Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Old Overholt Rye

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


My life is very easy, primarily because I lack children or pets or a boss with whom I must make eye contact. Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily is a very easy-going person who asks for little more than a steady yogurt stream, a spider-free living room, and more sausage than you'd expect from a thin woman in the medical field. The only stressful thing about living with her is her perverse insistence that my birthday has to be an ounce more relaxing and self-indulgent than any other day.

I'm not one of those weirdos who doesn't like his birthday, but I'm also not the sort who needs to turn it into a reenactment of Genghis Khan's bachelor party as a reprieve from the daily drudge, because, as we've established, I don't do much drudging. I generally just like to get fat and drunk with my friends and secretly reestablish petty grudges against everyone who didn't remember, which is always everybody I know because I never tell anyone in advance. This is particularly gratifying in the case of Kenji, whose birthday I always remember because it is Halloween and he is a monster.

My birthday fell on a Sunday this year, and when Emily asked for help in planning my ideal day, I suggested we just replicate the previous Sunday. She asked what we'd done that day, and I had to confess I didn't remember, and that's kinda the point. I'm not sure what I did, but I'm sure I loved it, because I'm happily ensconced in a tiny sweet spot between indigence and responsibility: ALL of my Sundays are leisurely celebrations of the Will Gordon Experience and why should that change just because it's my birthday oh god wait are you trying to make me put on a shirt—in the middle of summer!—and use silverware and so help me...but no, she was just saying, "Hey, pal, let's do something special, like drink whiskey early in the day." Well, all right, that's reasonable.

The closest bar to our apartment is in a Sheraton. It might be the coolest Sheraton in the world (it's called The Commander, which is hard to beat, and it's pretty hookerish for our genteel neighborhood, and they give you free fried chickpeas: not bad) but it is still a chain hotel, which means the closest bar to my house is a chain hotel bar, which means maybe my life is not so charmed as I'd thought, but anyhow. It's a pretty good bar and Emily suggested we stop in because it smells less than most bars we go to and they sell Eagle Rare, which I've long maintained is my favorite upper-middle shelf whiskey. So I got that neat and was a tiny bit disappointed. I hadn't treated myself to Eagle in several months, and I suppose I built it up a bit in my mind. It was nice, but not birthday-nice, you know? Just some good-enough bourbon, nothing special. So I did the only rational thing and got mad at Emily for getting my hopes up for a memorable day.

Then I got unmad at Emily because she took me to a barbecue place for lunch. I ordered—oh, did I order—and then the guy asked if I was just resting or if I was finally finished reciting the list of meats I would like. I said, "[Pause], [pause], [gather my thoughts and breaths], and some sausage, please." He then offered cornbread. I took it, and I didn't like it, and that's why I gathered you all here today. I don't really like cornbread. I like rye bread. And I was disappointed by Eagle Rare, which is corn whiskey, which means it's high time we talk about rye whiskey, specifically Old Overholt.

This stuff's all right.

I never figured myself a big rye guy because I take my brown liquor a little on the sweet side, but I kept reading good things about Old Overholt here and elsewhere, plus, like I said, it was time to explore a wider range of fermentable grains. I tried it side by side with Maker's Mark and Jim Beam bourbons (Beam makes all of the above: that's how American whiskey works), neither of which I drink regularly, to see if I could tell the difference, and I sure could.

The Overholt, which is only $14 a bottle, is better. It's deeper and more meaningful and isn't afraid of a splash of ginger ale. It's fruity—you could convince me there was apple involved—and not as dry as I'd feared. It's not the easiest thing to order in a bar when you've had a few, on account of the way the phonetics work out, but it's definitely worth picking up in the liquor store.