Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

There's a lot of history and 'lore' behind bourbon so discuss both here.

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Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Apr 23, 2013 7:34 am

Recently, I bought Green Spot, which is a single pot still Irish whiskey. This means it is made with 100% malted and unmalted barley and triple-distilled, i.e., distilled out to a low proof as bourbon and rye are albeit the still design for the latter is somewhat different (except for the still at Versailles, KY). In the past, very small amounts of rye, oats or wheat were also used in the mash for Irish pot still, but not today. The amounts were very small again and it is not clear why they were used, I think I read once it might have performed a filtering function of some kind.

I was struck in tasting this Irish whisky in the similarities to a lot of younger rye whiskey such as Rittenhouse and Pikesville, and also Jim Beam Rye. Even the yellow colour of e.g. Jim Beam Rye (if still sold, not sure) is very similar to that of Green Spot. Of course barrel aging explains colour but it also determines taste and I think the classic flavour of both kinds of whiskey originally was not to be too old. Aged rye did become a kind of specialty and I guess there was always some very aged Irish whiskey. Still, the taste of both forms of whiskey seems to me to converge more when each is only a few years old (say, 4-7) and at that age they bear the most resemblance.

I would guess that even though it is often said the Western Pennsylvanians counted numerous ethnic groups, the Scots-Irish, who were very prominent in early settlement days in PA, must have brought a whiskey heritage with them that was reflected in their rye whiskey. Distillation was practiced by people of many origins but I believe stylistically, Irish whiskey probably provided the model even though this cannot be proved due to paucity of early records and the dampening effect on historical study of 19th century Temperance attitudes.

Rye and barley are both grains and both are used raw to a significant extent in the respective mashes. True, methodical barrel aging was not known in the 1700's in Ireland or here but the key there is methodical, artisans surely often stored whiskey in wood - the only way to ship it - and must have known that some kind of aging improved the whiskey. And those early barrels and into the 1800's weren't always charred and perhaps not typically charred - Canadians never used charred barrels exclusively to age their flavouring rye whiskies even though is a lot of lumber in Canada.

And so I think that American rye was likely a kind of emulation of Irish whiskey, the best of it as known at the time but also the white whiskey which was a counterpart to potcheen. Bourbon is a further development of rye and therefore has more of an independent American character. Both of course are all-American, but what I'm trying to say is, I can detect more Irish lineage in straight rye than in bourbon whiskey.

To this day in Pittsburgh expressions are used that are known in what is now Ulster and parts of the Scottish Lowlands whence the Scots-Irish partly came originally. That heritage is there in the language and the surnames and I think too it lives on in extended form in the sense of the younger Kentucky rye. Wild Turkey Rye is an excellent example IMO: once again that yellowish, toasty, minty, oily taste.

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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby Squire » Thu May 23, 2013 12:55 pm

Well written Gary, and spot on.
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Thu May 23, 2013 3:25 pm

Why thank you, and maybe yinz'll agree that's one area of whusky history that's redd up. Maybe. :)

Gary

P.S. Apologies to the linguists who have identified surviving Scots-Irish forms in Pittsburghese.
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed May 29, 2013 9:17 am

Great write-up, Gary!

The irony of the Scots/Irish vs Pennsylvania Deutsch as the "originators" of what we now think of as American whiskey (bourbon & rye) is that neither of those cultures used rye grain (or maize, of course) extensively in their home countries. The Ulstermen (and the Irish as well) would have choked at the thought of making whiskey from anything but barley. And der Deutschers came from an area (Switzerland, Bohemia, Alsace, southern Germany) with lots of barley-based beer but almost no whiskey tradition at all! The use of rye in Europe for making distilled spirits seems to have been the choice mainly of the Dutch (Nederlanders, not PA), the Scandinavians, and the English, and that was for genever and gin.

