Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Toasting Prohibition with Templeton Rye Whiskey

There was a moment in the history of our fair land, when liquor was outlawed. It now seems inconceivable that the minority of “moral-wielding, self-righteous” extremists could inflict their small-minded views on the rest of the country. (Or does it…? Hmm… Ok, let’s leave that topic for another time). In any case, today, whiskey - along with all of our other distilled friends - is readily available and widely enjoyed from coast-to-coast. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pay tribute to that little period between 1920-1933 when the extreme right had their way.

The resurgence of classic cocktails, speak-easy style bars and the glamorization of Prohibition-era drinking has had an impact on cocktail culture for the last few years. Old-style recipes and how we drink them (carving chunks of ice from frozen blocks in perfectly modern bars, for example) has been at fever pitch among cocktailians and mixologists for a while now. Meanwhile, drinks like the Sazerac and Manhattan are being demanded with rye whiskey at bars – not bourbon or other types of corn whiskey. In turn, these trends influence the spirit companies to return to their old-skool recipes when thinking about new products. This is happening in all kinds of spirits such as genever, and so on. And, it isn’t only popular only among the trendy big-city folk, either.

Templeton Rye whiskey was made in Iowa in small batches when “hooch” went underground. In those days, it sold for the modern-day equivalent of $70 per gallon! The Templeton website attributes Al Capone’s bootlegging gang as helping to distribute the whiskey in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, where it is rumored to have even been smuggled into his cell on Alcactraz.

Today, Templeton is attempting to infiltrate bars everywhere with the return of its old style bottle and cork closure, recalling days of yore. The label boasts “Prohibition Era Recipe,” and the back of the bottle has a hand-written bottling date on it. (Mine was bottled “05-07-2008.” How cool is that?)

Crack it open and take a whiff of the strong and spicy aroma, then prepare your tastebuds for a journey to yesteryear. I have a feeling that what was drunk in the 20’s was as smooth as today’s version, despite the hearkening to authenticity. Templeton Rye is aged in charred oak barrels, and has a rich amber color. It is smooth on its own and would lend itself nicely to a short, chilled whiskey cocktail.

They say that every dark cloud has its silver lining. If Templeton Rye is something good that came from the gloomy Prohibition era, I’ll raise a glass to the law-avoiding citizens who didn’t let Uncle Sam (and the conservative regime of the day) dictate their simple life pleasures.

1 comment:

Tony Sachs said...

I always thought that Prohibition era whiskey was closer to turpentine than Templeton. I mean, given the illegality of the stuff, it must have been difficult to make and age spirits properly, no?

Regardless, I'm excited to try Templeton!