Raise your hand if you’ve ever been paralyzed by the wall of whiskey at your local liquor store. With large producers pushing new bottles and start-ups sourcing bourbon and rye and independent distillers putting out young spirits, the amount of options available in the Year of Our Lord 2019 can be overwhelming. A lot of people avoid the decision-making process all together by buying the same bottle of Evan Williams or Bulleit or Maker’s Mark or…over and over again. I get it; there’s nothing worse than buying a bad bottle of whiskey. Stick with the devil you know. And with the rapid disappearance of age statements on labels, it’s difficult to even use the age of a whiskey to help guide your purchases. Fortunately, there’s been an uptick in distilleries releasing Bottled in Bond whiskey.
Bottled in Bond is a legal distinction that states the whiskey must be the product of one distilling season from one distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof. It’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but many distilleries are taking the time to jump through them these days because it helps set their product apart from the rest, which is exactly what the distinction was meant to do back in the late 1800s when it was enacted. Does it mean all Bottled in Bond whiskey is good? No. But it means the distillery didn’t rush the process, and it’s a good indicator that the bottle you’re considering is worthy of your time.
New York Distilling has a new rye that meets the Bottled in Bond standards, called Ragtime Rye Bottled in Bond, that is very much worthy of your time. This new release is a better-aged version of the distillery’s flagship, also called Ragtime Rye. New York Distilling is also giving this whiskey the “Empire Rye” designation, a relatively new regional distinction that means the whiskey was distilled, aged and bottled in New York state and is comprised of at least 75% New York-grown rye. As far as regional whiskey distinctions go, I like this one because it helps give the whiskey a sense of terroir. Six New York State distillers got together in 2015 to create the Empire Rye designation and since then, a couple more distillers have adopted the style. Not bad for a whiskey niche that’s only been around for a few years. The most notable of the bunch is probably Kings County Empire Rye, which won some hardware at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2018.
Empire Rye isn’t the only regional whiskey distinction out there. A bunch of distilleries have revived Maryland style rye, which was a popular pre-prohibition style of whiskey that was sweeter than its neighbor, Pennsylvania style rye. Apparently, there’s been a rise in California style whiskey recently, though, I’m not sure exactly how it separates itself. And then of course, you have Tennessee Whiskey, which technically needs to be made in Tennessee.
New York Distilling is located in Williamsburg. They make a gin called Dorothy Parker that’s supposedly really good, and they make a Rock and Rye, which is whiskey with candied rock sugar, that I’d like to take for a spin.
As for this particular bottle of booze, there’s a lot to like. Ragtime Rye Bottled in Bond is loaded with sweet cherry notes which cover up a thin layer of vanilla somewhere in the middle. You get plenty of the charred barrel, with some wood astringency and a bit of ash, but there’s only a little bit of spice on the backend, which is surprising considering it’s made from 75% rye (13% corn and 12% malted barley finish up the malt bill). It’s also 100 proof, but there’s nothing “hot” about this rye; the booze is hidden well under all of those layers of sweetness.
New York Distilling’s flagship Ragtime Rye was built for cocktails, and supposedly is great in a Manhattan, but this Bottled in Bond version is built for sipping. Add ice, and caramel plays heavy on the nose. You lose some of the cherry, as that caramel takes over the sip, and the body becomes velvety smooth. There’s some orange peel too, but the spice is completely gone. There’s nothing wrong with this whiskey over ice, but I like it better neat. I wouldn’t waste it in a cocktail though. It’s too good to muddle with fruit and sugar cubes. I’m also really impressed that New York Distilling kept the price reasonable. Ragtime Rye is only $50, and performs better than some ryes twice its price. It hit the shelves in April, so grab it while it’s hot.
Distillery: New York Distilling
City: Brooklyn, NYC