Summer, for me, is cocktail season. It’s not that I stop sipping my spirits neat, but there’s something about warm weather that snaps me out of my funk and energizes me enough to bother with more than one ingredient in my glass. The warmer months also pair perfectly with the flavors in my favorite classic cocktails: Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, margaritas, negronis, gimlets, gin & tonics, Cuba Libres, caipirinhas, and the list goes endlessly on. As much as I appreciate these classics, I’m also a firm believer that every home bar needs a ‘wildcard’ option, something that not only inspires brand new creations but also adds a fun twist to more familiar cocktails.
Each summer, in an effort to further my experimentation, I pick a new category of spirit to explore. Two years ago, I discovered mezcal (yes, please!); last year, I fell in love with barrel-aged gin. This year I’m all about resurrecting the overlooked but exceptionally versatile white whiskey. Here’s the thing: a good white whiskey is something of a cocktail chameleon, at home as a twist to your traditional whiskey cocktails but also as a delightful and surprising replacement for mixed drinks that star more traditionally clear spirits such as vodka and gin. The trick? Finding a truly outstanding white whiskey to add to your bar.
Enter OYO Rye Whiskey. For many producers, white whiskey is a novelty item instead of a serious distillate—they bottle and sell it only to show what their bourbons and ryes are like before the aging process. Often times, it provides the distiller funds while they wait to bring their aged spirits to market. Not so at Middle West Spirits of Columbus, Ohio, producers of the OYO range. For Middle West, which boasts four generations of distilling experience, their unaged rye is the purest expression of their locally-sourced grain, in this case 100% Pumpernickel Rye from the Ohio River Valley. Just like wine, climate, soil, and the variety of grain result in vastly different distillates in bottle. To further preserve the expression of their chosen grain, OYO Rye is bottled at barrel strength, a hefty 55% alcohol by volume, making it ideal for the budding mixologist. This whiskey will not get lost under any number of mixers, sweet or savory or bitter, no matter how many you add—in every cocktail, it holds its own.
The nose is sweet and spicy, with a creamy, round mouthfeel, notes of fresh-baked bread on the mid-palate and a long length with a finish of heat and rye’s characteristic spice. An exceptional substitute for the traditional vodka in a Moscow (or should we say Ohio) Mule, it’s also great for putting a summer flair into your next Manhattan. The fun of a product like this is playing around with it, letting it inspire you to new combinations or creations that reflect your own tastes and personality. But if you insist on some guidance, Middle West Spirits offers a selection of recipes to serve as a jumping off point. Time to get creative and begin to enjoy summer!