Rum and Rye: Returning to Roots, Stepping Into the Future
Something old, something new... it's not just a tradition for young brides to call down good luck for their marriage, it's also a recipe for success in booze-making. Today we'll explore two new spirits that look back towards inherited traditions and also push forward into new territory. Rum is particularly fitting for this Janus-faced endeavor on American shores, as it's one of the new world spirits with a unique place in colonial history (see our Guide to Rum for a refresher course in all things rum), while rye is making a strong run to reclaim its pride of place as a premier American drink.
Bully Boy Distillers Boston Rum
Boston's Bully Boy Distillers come from an almost-forgotten tradition of booze makers. During Prohibition, their family farm was a vault for illegal produced local spirits such as "Medford Rum," and "Cow Whiskey." The rediscovery of this stockpile some 70 years later inspired brothers Will and Dave Willis to make their own contribution to the Boston area craft distilling legacy.
The most exciting product of their lineup is the recently released Boston Rum. While many rums are distilled from low grade industrial molasses, the Boston Rum comes from blackstrap molasses, sourced from a sugar refinery in New Orleans. Darker and more robust than normal molasses, this heavy, nutrient-rich syrup is what remains after the final extraction of sugar from raw sugar cane. Using blackstrap as the base lends an extra degree of funkiness and character to the rum, though the spirit is tamed through aging in mostly used bourbon barrels. But a small percentage of rum is aged in red wine barrel and incorporated into the final blend, providing a bit of color and fruity flavor.
Bottled at 80 proof, it's a happy compromise between sweeter, lighter styles of rum and the aggressive bite of a rhum agricole. The vanilla-laced sent carries a hit of grassy funkiness (think lawn trimmings after they've sat out in the rain and sun for a few days). The flavor starts classic and sweet but has a unique twist of stone fruit and dark berries from the wine barrel finish.
It's tasty to sip and a pretty versatile mixer, adding just the right amount of panache to a Dark and Stormy, or throwing down in a rum Old Fashioned (just rum, a few dashes of Angostura bitters, a drop of simple syrup and a splash of water, shaken on the rocks). At $31, a bottle it's a bargain for a piece of New England history and a distinctive take on the spirit.
Angel's Envy Rye
Angel's Envy first made a splash with their port-finished bourbon, so it should be no surprise that they're poised to repeat a similar formula for success with their new entry into the world of rye. Its 95% rye mashbill means the juice is most likely sourced from MGP (formerly known as LDI), the massive clearing house for many ryes currently on the market. Aged for six years in new charred American oak barrels, the rye then gets finished in specially selected Caribbean rum barrels (which were themselves formerly cognac barrels). It's the first rye that's been given the rum treatment, and as a result it's a beast entirely unlike anything out there.
As a rye, you might find this stuff a little confusing at first glance. The scent is all spice, but not grassy, biting rye spices. Instead, it offers sweet baking spices—cloves, cinnamon, molasses—and maple syrup above all. If maple syrup rye sounds good to you, seek out this bottle. If you're skeptical of that concept, then move along. I'm a lover of both rye and maple syrup (I confess, sometimes sampled straight from the bottle), and this tastes like home to me. The body is nicely chewy, and the dessert-rye hybrid keeps coming round again with gingerbread, molasses, maple, and only a hint of hot whiskey at the end.
Granted, it's not the most balanced whiskey experience of all time (or of the past few weeks), but there's nothing else that tastes remotely like this rye. It's clearly meant for sipping straight, but also uniquely suited for an amazing dessert-like twist on the Sazerac. Unfortunately, the price tag (around $70) and the rarity of this release are two major strikes, but if you are looking for a complete reinterpretation of this classic American spirit, you could do a lot worse than the Angel's Envy Rye.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Samples provided for review consideration.