Okay, we've had some fun, we've been to a beer garden
and had a nice tour of Yuengling
. Now it's time to get down to serious work – drinking – and broaden your horizons a little. Oh, stop crying: I'm not asking you to drink "dark beer" or anything scary like that. Yet. Just follow my thinking, and open your minds and mouths.
Football is an American sport, right? Sure, they play it other places, although they change the rules, or the size of the field, but it's American at the core, like baseball, basketball, and NASCAR. We started it. We perfected it. We absolutely dig it. It is American.
I bring up NASCAR because the fans of this loudest of American sports really like to drink American with their 'sport.' I'm not talking about the oceans of Busch and Budweiser they suck down, although those are the official beers of NASCAR, much like Coors is the official beer of the NFL (because they paid to be the official beers, and that's damned American). No, these fellas drink whiskey, bottles of Jack Black and Jimmy Beam from the neck. It surely don't get much more American than that.
Actually, it does, and that's what we're talking about this week. Because while bourbon is American all the way down – it's made with corn, after all, an American grain – it's not the original American spirit. Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniel's, is just as American as bourbon, but it came along even later. No, I'm talking about the whiskey that kept the frost off the soldiers' turnips at Valley Forge, the whiskey that made western Pennsylvania hillbillies defy the federal government in the Whiskey Rebellion, the whiskey that George Washington himself made at his home in Mt. Vernon: rye whiskey.
Guys, you just gotta try rye. Rye whiskey is the cat's nuts, it's heaven in a glass and hell in your mouth. Davey Crockett himself said "It keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the wintertime." This is the stuff the old guys in the black & white westerns used to gulp from a tin cup, shudder, and rasp out "Smooooooth..."
Rye is made just like bourbon, except instead of being mostly all corn, and sweet and rich like bourbon, rye is made from a leaner, spicier grain. Think grits and cornpone. Now think pumpernickel, think seedless rye. There's your difference.
There's not many out on the market, they've been pared away by years of indifference. You can still find Jim Beam Rye in its sunflower yellow label, a spicy blast of fireworks in the mouth. There's Old Overholt, a bit less explosive but every bit as much a minty-peppery shot to the head. If you can find it, my summertime table rye is Pikesville Rye, mostly sold in Maryland, and one of the best bargains out there. The top of the cheap ryes is Rittenhouse Rye, a bottled-in-bond beauty at 100 proof, stuffed full of flavor.
If you want to spend the money for something really special, you can get Van Winkle Rye, a 13-year-old that's downright massive, or the smooth, honeyed Wild Turkey Rye. Sazerac Rye is 18 years old and gorgeous with it, and this is one I think is just too good for mixing.
Because that's mostly what I do with the others. Rye on the rocks, rye and water, the fabulous Sazerac cocktail
, a proper, righteous Manhattan
, or my favorite: the Rye Presbyterian, a fancy name for a rye whiskey and ginger ale highball.
I drink Rye Presbyterians all summer long. They're insanely refreshing, and you can easily tune them up for long refreshing session drinking without getting whacked – or depth charge yourself into oblivion – just by varying the size of the glass. The ginger ale is made for the spiciness of the rye, and a small wedge of lemon makes it perfect.
It's easy. Take a tall glass. I use a big one, about 18 ounces, and fill it with ice cubes. Pour in about two inches of rye whiskey, maybe 3 ounces. Fill 'er up with a good ginger ale (I've been using Stewart's Ginger Beer when I can find it, and that is seriously good stuff), and squeeze a small wedge of lemon in. Stir twice, gently, and take a long sip. Sit down and have another. A ridiculously easy drink to make for September tailgating.
That's what I'll be drinking till early October, when I'll go back to almost all beer. It sure makes for a nice, cool, late-summer oasis.
Try rye, guys. It's the American thing to do.