Rye was once a mainstay of the American whiskey scene, but by the end of the 20th century it had largely disappeared from liquor store shelves. Since then, a revival involving a number of determined distilleries has helped restore rye to its rightful place as an American icon.
Read on to discover what music has inspired these distillers to create their own signature expressions of the spirit.
“Coppersea’s Bonticou Crag Straight Rye Malt is Bob Dylan at his most arcane—the legendary “Basement Tapes.” In 1967, while recuperating from a motorcycle accident, Dylan and his backing band cut more than 100 tracks in the basement of his house in Woodstock, New York, riffing and ruminating across American traditional music—old time blues, country, Tin Pan Alley and black and white gospel traditions. Like the “Basement Tapes,” Bonticou Crag is another product of the Hudson Valley that dips from that same wellspring to ruminate on the idiosyncratic origins of another American icon: whisky.”-Christopher Williams, chief distiller and blender, Coppersea
“The Black Keys play several cask-strength anthems. “Just a Little Heat” has a raw steadiness that pairs perfectly with our Family Estate Bottled Small Batch Rye and a cigar. Like the song, our whiskey is soulful. My family always says nothing is entirely original. The ability to honor rock beginnings and spice things up with a new layer of flavor is what keeps the Black Keys on my radio. Our rye has all the classic spirit components and a little something extra. Some say it is fruity and others find a whole spice cabinet in their glass. I’ll let you be the judge. Without question it will take your worries away.”-Drew Kulsveen, master distiller, Willett Distillery
“Whiskey, like music, is primarily viewed through a male lens, and I wanted to shout one out for the ladies. Doreen St. Felix wrote about Missy Elliott in the New Yorker, ‘hip-hop artists are musicologists, and sampling is one way histories are folded into the present.’ Like Elliott, another Commonwealth native, we pull influences from all corners and filter them through our Virginia mindset. We take the rye of the past, and... flip it, and reverse it. Catoctin Creek created a new aesthetic for rye: toggling between chill, fruity, and bold spice.”-Becky Harris, founder and chief distiller, Catoctin Creek
“Uncork a bottle and take that first sip of Dad’s Hat PA Rye and one song quickly comes to mind: Santana’s and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth.” ‘Man it’s a hot one; Like seven inches from the midday sun; Well I hear you whispering in the words, to melt everyone; But you stay so cool…You’re my reason for reason. The step in my groove.’ Spicy, classic, smooth. The song embodies not only the taste of our rye whiskies, but how we distill Dad’s Hat ‘… make it real or just forget about it.’”-Herman Mihalich and John Cooper, co-founders of Dad’s Hat PA Rye
“When asked to compare our Wild Turkey 101 Rye whiskey to music, my mind immediately went to my Dad’s (master distiller Eddie Russell) favorite band, ZZ Top. I can’t think of anything more closely aligned to Wild Turkey in music than Southern rock. Our rye being a Kentucky-style is uniquely American and Southern, much like the band itself. The gritty rough vocals combined with the smooth blues-driven guitar is how I think of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. Our rye starts off with spice and a burst of flavor, but mellows out with a smooth, easy finish. We have been producing rye whiskey as far back as when my granddad (Master Distiller Jimmy Russell) started in 1954, and ZZ Top has been touring for 50 plus years. I see us both as timeless classics.”-Bruce Russell, global brand ambassador, Wild Turkey
The Spirit Sounds series asks spirits makers to compare their liquor to music: a band, performer, album, genre, song, or whatever else they feel like. Read the first installment featuring bourbon master distillers now.