One Bottle of Rye, One Hundred Years of History

Five Fathers Pure Rye Malt Whisky from Old PogueEXPAND
Five Fathers Pure Rye Malt Whisky from Old Pogue
Brad Japhe for the Village Voice

Whiskey tastes like heaven, and it surely makes you feel like you belong there. But an often overlooked quality of the American spirit is the intimate story it can pour into every glass. In the case of Five Fathers Pure Rye Malt Whisky, a dram carries with it a legendary narrative stretching back more than a century. No wonder each sip tends to linger.

Religiously revered in Kentucky, whiskey's history is steeped in a mystical lore that often blurs the line between fantasy and documented reality. So when the sleepy village of Maysville, nestled along the winding banks of the Ohio River, claims to be the birthplace of bourbon, it should arouse skepticism. Yet according to sources no less credible than the state legislature, this small port town is the site of Kentucky's first whiskey distillery, opened in 1790.

Maysville eventually became home to H.E. Pogue, who produced small-batch bourbon and rye for more than 50 years until Prohibition shuttered the family-run business. The violent nature of bootlegging left such a bad taste in locals' mouths that they drifted away from booze production for several generations after repeal.

Sensing his birthright (and an ever-growing demand for craft whiskey), John Pogue decided to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, working with his family to establish Old Pogue, Maysville's first working distillery in over 70 years. While they patiently wait for their bourbon to adequately age in the barrel (that will happen sometime around 2017), Old Pogue has released Five Fathers, a two-year pure rye initially only available in Kentucky and New York.

The "pure" refers to the fact that rye is the only grain present in the mash bill. This relatively young whiskey delivers a smack of spice that would shake the palate of a typical bourbon drinker. This is much more about pepper, cloves, and hickory than the vanilla and oak that define an older whiskey. Those mellower, sweeter notes can come only from prolonged exposure to oak — there is no substitute.

By comparison, Five Fathers barely gets to know the barrel before hitting the glass. But this isn't just because Old Pogue needed to rush a product to market — the distillery already bottles an award-winning bourbon that flies off the shelf. This drink is designed to be a departure from the tamer tonalities of corn-heavy brown spirits dominating the scene. It's the same recipe used by H.E. Pogue in the mid nineteenth century, when folks actually wanted to taste their booze.

While whiskey lore may remain contentious, good whiskey itself generates a surprising degree of consensus. You don't have to believe that bourbon was born a stone's throw from Old Pogue to accept that it's making some stellar spirits there today. And with its genuine pedigree, Five Fathers offers more than just a good rye, it provides a portal into the past.

Just be prepared to pay a premium for that history lesson: 375mL bottles retail for around $40, if you're lucky enough to find them. The limited-batch rye was last seen on shelves at Gramercy Wine Country, and online at Caskers.com.




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