And yet, once transplanted to the North American colonies, nearly all of the commercially succesful distillers (1) seem to have been of either German, Irish, or Ulster descent, and (2) pretty exclusively limited their base ingredients to rye and corn (maize). Barley was certainly grown extensively, and beer made from it was very common and popular, but virtually no one was using barley to make whiskey then, even though small amouts were necessary just to get the rye or corn to convert. Nor was rye or corn ever used successfully for making beer (back before the craft beer days). This is a puzzle I've pored over for years.

By the way, have you had a chance to sample Pearse Lyons' products? Born and educated in Ireland, he is best-known as the founder and president of the Alltech company in Lexington. Alltech is a global animal health company with deep involvement in the Kentucky thoroughbred horse world. Lyons himself, on the other hand, is somewhat of a Renaissance man whose list of ventures includes brewing and distilling. As with everything he does, his beer and whiskey products are considered first-rate. One that has gotten some reviews here is Town Branch bourbon, but the whiskey that is closest to his heart is Pearse Lyons Reserve, which is an American single malt (i.e., barley) whiskey made in the style of the finest of Irish malt whiskies. And not only that, Lyons' whiskey claims a Lexington Kentucky malt whiskey tradition that existed until 1919 (the REAL beginning of national prohibition, due to WW1 distilling restrictions).

The history of that product (check out their website and Google other Pearse Lyons sources) fits very nicely with what you've brought up, supporting your idea completely.

So, then, why the @$#%@$ did those other European immigrants all seem to prefer using rye and maize instead???
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Wed May 29, 2013 2:28 pm

John, thanks for your comments and contributions to the discussion.

Rye actually has long been used in some beer recipes, even in England. Mixed barley-rye-oats and similar combinations were popular in the Middle Ages in England and in many places on the continent. In time, the grist settled down to mostly a barley one, probably for economic and supply management reasons more than anything else. But that said, the immigrants from all the places you mentioned would have known about the grain - certainly it continued use in Central Europe in bread-making - so once it was established that it grew well in the States and was cheap, it was an easy switch from that to the whiskey mash tun. Also, as you said, parts of northern Europe used rye for distilling when the immigrants from there came to America, principally in Holland, yes, but parts of Germany too (e.g. some of their "korns" use rye today, and rye beers - "roggen bier" - has been revived as well). I've got to think there was some grain distilling in Switzerland as well, perhaps where they didn't have fruit orchards.

Corn and rice could never form the basis of beverage beer albeit they are used for up to 40% of the mash because they lack dextrins, the non-fermentable (by regular yeast) sugars that give body and fullness to beer. So it made sense that given their suitability for whiskey, they were reserved for that use.

I have tasted both Alltech whiskeys you mentioned. I enjoyed the bourbon which had a full taste both with strong barrel notes and good corn notes. I'd love to try it a couple of years older or more because it seemed a bit immature, still half-way to new make I thought. I must say I didn't like the malt whiskey, it seemed flat and with a non-true taste (to me). I am sure in time though they will refine their approach to these products.

But getting back to whiskey history, I still think the Ulster Scots are mainly responsible for its introduction, in fact all through Appalachia. In areas where the English came from northern England, which included parts of PA too (the Quakers are a good example), they would have known whiskey too because at one time they distilled a fair amount of spirit in northern England. And finally in the south too for gin, but gin really is flavoured moonshine, a form of whiskey arguably.

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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Thu May 30, 2013 4:09 pm

Some great points, Gary. A couple I'd like to comment on:

gillmang wrote:...Rye actually has long been used in some beer recipes, even in England

Well, yes. But then the English will make alcohol out just about anything. Rhubarb wine, anyone? :D

gillmang wrote:... principally in Holland, yes, but parts of Germany too ... I still think the Ulster Scots are mainly responsible for its introduction, in fact all through Appalachia. In areas where the English came from northern England, which included parts of PA too (the Quakers are a good example), they would have known whiskey too because at one time they distilled a fair amount of spirit in northern England

