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Why is Rye Still Hot?

Why is Rye Still Hot?

   Cocktails, silly!

   A history lesson: If rum was America’s original dram of choice, it was quickly replaced by Rye Whiskey. We had the material, we had the distilling knowledge, we could make it bigger, better, stronger faster! 


   Wait, that’s the Bionic Man.

   Nonetheless, the facts were true. Given that one of the earliest distillers in the colonies was a guy named George Washington, there was credibility and propriety around rye production as well.

   Enough with the history lesson; we’re more interested about what makes rye tick.

   If Bourbon is a sipping dram, Rye is a cocktail staple. Why? The biggest reason is dry, astringent spice character that rye grain brings to the table. While it’s a key component in most bourbon (rye adds layers of pepper and baking spice to the fat sweetness of a majority corn mash) it can get shrill and sharp when turned up too high.

   However, the addition of other sweet, fat flavors in a cocktail makes that sharp spice character an asset again, a layer of bright, complex flavors popping through the sweetness. We aren’t saying Rye is undrinkable on it’s own; anyone who has sipped Sazerac Straight Rye, WhistlePig, High West Rendezvous, Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, and on and on and on … knows this already.


What’s With High Rye Recipe Ryes?

   That’s a mouthful. Here’s the deal:

   The traditional Ryes we are most familiar with are much like bourbon, except the proportion of rye and corn are flipped. Bourbon has a minimum of 50% corn with rye (or wheat) and malted barley as compliments. Straight Rye has minimum of 50% Rye, with corn and malt added as the compliments, with generally no more than 60% rye.

   Things are changing, and we like it. A few Canadian distilleries are producing rye that contains 70% to 100% rye. A few of these are actually starting to see the light of day, most notably the sublime WhistlePig (100% rye) produced in Canada and bottled in Vermont. On our side of the border, the highly allocated Old Potrero whiskies (100%) and the newly introduced Redemption Rye (95%) are following suit.

   We’re glad to see this trend. We expect more to come, especially from microdistilleries, such as our friends at Koval.


   We asked our ace mixology team at the South Loop Tasting Room to create signature cocktails featuring Rye. Check out the Whiskey Hotline Holiday Edition for cocktail recipes and more news from the world of designer distillates.

Cocchi Americano is Back!

   A legendary aperitivo from Italy, this Asti native has been made continuously since 1891. It slipped out of broad distribution for years here in the states, leaving cocktail enthusiasts to hunt down this sought after liqueur.

   Cocchi Americano starts with a base of Moscato wine, which is then fortified with brandy and infused with gentian, cinchona bark, citrus and a handful of botanicals in a secret recipe known only by the Cocchi family. It then rests a year in wood prior to bottling. The result is a complex, light and lively combination of traditional bitterness and sublime sweetness. Americano is most commonly consumed simply with a little ice, soda water and a citrus peel or wedge.

   Cocchi Americano is widely believed to be the only thing remotely close to the original Kina Lillet. The classic bitter formula for Lillet was altered in the mid-eighties, dropping the cinchona bark (a bitter Peruvian bark that supplies quinine) and Kina from its name. The result is the softer, and many would say more benign, version of Lillet Blanc that you will find on shelves today.

   Because of its similarities to the retired Kina Lillet formula, Cocchi is now the only proper aperitivo to use in a Corpse Reviver #2, a gin-based drink that features complex and intriguing herbal and citrus flavors. Give it a try:


Classic Corpse Reviver #2

   1 oz gin
   1 oz Cointreau
   1 oz Cocchi Americano
   1 oz fresh lemon juice
   1 dash absinthe

   Mix all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir until very cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel twist.

Thoughts on Mezcal

   The explosion of tequila in the last few years has created a lot of confusion surrounding all kinds of spirits distilled from agave from Mexico.

   Here’s a thumbnail sketch.

   The origins of distillation in Mexico date back to at least the 1530’s, brought to the new world by Spanish Conquistadors. They used the most readily available fermentable material in Mexico – agave – a relative of the lily family (not a cactus, as commonly misperceived) with over 100 strains growing across the vast new territory.

   A fermented (but not distilled) drink called pulque was being made with agave well before the arrival of the Spaniards, nearly always by native priests who considered it a gift from the Gods and used it for sacrificial ceremonies and medicinal purposes. When the Spaniards arrived they brought the distillation process with them, and the oldest North American distilled spirit was born.

