All Rise for Rye Whiskey!
By Mary Rose DeMarco, Director of Marketing Communications
The verdict is in. Rye whiskey is experiencing a bold comeback to which I say: Please don’t leave us again!
An American original with roots back to George Washington who distilled it in his native Virginia, rye enjoyed widespread popularity in the United States right up through the mid-20th century.
But in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, American liquor tastes turned to vodka, gin and the three-martini lunch. Brown spirits faded from the scene. In more recent days, wine and craft beers each saw their popularity rise as well when consumers sought out new and unique takes on traditional alcoholic drinks.
That all began to change around the mid-2000s, however, as a new generation of imbibers took their place at bar stools ordering up old-school cocktails like the Manhattan, and once again introduced people to the taste and versatility of rye. Then the popularity of celebrity bartenders and hot spots in major metro areas serving cocktails that included rye jump-started rye’s revival.
Since 2009, rye whiskey volumes in the U.S have increased by 778% from 88,000 cases to almost 775,000 cases in 2016, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. And according to the Council, and yours truly, rye growth shows no sign of a slow turn.
We saw the rye revolution coming when we set out to create Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey Blend, a unique blend of rye and whiskey. The percentage of rye in our blend was taste tested many times before we landed on an almost half-to-half ratio. It can be intimidating sitting in a room with whiskey connoisseurs and make your mark. But I held my own and even scored some cool points.
Both the straight and flavored Cask & Crew whiskeys are a 51% – 49% blend of fine three-year-old Canadian rye and classic barrel aged American corn whiskey respectively.
So, what’s the best rye whiskey? We’ll throw our hat in the ring. Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey Blend won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Double Gold is not only SFWSC’s highest honor, it’s awarded to only the few entries that receive a Gold rating from all members of the judging panel. There were many of us doing our happy dance that day!
Maybe after reading this you’re craving a rye whiskey cocktail? We’ve got you covered. Check out the recipe for our Rye Me A River cocktail created with rye in mind.
This recipe features our core rye whiskey blend, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our two flavored whiskeys – Ginger Spice and Walnut Toffee – developed specifically for a target audience the crew likes to call “whiskey wannabes.” Hey, it’s these wannabes who are helping fuel whiskey’s growth in the U.S. – so way to go wannabes.
In fact, we conducted hundreds of product tastings this year and my favorite moment was watching a hesitant non-whiskey consumer sip Cask & Crew and to their surprise and delight exclaim “I really like whiskey!”
To that I say: Me, too!
Every holiday dish gets better when paired with one of these delicious whiskey concoctions.
Mulled wine, eggnog, maybe a dark beer—all holiday traditions. But when you’re preparing meals for parties and family gatherings this year, consider treating your guests to quality whiskey. Mixed drinks and cocktails can complement any dish, from the traditional holiday staples to more exotic fare. (Plus as edgier alternatives to classic libations, they’ll play very well on Instagram!)
Our team of experts has determined the perfect pairing for every heaping helping of holiday cuisine:
The Dish: Turkey
Nothing signifies the holidays more than the sight of a freshly carved bird. Turkey is often paired with red wine—especially Zinfandel—as a sweet taste is a perfect match for dark meat and the accompanying sides. (Getting sleepy, yet?)
The Pairing: Crew Ryde
If you’re ready for a red wine alternative, try this effervescent pairing of whiskey, ginger ale, and cranberry juice. This one goes perfectly with cranberry sauce, which means it will work with 85 percent of your holiday meals!
The Dish: Latkes
Latkes are a staple of any Hanukkah meal, whether served as appetizer, side dish, or even dessert (cinnamon sweet potato and apple latkes are absolutely amazing). For many families, it’s just not the holidays without these tasty treats, no matter how they’re prepared.
The Pairing: Couch Crew Toddy
Break from the tradition of tea and coffee and try pairing latkes with this flavorful winter cocktail, which doubles as a cure for the post-holiday slump, or a recovery drink following the madness of family gatherings.
