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Straight Form the Barrel: A Pocketful of Rye, Page Two

Posted: January 8, 2001

(continued from page 1)

Larry Kass, the group marketing manager of Heaven Hill, prides the company in its commitment to rye in the lean years with its three labels: Pikesville, Rittenhouse (80 and 100 proof) and Stephen Foster (available only in the Midwest). "We continue to tend the garden and stoke the fire," he said. Now, Heaven Hill is seeing some dividends from its tenaciousness. "You see it coming from the international market and it's spreading to the U.S. The tail has wagged the dog."

Like Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill devotes only a short time to rye production in the fall. The rye grain itself comes from the northern states and Canada where the growing season is short. Kass cited one of the dangers of procuring rye from areas too far south: "It gets weedy. All it takes is one wild onion in a truckload of rye to screw up your whole mash." The upside of rye production: "Just about the best Bourbon we make is the bourbon that goes through the still after we make rye."

Jerry Dalton, the master distiller at Jim Beam, said that the rye that the company makes for about five days out of the year is "a whole different creature" from Bourbon. "The mash is more viscous and prone to foam, and you have to make compensations for that." He sees rye as part of the general resurgence of brown goods. Part of his job is reacting to what the market will be like four years ahead and making sure there is just enough whiskey for that period.

All this talk of whiskey had moved Dalton to song and he offers up a verse of an old folk song on the subject.

"Rye whiskey, rye whiskey,
Rye whiskey, I cry,
If you don't give me rye whiskey,
I surely will die."

It was hard for me to imagine Philip Marlowe breaking out into such lyrics as he nursed his wounds or lamented the skirt that got away, but I had to reflect that they were all part of a rye heritage that I might have missed if not for the intrepid shamus.

As to the question "How many slugs of rye can one man take?" -- it turns out quite a few. And I wish there were more.

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