A Journey from Gin to Rye Whiskey: Ragtime Rye Set for September Release

Startup whiskey distilleries all face the same challenge — navigating how to survive long enough to actually get the product to market. Distilleries must create revenue while the whiskey is unavailable to be sold, slowly coming of age in the barrel. There are several different options here, and they’re certainly not mutually exclusive.

One approach is to source another distillery’s whiskey and to sell it as your own. “Our genius, or foolishness,” said Allen Katz, founder of Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company, “is that we were committed to the idea that we’re going to make this. It’s not purchased from anyone else, it’s not blended with anything from anywhere else. It’s our whiskey. Our name is on the bottle, so dammit, we made it.”

No sourcing here, then.

Another approach is to utilize small barrels to speed up the process, cramming three, four, or more years into mere months. “To keep this positive, I’m a fan of whiskey that is aged in full-size barrels,” says Katz. “And I’m a fan of whiskey which has had a reasonable time aging.”

No small barrel aging here, either. Indeed, an early takeaway on a recent visit to New York Distilling Company were the rows of full-size 53-gallon barrels. It’s unusual to see at a small or startup distillery, as many choose 30-gallon barrels, and others opt for even smaller sizes, dropping down to 15’s, 10’s or even 5-gallon barrels.

The last approach is to produce and sell other spirits which don’t need to be aged, such as gin or vodka. That’s the path that they walked at New York Distilling Company, releasing Dorothy Parker, an American gin, and Perry’s Tot, a navy strength gin bottled at 57% ABV.

“We make gin, and we make our rye whiskey,” says Katz. “That was our point of view from the beginning.” Still, they didn’t stop there, but instead progressed on a step-by-step journey until the present. Now, it’s time for Ragtime Rye, aged for three and a half years and set for release in September.

There were several innovative way-stations along that road from gin to straight rye whiskey. One was Chief Gowanus, an aged New Netherlands style gin produced from the same raw distillate which the whiskey utilizes. With the help of David Wondrich, Katz aimed to replicate the type of spirit which would have been made in the area by the Dutch hundreds of years prior.

“What’s in this bottle is our rye new make, re-distilled with juniper berries and hops, and aged for 3 to 5 months in some of our used rye whiskey casks,” explains Katz, who refers to Chief Gowanus as a “kissing cousin” of genever. It’s an intriguing product, with obvious whiskey characteristics interlaced with obvious gin notes. The nose reveals cinnamon, pepper, juniper and the presence of those sparingly used cluster hops, moving to a peppery, vegetal finish.

The next stop was Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye. Bottled at 32.5% ABV, it fits into the historical Rock and Rye designation, an oft-forgotten saloon-era spirit. Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye incorporates rye whiskey which has been aged for 12 plus months with rock candy sugar, bing cherries, dried orange peel and cinnamon bark.

“At 65 proof, you can use this on its own, as the focal point of a cocktail with a two ounce pour,” says Katz. “Or you can also use it as a modifier… It has a very versatile cocktail application. It has some characteristics of a bottled old fashioned, with a cherry and fruit element. But it’s very mixable.”

Sipped neatly, the orange shines on the nose, while the sour cherry comes through on the palate. There’s a backbone of sugary sweetness and spice from start to finish. An early thought is that it would make for an excellent addition to a strong red sangria.

From Chief Gowanus to Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye, finally, it was time for Ragtime Rye. It’s bottled at 90.4 proof, and made with a 72% rye, 16% corn and 12% malted barley mash bill.

Ragtime Rye Whiskey label official

“The ambition is bold and small at the same time,” says Katz.  “We’re young distillers, we’re young whiskey producers. From a flavor and aroma standpoint, what I most hope for is that someone who enjoys whiskey and drinks this on its own says, ‘you know what, for a boutique or craft distillery, I taste more than wood.'”

Mission accomplished, as the profile does offer more than wood. Rye spice dominates the nose, with grain, pepper and oak. On the palate, rye is again the dominant component, but there’s a smooth layering of flavors, including hints of caramel, and fresh fruits. The finish leaves lasting notes of rye spice and oak, revealing a well-matured rye.

Four years after opening their doors, patiently allowing that whiskey to come of age in full barrels, the rewards are being reaped for the New York Distilling Company. Start looking for Ragtime Rye in retail stores this September.