadian Club's new 100 per cent rye whisky turned into a pre-dawn bacchanal, with staff from every corner of the station lining up for drams at the pop-up bar we hastily wrested from the set and dragged into the hall. OK, Blair, single grain whiskies it is.
Most whisky lovers know that single malt whisky is made from a single grain type - malted barley. But whisky made from single grains other than malt? Well in Canada we have loads of them, be they wheat, corn, barley or rye. Braving the crowds, we head over Highwood Distillers table for their Ninety, a 20 Years Old all-corn whisky.
Corn, we are told, makes for an almost buttery quality and this whisky is no exception. Rich in Christmas spices and soft fruits, its exceptionally lush palate makes it a fitting start for our exploration of grain flavours. And already there's a lesson: Those twenty years in barrel have imbued it with significant amounts of eugenol, the signature congener in...wait for it...rye! Whole food know-it-alls aside, in Canada, 200 years of tradition tell us rye is a flavour as much as a grain. And now we know why.
"Don't ask how much rye," Hiram
Walker master blender, Dr. Don Livermore, once told us, "ask how
Nowhere is this more evident than in two all-rye whiskies from Calgary's Alberta Distillers. Alberta Premium, an entry-level mixing whisky distilled primarily in column stills definitely benefits from added ginger ale. Canadian Club 100% Rye from Alberta Distillers' pot still, on the other hand, simply brims with flavour.
A few booths over Dave Mitton beckons. Dave is the recently appointed brand ambassador for Hiram Walker whiskies. Their all-rye Lot No. 40 tempts us, but we decide to wait until last call.
Instead, we drop by the craft distillers lounge. Dillon's white rye is not officially whisky, but newly distilled rye spirit. Its flavour is all grain, untouched by wood and we are surprised at how soft, peppery and almost brittle it is. Wood is needed to make those rye spices crackle.
Next door, Toronto Distillery's Jesse Razaqpur is pouring his 100 per cent organic soft winter wheat spirit. Its tender, sweet, bready lushness stands in sharp contrast to Dillon's crisp rye spirit. We heard that wheat makes bland whisky, but like Masterson's 12 Years Old all-wheat whisky, this one is toffee sweet and overflowing with flavour.
At the next table 66 Gilead's Crimson Rye displays its wonderfully earthy and most unusual palate. Remarkably fruity even for all-rye whisky, its candy-coated, creamy, graininess emphasises its youth.
With no single grain unmalted barley whisky at the show we call back memories of Masterson's 10 Years Old barley whisky. Slightly bitter, it showcases almost musty grain-dust flavours unknown in its malted cousin.
Saturday, 25 October, 2014
That October day in 2011, when Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein decided to make single grain rye whisky in their Still Waters single malt distillery, they had not consulted crystal balls, ouija boards or the hocus pocus of marketing departments.
"I wish I had a crystal ball," laughs Stein. "I'd love to say we did all this market research and made a business decision to start producing rye spirit in time for rye whisky to become really hot, but we're not that clever."
"We wanted to see what kind of spirits different grains might produce. We bought a small amount of corn and a small amount of rye and mashed and distilled them separately," explains Stein.
"We kept talking about how unique and wonderful the rye and corn spirits were and finally made the decision to pick one and make more of it." Still Waters has now shifted production to 50 per cent rye.
Time was, people lined up outside record stores on the day their favourite band released a new album. When a new rye whisky was released, grandpa quietly brought home a bottle to sit fossilising on a shelf. Then bartenders re-discovered rye and eagerly dusted off grandpa's old bottles like paleontologists when they have discovered a new dinosaur bone.
Today, we line up for the new iPhone but still, rarely, for whisky. So I was surprised last year at the line outside Still Waters' door when they released their first single malts. The buzz around this year's single grain rye release, promises another crowd, faces plastered against the distillery windows waiting for it to open.
I pull into the parking lot and there's no lineup. Maintenance workers have closed the main highway in and out of the city, and it's a traffic nightmare. This year, faces will be pressed against the windshields of cars cursing the construction. Barry and Barry aren't worried; Still Waters' faithful will come. Adam, for example, set out early enough, becoming the first person on the planet to snap up a bottle, "I just like good whisky and I missed out on the single malt release last year. I couldn't let that happen again for this rye," he says before he joined the traffic jam home.
Our conclusions? Malted barley is not the only whisky grain. Distillation and maturation can disguise inherent grain flavours. It takes a lot more than roadworks to keep true whisky lovers from their rye. And single grain whiskies, made with care, are just as wonderful as single malts.
Rye and Dry Manhattan
• 1½ oz Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye
• 5 oz Dolins Dry vermouth
• 1 dash Angostura bitters
• 1 dash simple syrup
• Lemon peel
Stir all ingredients together with cracked ice. Pour into a cocktail glass over fresh ice. Accent with lemon peel zest.
The Rye and Only Rye Ginger
• 1 ½ oz Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye
• 1 dash Angostura bitters
• Ginger beer
• Lemon peel zest
In a tumbler filled with ice, add Canadian Club 100% Rye and bitters. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lemon peel zest.
Canadian Club 100 Rye Whisky Sour
• 1 ½ oz Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye
• ¼ egg white
• 1 oz fresh lemon
• 1 oz elderflower and ginger syrup
• 1 dash black walnut bitters
Shake all ingredients vigorously without ice for ten seconds. Add cracked (or cubed) ice and re-shake for another ten seconds minimum. Serve straight up with no ice into a chilled cocktail glass (champagne or cocktail coupe) with fine strainer (e.g. tea strainer).
Rock and Rye
• 1 bottle (750ml) Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye
• 8 oz Rock Candy Syrup (see boxout)
• 1 whole lemon, peeled
• 1 dash cloves
• 3 cinnamon sticks
• 3 anise pods
In a 1.5 l bottle, add Canadian Club 100% Rye, 8 oz Rock Candy syrup, lemon, cloves, cinnamon sticks and anise pods. Seal and let marry for one to two days. Keep chilled. Serve in a rocks glass or highball with lemon peel.
Rock candy syrup
Boil 1 cup of water in a saucepan and remove from heat. Immediately stir in 3 cups sugar until dissolved. Rock Candy Syrup will last two weeks in the refrigerator in a sealed glass container but is best used immediately.