an estimated 50,000 cases of rye whiskey—
about 120,000 gallons—and saw 38 percent sales growth since 2000. Members
of the alcohol trade group include the
big American distilleries like Wild Turkey, Barton and Jim Beam (which owns
60 percent of the rye market with Jim
Beam Rye and Old Overholt), all companies that have worked hard and long
to keep rye alive.
“Jim Beam Worldwide alone shipped
around 3. 9 million cases of bourbon in
2006,” says Shawn Kelley, director of
public relations at the Distilled Spirits
Council. “Rye is definitely an artisanal,
Rye was one of the most plentiful
drinks in Colonial America, thanks
in part to a sky-high tax on rum.
BACK IN STYLE
Back in George Washington’s day, rye
whiskey was one of the most generic and
popular drinks around. There was plenty
of grain to make it, and because the
molasses to make ever-popular rum
came from the British-controlled West
Indies and was taxed sky-high, rye became one of the de facto drinks of choice
for early Americans.
Although Washington opened his distillery in 1797—and died just two years later, at
the height of the distillery’s success—even
when he was leading Americans to victory
in the Revolutionary War he believed in the
benefits of well-irrigated troops. He once
wrote: “The benefits arising from moderate
use of liquor have been experienced in all
armies, and are not to be disputed!”
At Washington’s restored distillery,
which opened to the public on April 1, the
output of rye will be very moderate—at
least at first. According to a law approved
near Washington’s birthday this year,
the Virginia House of Delegates gave a
special waiver for Mount Vernon to sell
small amounts of commemorative spirits.
Normally, distilled spirits are only sold in
state-run stores in Virginia.
In the meantime, says Pogue, “We will
interpret all of the steps of distilling as it
was done in the 18th century… We could
distill alcohol if we wanted, however, and
we plan on doing it for special occasions
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