Rye is an incredibly interesting product. For a very long time, Rye was associated more with America than Bourbon. It’s easier to grow than corn, which meant that most of the first distilleries in the United States made Rye Whiskey.
Around the 1960s, industrial Bourbon manufacturers and corn growers conspired to overthrow Rye’s legacy and supremacy by making Bourbon America’s spirit by law. The act of making Bourbon an American native spirit increased economic growth for both the Bourbon distillers and corn growers, cutting out Rye and Rye Whiskey distilleries.
Today, you can find corn in just about everything: it’s used in detergent, gasoline, and even pharmaceuticals. Because of the abundance of corn, Rye manufacturing hit a wall in the late 1970s and many of the old granaries turned to manufacturing product for Canadian whiskeys. Very few brands survived the 1980s and the ones that did sold fewer than two bottles a month.
The market experienced a turnaround, however, when in the late 1990s mixologist culture started gobbling up vintage cocktail recipe books. Many of the books calling for rye left bartenders with only Old Overholt to use in their beverages. Due to its packaging, servers at the time looked at Old Overholt as an inferior product. So, to fill the gap, micro distillers began marketing new rye, with a fancier, flashier package. Unfortunately, the thing most non-industry consumers didn’t understand was that many of the brands flooding the market were using the same ingredients as “lesser” brands like Old Overholt. They merely purchased and repackaged it for the newly burgeoning marketplace. It is a sad fact that very few brands actually produce the rye that’s being sold today; re-branding is king in the rye market.
High West is to Rye what Sundance is to Movies
Very few distillers have the power to make me laugh like David Perkins does. David is the owner of High West in Park City, Utah. From his bottle design, you would think his whiskey was a gimmicky throwback to saloon culture, but it’s actually quite the contrary. High West, like many manufacturers hell-bent on bringing back rye, found the only way to do so was to buy barrels intended to be used in Canadian whiskey. Unlike many of David’s counterparts who just bottle this product and call it a day, David took it and started creating rye products that have never been on the market. His blends have begun the foundation for a cult following of bartenders and consumers due to their signature and unique tastes.
For example, his newest project is a rye, bourbon, and Islay scotch blend called Campfire. The rye adds a spicy note, bourbon softens the taste, and Islay tosses a hint of peat into the whiskey. The blend is very complex and has many layers, which makes it almost impossible to substitute in classic rye cocktails. Complexity is good in my book, however, because it keeps bartenders honest. It’s easy to steal recipes, but it takes an artist to build new ones. Brands like High West, and its revolutionary spirit, Campfire, take rye out the vintage world and bring it into the modern one. This product, in my mind, is the future of brown spirits: extreme creativity sitting atop a base of traditional fundamentals.
So, although I’m not going to give you any tasting notes, I did try to build a mix-cocktail with Campfire. If you buy a bottle and come up with your own, tweet me your recipes to: @mcmillanwhiskey
This is my recipe for a Rhinestone Cowboy:
Things You’ll Need:
- A Cocktail Shaker
- A Cocktail Strainer
- A Martini Glass
- Perrier (or a substitute) Sparkling Mineral Water
- Simple Syrup (liquified sugar)
- Fresh Lime Juice
- An Orange Peel Garnish
- High West’s Campfire
First, add 2 oz of High West Campfire into your cocktail shaker. Then, add 1 oz of Simple Syrup and .5 oz of fresh lime juice. Then, add ice into the shaker, and shake it until you feel the metal growing cold in your hands. Strain your shaker into a Martini glass and top off with Perrier Sparkling Mineral Water. Finally, garnish with an orange peel. Also, never forget to rub the garnish around the outside of the martini glass, no matter what the beverage. Enjoy!