- 1 ½- 2 ounces Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey Blend
- 4 slices fresh ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bag Gingerbread Spice, or Orange Spice tea
- 1 tsp. maple syrup
- ½ of a small orange
- Muddle fresh ginger in a glass.
- Add cinnamon stick and one tea bag.
- Add Whiskey and maple syrup.
- Pour hot water over top and let seep several minutes.
- Add a squeeze of orange and stir.
- Find the nearest couch and Netflix movie.
The Dish: Ham
Like turkey, ham is holiday meal centerpiece that you’ll likely see again and again through November and December. There are countless ways to prepare the dish—a Sriracha-pineapple glaze is all the craze right now—but most guests just want some variation of sweet and sticky.
The Pairing: Sweeten the Pot
Good news, whiskey fans: nothing goes with glistening ham better than an orange juice-flavored cocktail. This cocktail is especially delightful when eating warmed up ham for breakfast with eggs and a newspaper—okay, your iPad.
The Appetizer: Summer sausage, cheese, and crackers
A year-round combination that’s especially popular at holiday parties, as it lets guests add some protein to their plates full of sugary snacks. Also works well at Holiday Bowl games!
The Pairing: Ginger Whiskey Sour
Let every ingredient stand up and be counted in this crisp cocktail, which perfectly complements meat, cheese, and, well…. just about everything! And don’t just mix one for yourself—be bold and offer one to your office crush!
- 1 1/2 oz Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey Blend
- ½ oz lime juice in a shaker with ice.
- Shake and strain in a rocks glass over ice.
- Top with your favorite Ginger Beer.
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
- Pucker up and meet us under the mistletoe!
The Dessert: Apple or Pumpkin Pie
After a heaping plate or two of holiday dinner, your guests may not feel like eating again until Labor Day. But then out comes the pie—and that wafting smell of brown sugar and warm crust—and suddenly everyone has room for dessert!
The Pairing: Here’s to Whiskey! Here’s to Ginger!
Finish off the pie and fire up some holiday karaoke while sipping on this sweet Wassail concoction, which was historically served from a “wassailing bowl” during medieval festivals.
Party punch bowl (yields 6-8):
- 8 oz. Cask & Crew Ginger Spice Whiskey
- 8 cups apple cider
- 1 inch nub of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 Cinnamon sticks (one for recipe, two for garnish)
- Orange slices
- Combine apple cider, ginger, and vanilla in a large saucepan and let simmer for at least thirty minutes, preferably over an hour. Let it cool and add to a punch bowl.
- Add whiskey to punch bowl, and top with ice. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and orange slices.
Try as a single cocktail:
- 2 oz. Cask & Crew Ginger Spice Whiskey
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/8 inch nub of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced
- Dash of vanilla extract
- 1/4 cinnamon stick
- Orange peel (optional for garnish)
- Same as above, except pour in a large, festive glass over ice.
And remember: No matter what food and drink your serve your crew, what really matters is the opportunity to be together. (And getting somebody else to do the dishes.)
Take the Time
By Ricky Tatar, original crew member
“Take the time” is our rallying cry at Cask & Crew. This “mantra” is something we reflect on in many different ways, but its origin comes from rule #1 of an unwritten whiskey rule book- Whiskey needs time with its barrel.
When distilled, whiskey enters a barrel clear. After a few months, it’s altered to a slight tinge of light brown. Fast forward to a few years in the barrel, that once clear whiskey is now a dark caramel, golden brown.
Before the whiskey goes in, whiskey barrels undergo a charring process at the barrel cooperage. By igniting the interior of the barrel for upwards of 30-60 seconds, the interior wood panels are charred and primed for flavor extraction. Charring the wood opens it up and makes the wood more porous. Plus, when the wood is broken down by heat, there are key chemical changes in the wood that would not be exposed without it. These chemical changes provide the whiskey flavor profiles like vanilla, toffee, and caramel.
