COLORADO SPIRITS: Kentucky Fried Manhattan Bluegrass State Rye is Catching On

But rye deserves better. With it’s floral notes, spicy first pass across the palette and perfumed aroma, rye’s complexities mean it’s never dull. In a whiskey scene increasingly populated with dorm-room dreck filled with cinnamon or honey or apples, rye stands out as a truly different sort of whiskey. That built-in complexity has rye not only gaining in popularity among cocktail aficionados, but among distillers who realize that those layers of flavor offer them a chance to get a little weird.

Like the sultry person across the bar with knuckle tattoos, rye whiskey almost dares suitors to approach. It’s tempting, sure, but seems more risky than its worth.

Being nervous around that bottle of rye is natural. It’s not sweet like its brother, Bourbon. It lacks the smoothness or smokiness of its cousins from Ireland and Scotland. You can’t lop off its hard edges with some cola like you would its brethren from Tennessee or Canada, either.

20160718--Aurora, Colorado

Angel's Envy Kentucky straight bourbon on Monday July 18, 2016.. Photo by Carl Glenn Payne/Aurora Sentinel

So too often, this quintessentially American spirit makes its way to the back of the liquor cabinet, gathering dust with the flavored vodkas and clearance-rack liqueurs.

But rye deserves better. With its floral notes, spicy first pass across the palette and perfumed aroma, rye’s complexities mean it’s never dull.

In a whiskey scene increasingly populated with dorm-room dreck filled with cinnamon or honey or apples, rye stands out as a truly different sort of whiskey. That built-in complexity has rye not only gaining in popularity among cocktail aficionados, but among distillers who realize that those layers of flavor offer them a chance to get a little weird.

Take Angels Envy Finished Rye, for example. Like any rye, this whiskey from Louisville Spirits Group grabs you with a peppery start and whiffs of perfume. Then the distillers behind it tried something different. They didn’t age it in a standard whiskey barrel, instead they let this one age in vintage Caribbean rum casks.

20160718--Aurora, Colorado

Angel's Envy Kentucky straight bourbon on Monday July 18, 2016.. Photo by Carl Glenn Payne/Aurora Sentinel

Try that with an already-sweet bourbon and you’re likely looking at a whiskey that packs a wallop sweeter than a liter of Mexican Coca Cola. But the rye’s bitterness pushes back against the rum’s sweetness, giving the drinker layers of flavor to figure out with each sip.

That battle between rye’s bite and anything sugary is why Manhattan lovers in the know eschew bourbon for their cocktail of choice and instead reach for rye. While sweet vermouth and a cherry might overpower even a pricey bourbon, it won’t do that with rye.

Al Laws knows this well. The founder of Laws Whiskey Co. in Denver, Al says that while he prefers his rye straight, he’s also fond of it in a Manhattan or a few other drinks.

“It’s got so much to give and so many layers, it is really nice in a cocktail,” he says.

20160718--Aurora, Colorado

Angel's Envy Kentucky straight bourbon on Monday July 18, 2016.. Photo by Carl Glenn Payne/Aurora Sentinel

There aren’t many spirits that start with spiciness that gives way to saltiness, all with hints of anise and licorice and mint. And at the end, the rye malt melts with a creamy finish.

But he understands that rye can be a tough spirit to get into. While the goal for his bourbon’s is to make them “approachable,” Laws says he knows that won’t happen with rye. As a nod to that harsh truth, one of his ryes — the company has four different varieties — is called “Unapologetic Rye.”

The floral scent at the start often drives people away, but Laws says just a little water can open up the flavors, making the stronger aspects of the spirit give way to some of those more-agreeable notes.

Either way, whether with a splash of water, mixed with vermouth or straight, Laws insists that if you’re willing to give rye a chance, it will quickly become a staple on your cocktail menu.

“Once you get an appreciation for its differences, there is nothing else like it,” he says. “It will seduce you.”

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