Whiskey is like fashion. Disclaimer: I know nothing about fashion.
Imagine a dress so beautiful that it seemingly demands to be worn alone. Adding something to the outfit – a necklace, a scarf, a brooch – would only diminish it.
So it is with whiskey. Delicate tasting notes and aromas can be overwhelmed by fruit juices, bitters, or vermouth, so why bother using a nice whiskey in a cocktail? Well, because I love to mix drinks, I can’t resist the temptation to include premium spirits in my recipes every once in a while, even though it feels wasteful. I think that a great cocktail can be even greater (but isn’t necessarily so) when you use premium ingredients.
To return to the fashion analogy, imagine that we’ve seen a dress alone, and appreciated it in isolation. If we then begin to add new pieces with an eye to complementing or shifting the dress’ statement, we will sometimes fail and damage the effect. But sometimes we bring out other subtle elements of the dress, or create a whole new outfit! Because the dress is great on its own, it’s initially hard to admit that the dress could be equally beautiful in other contexts.
When I picked up a bottle of Rendezvous Rye a few weeks ago, I knew wanted to mix it, because rye whiskey is one of my favorite spirits to mix. But I felt guilty for doing so, because it’s so tasty on its own – a truly top-notch rye. So, I made a deal with myself: drink it neat a few times first, and then decide what to make with it. I don’t think we should fear mixing a nice spirit.
High West Rendezvous Rye
Comments on the packaging – The label is like a Western movie poster. The bottle itself features attractive relief lettering, and the glass is shaped with subtle irregularities and imperfections that add character. The base of the bottle is sloped, as if hastily glassblown by a guy in a barn to pass the “good enough” QC test to get some whiskey out onto the dusty trail. Of course, this is all just for show, but I get a kick out of it anyway. Who doesn’t like going to Disney World?
Color – It’s the color of grade A light amber maple syrup.
Aroma – Bananas Foster, caramel, candied peaches (almost like a peach pie), vanilla. I wish I could make my whole house smell like this.
Taste – A huge punch of spice up front – baking spices (cinnamon, allspice, cloves), and some anise and spearmint. This gives way to rich caramel, vanilla and dried fruit – apricots and pineapple come to mind. The mouthfeel is downright creamy, but the alcohol does kick a bit (not in a bad way). A very sweet rye, almost in the realm of bourbon.
Finish – lingering spices and vanilla round it out. A long, rewarding finish.
Overall – I hate grading whiskeys – drinks in general – it always feels like a silly exercise. This one gets an A.
Make It into a Manhattan
Augh, you jerk. You’re really going to put this stuff in a Manhattan? I thought we talked about this.
- 5 parts rye whiskey (High West Rendezvous Rye)
- 2 parts vermouth (Punt e Mes)
- 3 dashes aromatic bitters (Angostura)
Stirred over ice and strained into a rocks glass over a large ice cube, at a guest’s request (personally, I prefer them served up, but I really appreciate what an ice cube can do for the drink – few things are more unappealing than a warm Manhattan). Garnished with 3 cherries on a pick.
I think that a forcibly bitter vermouth – like Carpano Antica Formula or Punt e Mes – helps to augment the complex spicy flavors in the whiskey. Paired with something fruitier or lighter, like Dolin Rouge (which I love), the Rendezvous Rye Manhattan feels unbalanced. With a lighter vermouth, the rye’s bolder flavors attempt to “steal the show,” but its subtler charms are overridden by dilution. However, Punt e Mes’ up-front sweetness and fruitiness, combined with the backbone of bitter quina, help to support the whiskey’s flavor. Don’t get me wrong; you can’t taste all of the subtleties that you can with a neat spirit. But this drink stands alone as something new, special and delicious – the dress is still beautiful.