   “Mezcal” is a catchall term applied to anything distilled in Mexico from agave. Ergo, Tequila is technically Mezcal de Tequila. Tequila can only be produced from blue agave grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco and small parts of bordering states Zacatecas and Michoacan. Mezcal is actually distilled in nine states in Mexico from up to eleven different species of agave, the green Espadin being the most common.

   The closest regional association to Mezcal is with Oaxaca state in the south. Oaxaca is somewhat considered the home of Mezcal by the Mexican government. Another agave distilled product, Sotol, is distilled in the state of Chihuahua.

   Most Mezcal, especially in Oaxaca, is distinguished fromTequila not only by the agave used but by production techniques.Most notably, Mezcal production includes cooking the agave intraditional in ground pits lined with rocks and fired by wood, and distillation in traditional copper pot stills. The variety of available Mezcalavailable is as wide as the selections of agave strains.


   Let’s get to what’s in the bottle.


   The grand daddy of Mezcal for most US consumers is the Del Maguey line, imported for a number of years by Mezcal guru Ron Cooper, produced in and named after the Oaxacan villages where they are born. More expensive than most, but fat, sweet, spicy and in varying degrees smoky, they offer a great representation of regional styles, differentiated by the elevations and areas from which the wild agaves are harvested.  The new Del Maguey Vida bottling is a good introduction to the gems Ron has discovered, retailing for $39.99. 

  New From Durango comes El Malpais Blanco ($24.99), Rojas Especial Blanco ($24.99) and Reposado ($29.99), none for the faint of heart. All three are rich, smoky, herbal and almost briny. These are almost the equivalent of an Islay whisky made with agave! 

   Moving to a softer style and more balance between smoky and sweet is the Scorpion line from Oaxaca. This lineup, still new to Binny’s, is traditional but approachable, and each bottle has an actual scorpion inside! (Actually the exoskeleton of a scorpion, considered a mystical delicay in Oaxaca) Bottlings range from the traditional blanco, reposado and 1 year aged anejo, to the exotic 5 year and 7 year aged anejo.

   From the Mexican state of Zacatecas, you should check out the Casa Curiel line. They drink like well made tequila, as they are made like tequila, from Blue Agave grown just outside the zone around Jalisco that would legally designate them as tequila. We currently offer the standard blanco, reposado and anejo. Also from Zacatecas and coming soon to Binny’s is Felino Reposado, another reposado made in the Tequila style.

Paddy Has Arrived!

We receive a lot of questions and product requests on the Whisky Hotline, we can finally answer yes to the most common one.  Yes, we do have Paddy Irish Whiskey.  For the first time, a limited amount of this Irish staple has hit the shores, and we have bought a pile of it, at least enough to get us through St. Patrick’s Day.  Named for famous Cork Distillers Company salesman Paddy Flaherty in 1912, this light, soft gem consists of a high portion of triple distilled malt whisky.  The owner of the brand, Pernod Ricard, is insisting this is a limited release, we can only hope that they decide to make it readily available.

Whisky Hotline Hits the Road

The Whisky Hotline is hitting the road on the continued search for the best bottlings for our customers. I flew into Louisville last night with Binny’s Spirits consultants Joe Maloney, Doug Fornek, and Ross Macfarquhar and we’re going to be spending the day on the eastern edge of the Bourbon trail, with visits today at Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace.  We have recently taken in a number of new hand picked bottlings (most notably the 10 barrel vatting of Buffalo Trace, IMHO the best we’ve done to date) and are prowling for more opportunities.  Only the best and most interesting will make it back to Chicago. I will be periodically updating the trip and passing along information and new discoveries as they arise.  Please feel free to submit questions, I just might be able to get answers directly from the source!

What’s New?

I get this question alot, from both our suppliers and from Binny’s shoppers.  The suppliers of course want to know what category might provide them another business opportunity, but our shoppers really want to know “what’s new?” is there something I might be missing?

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PC 7 lives up to the hype

As promised in my previous New Release post, I had a chance to try the newest release in the Port Charlotte Evolution series from Bruichladdich and have some notes.  I just want to say here I’m glad I made that promise, because this stuff is excellent!


