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Event Thu Aug 23 2007
Iowa's Templeton Rye rolled into Chicago Monday night with a busload of flappers and gangsters and a couple dozen cases of the rye whiskey Al Capone used to call "The Good Stuff." The upstart distillery's tasting party, held at the Chicago History Museum on Monday, brought back a taste that Chicago hasn't had in more than 70 years. Come mid-September, the single-malt, single-barrel rye will begin showing up in bars and package stores across the city. And when you raise a glass, you can thank Templeton Rye founder Scott Bush... and his mom.
The pitch is so succinct, it fits on a cardboard coaster: "Prohibition Era Rye Whiskey available legally for the first time ever." The story: a tiny Iowa town, struggling against hard times, takes to bootlegging and ends up Prohibition's closest thing to a name brand hooch. Fast-forward to the present, where Iowan Scott Bush rescues the famed recipe from the pages of history and brings it to the market in its first-ever legally distributed incarnation. It's the kind of story that lends itself to barfly evangelism. And really, who wouldn't rather hear a fanciful yarn about Al Capone smuggling Iowa whiskey into Alcatraz than suffer through yet another flavored vodka? After umpteen lifeless versions of berry vodka, old school rye whiskey is a breath of fresh air.
After decades of declining popularity, the time is ripe for a rye revival. Even the Manhattan, a rye cocktail in its original recipe, is more often made with bourbon these days. But with small-batch bourbons and prestige whiskeys making their way onto the top shelf, it was only matter of time before the drier, cleaner taste of rye made a comeback as an alternative. Templeton Rye is just the thing to help re-establish the style. Deep amber, with a clean, reedy character, Templeton has a chewy, spicy goodness and a clean finish that makes old fashioned cocktails like the Sazerac, the Rock and Rye and, yes, the Old-Fashioned, seem new again. All of those and more were on the menu at Templeton's tasting party.
Now obviously, a well-appointed tasting party with free-flowing booze is going to win converts. Add fun touches like brand reps dressed as flappers and gangsters and even a pair of period-uniformed "coppers" on a mock raid and you've added some flair. But where so many liquor tasting parties drown themselves in marketing department approximations of cool, Templeton's party spotlighted a certain easygoing Iowan charm. Upon hearing a distributor's boast that Chicago was the first major city to receive the new Templeton Rye, company president Scott Bush's Iowa pride compelled him to assert that "Des Moines is a major city." This drew cheers from the flappers and gangsters, who were, it turned out, all Templeton natives, among them Scott Bush's wife, grandmother, father and, yes, his mom.
Friends, family and neighbors in Iowa have had a year to get hooked all over again on Templeton Rye, but you'll have to wait until the middle of next month to get your hands on it in Chicago. Until then, you can visit the distillery online at templetonrye.com.
(More photos after the jump.)