“I only knew rye from Don McLean’s song ‘American Pie,’” Clay Risen writes in the introduction to his new book. He set out not only to learn about rye whiskey for himself, but to introduce the resurgent American spirit to lovers of Scotch and Bourbon.
Risen’s writing is entertaining and unpretentious, a leisurely read. He tells rye’s history from its pre-Prohibition role in cocktail-house favorites to post–World War II, when small-production regional whiskeys were replaced by the products of massive, multinational companies—a move that resulted in the near-disappearance of rye.
Risen touches on the different styles of rye—Kentucky, New York, Maryland, MGP and Pennsylvania’s Old Monongahela—and their re-emergence into the market. Then he provides a comprehensive explanation of how rye whiskey is made. There is also a section on how to drink whiskey, offering a list of common aromas and flavors to spark the reader’s imagination on their own tasting journey.
The crux of this book, however—and its greatest value—is a listing of over 200 American rye whiskeys, organized in alphabetical order with their price-range noted. Risen ranks each whiskey with stars on his four-tier scale of “decent, good, excellent and phenomenal” and includes tasting notes as well as a short background on the distillery. It’s a great reference companion as you search out your new favorite rye.
American Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Original Spirit, by Clay Risen (272 pages, Scott & Nix, Inc., 2022, $29.95)
This story appears in the print issue of Summer 2023.
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