For those who don’t know, the PC series from Bruichladdich is a set of bottlings featuring spirit from heavily peated malt (55ppm, I believe) meant as a precursor to the eventual reopening of the long gone Port Charlotte distillery in the Islay town of the same name.  The first release, PC 5, was extremely limited and flew off the shelves, as it was also extremely excellent.  The second release, PC 6, was much larger and is still available, and while I quite enjoyed and would recommend it, it didn’t resonate for me like PC 5.


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New Releases

A number of eagerly anticipated whisky releases are due to hit in the late winter and early spring, here’s the best information I have thus far:


Octomore 1st release and PC7- these heavily peated bottlings from Bruichladdich are due by late Feb, no firm pricing yet, but PC7 should stay in line with last years PC6 release, about $130-140 and Octomore will fall out in the $180-200 range.


Ardbeg Supernova- Most heavily peated Ardbeg ever, this is a very limited release, first come-first serve, limit one per person.  Price should be in the $120 range, email to be added to the waiting list, we should see product by March.


Glenmorangie Astar- a 50% abv, unchillfiltered, non-age statement release drawn from first fill ex-Jack Daniels barrels, a beautiful, unadulterated example of what comes off the tallest stills in Scotland.  No retail as yet, sells in the UK for roughly the equivalent of $75, best eta is towards the end of March.


Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2008 Release- Yes, that says 2008, the whiskey (62 barrels total, 1995 distillation) was put into stainless in early September, unfortunately Brown-Forman was stuck trying to source the unique decanter to complete the bottling, their old vendor had gone out of business.  Theyve now found one and begun bottling, so we should see this in the next 3-4 weeks, should stay around $40 retail.


Binnys Handpicked Casks- Next wave will include more Elmer T. Lee, Blantons, Eagle Rare 10 year, and Sazerac Straight Rye from BT; more Four Roses Single Barrels to follow up Barrels # 1, 2, and 3; and working through a final round of samples for OB bottlings from two well known Scotch distillers.

Have You Tried?

One of the best parts of having the job title Specialty Spirits Buyer, besides having to taste booze daily and write and talk about it, are the days when you hit something totally different, creative, interesting, or just flat out funky and unexpected.  Here are some things that I’ve had and brought in recently that are worth a look at for those who love to experiment:


Hayman’s Old Tom Gin- An 18th century sweet style of gin originally developed to hide impurities, Old Tom dropped out of favor as the quality of London Dry improved.  Hayman’s has introduced the first Old Tom style I’ve seen in a long time, and its excellent.  The light, fruit sweetness is a nice compliment to the minty, piney juniper character.  ($24.99)


North Shore Distillers Gin #11- A London Dry looks back across the English Channel at its Dutch Genever roots, Chicago’s Master Distiller Derek Kassebaum has taken his base Distillers Gin #6 and added a savory, herbal layer of aromas and flavors, I can get some white pepper, caraway and even a touch of oregano.  ($29.99)


Mette Eau de Vies- Toss away the standard Kirsch, Poire, Mirabelle, etc., this Alsatian master will craft an excellent Eau de Vie using just about anything as a base flavor.  Amongst the most exotic (and excellent and true to flavor) creations? Ail (garlic), Gingembre (ginger), Café (coffee), Feuille de Basille (basil), Cannelle (cinnamon), Mandarine (mandarine orange), and Poivron (green pepper).  ($44.99/375ml)

Great Spirits Values

The economy has been tough on folks for a number of months now and Ive been getting a lot of questions about stretching dollars without sacrificing quality.  Heres a list of some products that I think are worthy of giving a try and saving some $$$:


Very Old Barton 100 proof Bourbon- $11.99
Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye- $16.99
Black Bottle Islay Blend- $17.99
Dewars 12 year old Blended Scotch- $21.99
Lismore Speyside Single Malt- $24.99
Cruzan Light Rum- $10.99
Cockspur 5* Barbadian Rum- $19.99
Brokers London Dry Gin- $15.99
Milagro Silver 100% Agave Tequila- $19.99
Gran Torres Triple Orange Liqueur- $19.99
Delord 15 year old XO Armagnac- $38.99


Note: Pricing may change after this post, so check for the latest prices.