As the master distiller of Maker's Mark, Dave Pickerell spent 14 years making one of the softest, tastiest American whiskeys on the market. He took the brand from 175,000 cases a year to nearly a million and introduced a generation of discerning drinkers to the joys of premium whiskey. Did you really think he'd just go quietly into retirement?
Instead, after leaving Maker's in 2008, Pickerell turned his passion for whiskey to a less-heralded American spirit, rye – bourbon's older, spicier cousin. Then Pickerell went to work: He found an eager partner in Raj Peter Bhakta, a former investment banker, onetime Apprentice apprentice, and erstwhile congressional candidate – and launched WhistlePig, a premium small-batch rye named after the humble groundhog. WhistlePig is now growing fields of organic rye on a 500-acre farm near the shores of Vermont's Lake Champlain, where they're also building a distillery.
WhistlePig joins a rivulet of rye that has turned into a river. Five years ago the choice of ryes ranged from slim to none in the form of dusty bottles of Old Overholt or Wild Turkey Rye. But a growing number of established and startup distilleries now embrace this rustic, spicy whiskey. Why the resurrection? "It's a perfect storm of trends," says Pickerell. To wit: Drinkers want more flavor. "And there's a trend toward authenticity," he explains. "The first Mint Julep, the first Old-Fashioned, and the first Manhattan were almost certainly made with rye." With that in mind, here are six other revivalist ryes to try.
Angels Envy Rye
Two years ago, something amazing happened in the bourbon category: Angel's Envy. It was ushered into the crowded whiskey market by Lincoln Henderson. Over the course of 40 years, he developed now popular brands such as Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack, earning a reliable name for himself – and 'Malt Advocate's' Lifetime Achievement Award – before retiring in 2004. He reemerged in 2011 with Angel's Envy, a super premium bourbon with a spicy-sweet nose, complex full flavor, and rich, velvety finish resulting from a rest in port wine barrels before bottling.
He's at it again, with similar, brilliant success. Angel's Envy Rye is something special. As you would expect from a rye, it's a bit more biting and bold than the original. On the nose, there's rich vanilla and spice, evoking a very expensive dessert. On the tongue, it's just about the smoothest rye we've sipped, despite the fact that it's bottled at 100 proof. It has a high rye content (95 percent, well above the required 51 percent), and like Angel's Envy bourbon, it has a special finish: up to 18 months' rest in Caribbean rum casks that were previously used to age French cognac.
This isn't something to mix into your Manhattan (especially not at this price). We get the feeling that Angel's Envy Rye was designed for the same breed of sipping-whiskey nerds who fell for Angel's Envy bourbon. Plus, it's a rarity: Just 2,500 cases exist for now. [$88, angelsenvy.com]