I believe the separation of rye whiskey and what would come to be called bourbon came when the Scots/Irish (Ulster) families migrated from the Philadelphia and Lancaster area out to the Shenendoah Valley and the southern Appalachians (and from there westward to what would be Kentucky), while the Germans (PA Deutsch) moved west into and across the Allegheny part of that same mountain range. The Quakers were English in name only; they moved there after having lived for generations in the Palatine (Rhineland) region of Germany, to which their ancestors had fled after Martin Luther's rebellion. And, while their Ulster counterparts, devout believers in the correctness of malted barley, were not opposed to experimenting with maize -- even though that required at least SOME barley malt to be useable -- the German contingent seems to have immediately gone directly to rye (which also requires either barley or a much more difficult rye malting), without ever even attempting a true German malted barley whiskey. And that was despite the traditional German Reinheitsgebot laws had demanded the use of ONLY malted barley since 1516 for making beer. Was the use of rye grain a form of protest by expatriot Germans? Did they also make beer from rye grain in the 1700s? Inquiring minds want to know!!

gillmang wrote:... but gin really is flavoured moonshine, a form of whiskey arguably

Well, you won't find any argument here.
Think: Potcheen! (Then perish that thought. Potcheen, IMHO, tastes even worse that cachaça, if that's possible) :D
Good white corn whiskey, OTOH, is a true delight. And good white RYE whiskey is even better!
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Thu May 30, 2013 7:09 pm

John good points, but that is not true about the Quakers I am referring to. See this explanation for the mid-northern England component of immigration to America including PA (William Penn himself in fact). Richard Nixon's ancestors are amongst these. These are all-English people until they got here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albion%27s_Seed

(Focus on North Midlands to Delaware).

When he talks about the Borderlands, he means the area on the immediate side (both sides) of the England-Scotland border, the British in Ulster, and the Lowland Scots. All these people moved amongst these areas (framed by the Irish sea) until coming to America, and shared a common ethnic (Anglo-Saxon) origin and culture, including religion (Protestant, often Presbyterian).

The North-Midlands incomers also were Anglo-Saxon, as of course were the English who went to Virginia and New England.

Four separate British immigrations, linked by common ethnicity and religion, but otherwise different in their customs. The thesis of the book is the imprint each group left on the American mores and character.

I highly recommend the tome, called Albion's Seed, by David Fischer as mentioned in this link. He is a professor (probably retired now) from Brandeis University.

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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Sat Jun 01, 2013 4:26 pm

Thanks Gary. That book sounds fascinating. I just now ordered a copy from Amazon.
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Jun 02, 2013 5:34 pm

John, good to hear, I know that a guy as bright as you will greatly enjoy it. If you finish the book by the time I come, this can add to the many things I know we will discuss.

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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby EllenJ » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:48 pm

gillmang wrote:John, good to hear, I know that a guy as bright as you will greatly enjoy it. If you finish the book by the time I come, this can add to the many things I know we will discuss.

Finish the book?!!!
It just arrived today, and that sucker's over 900 pages long!!!
I've seen indexed Webster dictionaries skinnier that that book.
James Michener would be proud to have published a book that thick.


I might have STARTED the book by the time you get here, and I'll jump right in at the Monongahela part, but there's NO WAY I'm gonna "finish the book" by then. I should only live so long as to finish a book that thick!

If we're all sitting around the table enjoying conversation and whiskey, I might find it useful in helping me to sit a little higher in my seat :lol:
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Re: Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:12 pm

Oh alright then. :) But anyway I'd read the chapters on the Scots-Irish.

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Irish Whiskey and Monongahela/Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Unread postby Richardovellee » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:47 am

In the Scottish supermarket you forgot all the lemonade used as a Whiskey extender.

I would also point out that much of what sells in French supermarkets as wine would sell in Australian supermarkets as vinegar or in hardware stores as somewhat organic industrial cleaner or paint stripper.

And the Australian beer, wine and spirits industries certainly wont hear a bad word about their millions of English customers. In complete contrast to the rest of us
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