Here's the thing about the brown spirits: That brown color is largely the product of aging, usually in oak casks, and, at the risk of stating the obvious, aging takes time. So when the popularity of a brown spirit spikes, it is very difficult for a spirits company to ramp up production. They can distill all all the grain they want, but for the finished product they're obliged, like the rest of us, to hurry up and wait.
That's what's happened with American Rye, a whiskey similar to bourbon, made with the rye grain rather than corn mash. Firmer, drier and often higher in alcohol, rye has always been a bit of an acquired taste, occupying a niche in the market and somewhat neglected on bar shelves. But bartenders have been reaching for rye with much greater frequency in recent years, choosing it over bourbon in cocktails requiring a little more cut and spine, preferring its angularity, backbone and dry spiciness. Increased demand has decimated stocks, leaving local mixologists to scramble for supply.
“It's a huge issue,” says Pablo Moix, who juggles Rittenhouse, Sazerac, Pikesville, Whistlepig and Templeton ryes — all highly allocated — on the rails of his various establishments (Melisse, La Descarga, Pour Vous). “It all depends on what is in stock and how much the supplier is willing to release to my bars. Not fun, but it's part of the game, I guess.” So go easy on those per diem Sazeracs, people — at least until the stocks of this fine aged whiskey can catch up to demand.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.