Sunday, June 15, 2014
Leopold Bros Maryland-Style Rye Seeks To Capture History in a Bottle.
Maryland Rye, also known as Baltimore Rye, is a style you will often see mentioned but rarely explained. According to John Lipman, it was a marketing ploy first, a distinctive regional style later. Apparently the product called 'Philadelphia Rye,' and hailing from that city, wasn't much different. That 'Maryland Rye' became recognized as a style can be demonstrated by the fact that distilleries in New York and as far west as Cincinnati and St. Louis made products identified as 'Maryland Rye.'
But what was distinctive about it, especially in comparison to other American ryes? David Wondrich, in the Summer 2014 issue of Whisky Advocate, cites the use of steam distillation in a three-chamber still made of wood, not metal. The grains were rye and barley malt, no corn. They were sweet mash fermented, not sour mash like most bourbons. He cites an 1828 study that "found significantly greater average quantities of everything they tested for--alcohol, acids, dissolved solids, fusel oils, and the all-important flavor-bearing esters and aldehydes" in Maryland Rye, compared to bourbon of the same age.
"In other words," writes Wondrich, "these were huge whiskeys, dark, rich, and chewy, and these are what Prohibition killed." (Emphasis his.)
Colorado's Leopold Bros Distillery has attempted to recreate the Maryland style as they imagine it. It isn't much like what Wondrich describes. Red, White & Bourbon, a Colorado-based whiskey blog, in a review of the Leopold's effort, writes that compared to Monongahela Rye, Maryland Rye had a "softer profile" due to a lower rye content. In those days before the Standards of Identity, Maryland distillers added "dark fruit juices to contribute a certain level of depth."
It's impossible to know if Leopold Bros hits the mark. The tiny amounts of actual Maryland Rye that remain are very late pre-Prohibition or post-Prohibition, when the style was likely corrupted by the dominant Monongahela and Kentucky styles. But what is nice about a recreated whiskey is that the maker can combine the historical clues that survive with his own imagination and skill to create a spirit that honors its antecedents while also being a distinctive and enjoyable drink in its own right.
In a 2012 post on straightbourbon.com, Todd Leopold described it like this: "It's (around) 65% rye, 15% corn, and 20% malted barley. The cocoa you picked up is actually chocolate malt (I was a brewer for 15+ years), quite literally a handful of it. The fruit you are tasting comes from acetic acid bacteria. We allow for a secondary bacterial fermentation in our cypress open fermenters which leads to esterification in the barrel. More clearly, the acetic acid that is put into the distillate by the bacteria mixes with the oxygen coming into the barrel to create fruit flavors and aromas. So those strawberry notes are from bacteria, not from yeast. The floral note is from the rye. To me, it tastes and smells very much like lavender."
Upon tasting, it is easy to imagine drinkers becoming accustomed to this style of rye whiskey and preferring it. Compared to mainstream ryes it seems thin, due to its low corn content, and has some qualities of a young malt whiskey. It's slightly hot, but in a way that grows on you. Carmel and vanilla from the oak barrel complement nicely the chocolate malt. Although it probably is fairly young, it tastes mature for what it is. You wouldn't want it to have very much more wood. As it is, it is well-balanced, appealing, and distinctively different.
If you like rye whiskey, you should give Leopold Bros Maryland-Style Rye Whiskey a try. You won't confuse it with your current favorite but you'll discover that there are other ways for rye to taste.