Spirits and Cocktails

From Wine to Whiskey — Learning About Rye

April 22, 2015

During our trip to Ireland in 2011, Shawn and I stopped at the Bushmills Distillery for a tour and tasting—it ended up being a highlight of our trip, as we enjoyed the tasting far more than anticipated. Still, I tend to enjoy my whiskey, when I have it, in a cocktail, and I am much more likely to opt for a glass of wine when we’re out.

That said, when Canadian Club invited me to their #IHeartRye event, featuring a tutored tasting session with Canadian Club ambassador Tish Harcus, I was intrigued. The more I learn about wine, the more I understand the many correlations between the making of spirits and the making of wine. This was an excellent opportunity to learn more about rye and attend my first real whiskey tasting event.

And what did I learn? Well, first off, that I shouldn’t stick my nose into the glass the way I do with wine – that burns! But otherwise, the techniques are somewhat similar. Tish taught us to warm the glass with our hands, to swirl, to sniff and then to taste. I had expected to find straight whiskey a bit intense, but I was impressed by just how different all four of the options we tried were—and how smooth I found them compared to what I anticipated.

The Premium 1858, which is five-year-old rye would likely be very good with ginger ale. It had lots of caramel on the nose, which I wasn’t expecting, and had a nice, long finish. Tish made sure to advise us never to mix this one with cola, as it would kill the flavour.

Next, we tried a classic 12-year-old rye, which was the favourite at my table. Softer on the palate and a bit sweet, it also had caramel overtones on the nose. This one would be for sipping over ice – definitely not a rye that needs to be made into a cocktail.

Third, the Chairman’s Select 100% rye, had a very interesting nose – I kept getting Popeye Candy Cigarettes for some reason. This was my favourite of the tasting, as I liked how smooth it was. Tish told us this one had a high proportion of new wood and explained the use of copper pot distillation.

Finally, we tried the Sherry Cask rye, which spends eight years in oak. This one was exactly what I had expected all of them to taste like—heavy, very strong, intense. On its own, this was not a good fit for my palate, but I think it might make a nice end to a meal.

While it was not part of the official tasting, I also tried the new Canadian Club Chairman’s Select Maple, which was a little sweeter and had great maple notes. This would be really nice after a meal with dessert or in a fun maple-themed cocktail.

As part of the event, we got a lesson in mixing rye cocktails from some of the city’s best mixologists – I made a dry rye Manhattan and watched as others made the 100% rye old fashioned. I am definitely not the best bartender and I was impressed by how easy these cocktails were to make, but also how important the details were—bitters make a real difference.

While I am still a wine girl at heart, this experience made me curious to do more research on spirits and I am looking forward to future tastings. The wine geek in me is interested in learning more about barrel-aged spirits and distilling processes.

Are you a fan of rye? What are some of your favourites?

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