Gary, you're worse than I am at stuffing five or six hot discussion topics into a single long post
, but here's a try (April 30th is SUCH a long time off)...
gillmang wrote:...In Byrn's Complete Practical Distiller, there is extensive discussion of rye whiskey but hardly any of its aging. Byrn was based in Philadelphia...
I haven't read Byrn's book yet (Glen Raudins says your order arrived immediately after mine) but others from that era and locale seem to concentrate more on rectification than distilling, at least as far as the final product is concerned. Until the Taylor/Carlisle-inspired definitions you mention later, it was common to "age" even the classier whiskeys quickly and without need of much warehouse space. That practice only later became associated with cheap imitation whiskey (as part of the definition process). An interesting side note & questions: Rye whiskey, both that identified as Monongahela and Maryland style, is often labeled as "Pure", as in "Baltimore Pure Rye". I believe the legal definition of "Straight" whiskey was set for rye at the same time as for other straight whiskey, and there are contemporary examples of "Straight Rye Whiskey". But "Pure" is too commonly seen and widespread not to have a specific meaning. Was there separate legislation that defined "Pure Rye Whiskey"? I don't believe I've ever seen "Pure Bourbon"; was there ever such a thing?
gillmang wrote:...Clearly Mon whiskey was a supple category. It never became as defined as Bourbon, and this partly ensured its demise.
I totally agree with that, and in fact that's the basis for my own curiosity about this fascinating spirit. Linn Spencer has started a really good forum discussion topic wherin "newbies-only" get to discuss a particular "how-bourbon-came-to-be" question. Hopefully his effort will help steer new enthusiasts away from the "my bourbon is better than your bourbon" trap even us "Oldies" tend to fall into. But we're just participants in a cyber-discussion; our opinions are just that and nothing more. When John Carlisle was discussing "what IS bourbon?" with his buddies, it was as Secretary of the Treasury, and his buddies were enacting the laws that would define straight whiskey. Carlisle's model for this straight whiskey was what he was familiar with, and that was James Crow's version (as produced by Carlisle's friend Edmund Taylor). And THAT's why Crow's version of bourbon is the only bourbon we know today (Taylor also produced Old Crow Rye, but I don't know that Crow himself ever did).
So not only did the lack of definition help to kill off Pennsylvania rye, I believe there were several other varients of Kentucky (and Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, etc) whiskey that have vanished into oblivion exactly BECAUSE of the legal recognition of Crow's style as the only legitimate straight whiskey. I mentioned this just yesterday in another thread about Conecuh Ridge (supposedly Alabama style whiskey, with very noticeable maple tones).
gillmang wrote:...I think in the end it was flavor - rye was just too challenging a whiskey to survive big time. It is a great drink, but could never achieve mainstream appeal once Bourbon spread its wings and Scotch and Canadian made their inroads.
One of Canada's many contributions to the world was Joni Mitchell, who noted that it "goes round and round and round in the circle game". I believe that it was the success of red Pennsylvania/Maryland rye whiskey that made the creation and marketing of Kentucky bourbon possible. I completely agree with you that the in-your-face flavor of good rye whiskey is too pronounced and distinct for general popularity. Most people want their alcohol to vanish into the fruit juice so they can pretend they're not drinking. The only bourbons that are really accepted by the masses are those like Beam white label and Maker's Mark, precisely BECAUSE they have little of the distinctive bourbon flavor. But that's changing. We're the people who are changing it (and yes, as Mark Brown, Lincoln Henderson, Bill Friel, and Chris Morris have pointed out often, the distillers DO NOTICE and appreciate us). That's why we now have such wonderful new ultra high-quality products. And those of us who appreciate the flavor of fine bourbon USUALLY also appreciate the flavor of rye. I believe that will result in new rye whiskeys appearing soon. And after awhile, perhaps a rebirth of the great rye whiskey industry will be able to owe it's existence to the success of Kentucky bourbon!!