In February, Woodford Reserve released its first-ever batch of Kentucky Straight Rye. Although intended to be a permanent extension of its limited line of whiskeys (which now totals three), the premiere run is unlikely to last long. Bottles have been flying off the shelves at shops lucky enough to secure an allotment. No surprise there — the hotly anticipated spirit is an elegant expression priced to sell at $38 a pop. Behind the bar, its presence is even rarer. After failing to find it at several local watering holes, I ventured to The Drink (228 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-782-8463) in East Williamsburg, where I finally caught a glimpse of the elusive green-labeled liquor, graciously waiting to be emptied into my snifter.
The waitstaff at the Drink will happily let you taste a dram of Woodford’s newest prize for $11. It’s a couple of bucks more than some traditional favorites, like Old Overholt and Rittenhouse, but still a dollar cheaper than its Knob Creek and Templeton counterparts. To truly understand a spirit, there’s nary a substitute for a neat pour. Nosing the glass will immediately reveal the brand’s trademark barrel-forward notes. Like its bourbon cousin, the rye is aged in temperature-controlled warehouses, emboldening the interaction of oak with the liquid as it slumbers.
With a surprisingly low rye content (53 percent) and a relatively high amount of corn in the mash bill, don’t expect it to be a radical departure from Woodford’s flagship whiskey. In fact, this release serves as a fantastic gateway rye for bourbon drinkers looking to move away from their roots. The grain adjustments unique to this straight rye make themselves known in and around the finish; dry, slightly earthy, and lingering.
The Drink’s cocktail menu is dominated by whiskey drinks, so it’s entirely reasonable to work Woodford’s versatile rye into several standards. It’s certainly sturdy enough to prop up the absinthe-laced sazerac, and it hogs the stage in a by-the-book old-fashioned, both priced at $10. To really let this spirit shine, however, a boulevardier is a sensible arrangement. And, when in Brooklyn, have a go at the borough’s namesake cocktail — a manhattan variation subbing dry for sweet vermouth, and adding a touch of amaro and cherry liqueur. It’s a stellar platform to showcase what this new rye has to offer.
Savor every sip, though: Limited supply and an ever-increasing demand for rye might make it a full year before subsequent batches emerge.
Bottles of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye are still available at Astor Wine & Spirits and Big Three Liquors in the Bronx. To avoid disappointment, always phone ahead.