What the Hell Is Rye, Anyway?

manhattan at seabar.jpg
I've been on a real Manhattan bender lately. Had never tried one until about a month ago, when a buddy ordered one and I chimed in: I'll have what he's having. I cannot stand sweet cocktails, and was under the misguided impression a Manhattan was sticky, but it's not.

So I started trying them, ordering them mixed with some bourbons I'm very fond of: Pappy Van Winkle, Black Maple Hill, Bulleit, Elijah Craig, Dickel. But then I learned Manhattans are traditionally made with rye whiskey. I didn't have a clue how rye whiskey was made, so I turned to my friend, booze savant Matthew Rowley, the San Diego-based author of a book on moonshine and of a blog cleverly called Whiskey Forge.

For starters, he quoted federal regulations (Title 27, section 5.22) about what constitutes bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, malt whiskey, wheat whiskey, and malted rye whiskey. Some such stuff about proof and grain percentages. Before my eyes glazed over, he got to the meat of the matter:

"Essentially, for a spirit to be called 'rye whiskey,' it's got to have at least 51 percent rye in the mash. The other grains are usually barley malt and corn. It's got to come off the still at no more than 160 proof and stored in charred new oak barrels. Furthermore, if it's stored in those barrels for at least two years, it can be labeled 'straight' rye whiskey."

While I've always associated rye with old-school Sam Spade detective novels, it's starting to get trendy as a straight-up sipper, and as more people wrap their mitts around Manhattans.

For a mixer, Old Overholt seems to be the standard go-to label. Matt also likes Rittenhouse and Templeton Rye from Iowa. Pappy Van Winkle also makes a rye I want to try. I recently tasted a rye from Utah, of all surprising places. High West Rendezvous Rye was smoky, spicy, and, after the second sip, smooth. Don't think I would call for it in a Manhattan, but happy to know it's an option.

Now, back to my rye "research." Where's the best classic Manhattan in Seattle?

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