Once the whiskey is added to the charred barrels, the barrel acts like a sponge. Even slight environment changes like temperature or pressure cause the wood to expand and contract… drawing the whiskey in and pushing it back out again. This is consistently introducing new desirable flavors and color to the whiskey. Very cool process.
Cask & Crew Rye blend and flavored whiskeys (Walnut Toffee and Ginger Spice) are all aged in the same way for 3 years. Our Rye Whiskey is distilled and aged in brand new American oak barrels charred with a #3 char. This means that our 53 gallon barrels were engulfed in approx. 1800 degree flames for 35 seconds. Remarkably, even 5 seconds (more or less) difference would greatly impact the flavor profile of our whiskey.
What went in as a clear, sweet, and neutral whiskey spirit, over 3 years, evolved into a complex, smoky yet caramelly and smooth, rye whiskey blend.
Not by coincidence, “take the time” also echoes in our brand voice…encouraging people to unplug, and take the time to enjoy a great glass of whiskey, and above all, enjoy the crew you share it with.
Crafting Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey: What a Ride!
By Joe Ragazzo, vice president, LiDestri Spirits
Our effort to craft an exceptional rye whiskey when we formulated Cask & Crew has been an exciting journey. And judging from the reception we’ve had to our creation—named for our eclectic “crew” and the hand-selected charred and raw casks we used we used to age the rye and whiskey respectively—it promises to get even better as we produce each new batch.
Right now, nothing can trump our joy with Cask & Crew’s track record. Batch 1 sold out to distributors in 45 days and won six major awards: three before we introduced it in January 2017 and three in its first 10 weeks on the market. Clearly, our singular blend of 51% fine three-year-old Canadian rye and 49% classic barrel aged American corn whiskey, available in a straight rye whiskey blend or two flavors (Walnut Toffee and Ginger Spice) has struck a cord.
Our most prestigious honor was a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) in April. It was a fierce competition with over 2,000 global entries—the organization’s largest number ever. Double Gold is not only SFWSC’s highest honor, it’s awarded to only the few entries that receive a Gold rating from all members of the judging panel. And Walnut Toffee won a Bronze Medal, which makes the unique flavor a prime pick in its category.
That same week some of our “crew” attended the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) Convention’s Spirits Tasting Competition to witness our win. We were honored, appreciative and over the moon when we took home a Gold Medal with accolades from the judges and attendees. In another coup, we also took 1st Place at WSWA’s first-ever People’s Choice Award in the Call for Cocktails Mixology Competition (see the recipe for Sister Smokin’ Ginger here)—an especially meaningful honor because convention-goers voted for this award using a newly developed app.
And right before we introduced Cask & Crew, all three versions won Silver Medals at the 2016 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.
JOINING THE WHISKEY RENAISSANCE
We’re proud to have this type of early success in such a growing category. We knew we had to create something that was compelling enough to appeal to both the whiskey aficionado as well as the whiskey novice, and it would require a blend of imagination and innovation. The results speak to the passionate commitment of our LiDestri “crew” that worked tirelessly for over 18 months to make this dream a reality.
We found our inspiration in Giovanni LiDestri’s favorite drink, “Caffè corretto,” the legendary Italian espresso that packs a kick of something extra. We call Cask & Crew a “whiskey corrected” to communicate the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the unique blend, which Whisky Advocate calls “a new one to us.”
Our carefully considered straight rye whiskey blend has a 40% ABV and a unique profile of smoky and sweet notes with an ultra-smooth taste. The two other flavors—Walnut Toffee and Ginger Spice—both have a 35% ABV and have quickly become favorites with Millennials, women and chefs.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Batch 2, our second run of 22,500 bottles (7,500 per flavor), is priced at $24-$26.99 for 750 ml bottles and is currently sold in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and DC and Kentucky. Cask & Crew will be available in 15 states soon, including two states where LiDestri Spirits have never been sold—Tennessee and Louisiana. To view where Cask & Crew whiskey is currently available, click here.