Red, White, and Booze | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Red, White, and Booze

Fourth of July drink picks

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With Independence Day coming up fast, a few patriotically-inclined bibulous comments seem in order. One ought to not try to dictate the terms under which their fellow Americans should best celebrate our country’s birth, so consider the following as merely suggestive.

I recently had the good fortune of catching up again with Fred Noe, seventh generation master distiller of the Jim Beam Distillery, and I find myself thinking of his consistent refrain regarding his bourbon: “Drink it any damn way you please.”

The corollary of that is no less suggestive: drink whatever you like. Personally, I’ll be drinking American hooch rather than something imported. I humbly suggest doing likewise.

For wine, consider the dry, crisp, yet relatively full 2017 Don Ernesto Beret Rosé ($27; mevushal) from Hagafen Cellars of Napa Valley, California. Made from Syrah, this latest vintage offers plush aromas and flavors of strawberry, watermelon, honeysuckle, and lemon zest, with a whisper of menthol-like greenness that both quenches and refreshes. It is light enough to be enjoyed on its own, but should nicely pair with typical grilled foods, like hot dogs, hamburgers, or grilled chicken or fish.

Another great wine option is the Covenant Winery, Mensch, Zinfandel (Lodi, California), 2016 ($20; mevushal; available online directly from the winery with limited retail distribution): This budget-priced, value-driven wine from the consistently great Covenant Winery is rich, yet softly textured and fruit-forward. It is practically bursting with clean and lovely black cherry, raspberry, and boysenberry fruit. It also has notes of cocoa and hints of rosemary and black licorice on the finish. Very tasty.

For heftier intoxicants, American-made is, once again, the direction I’ll be pursuing. Options abound, but every July Fourth, I find myself desiring rye rather than bourbon whiskey—and in copious amounts. One should always drink responsibly and in moderation, of course, but the American tradition is to consume more than usual. As history clearly shows, after all, our nation’s ancestors would get thoroughly pickled at their annual Independence Day shindigs.

In fact, as William Rorabaugh, a professor of American history at the University of Washington in Seattle, noted in his book The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, July Fourth evoked “a national intoxication. He writes that communal celebratory binge drinking was so customary at July Fourth festivities that “it was surely no accident that one early temperance society adopted a pledge that allowed its members to become intoxicated on Independence Day.” The American drink of choice after the Revolutionary War was largely rye whiskey — it was both cheap and plentiful, and American.

As master-distiller Dave Pickerell, of Whistle Pig Rye and Hillrock Estate whiskey fame once succinctly put it to me: “When they threw the tea into Boston Harbor, it wasn’t just throwing tea, it was throwing the British way of life — and that included rum, the colonial drink. They certainly weren’t about to quit drinking, but it did mean they were going to switch to something made indigenously, and that was rye whiskey. America was truly settled on the back of rye whiskey and our independence was won on the back of rye whiskey. It is the true American spirit.”

As I’ve noted before, it is all too often forgotten that until Prohibition, America had a proud tradition in its domestic rye whiskey industry, particularly in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

When making your July Fourth festivity preparations, consider cracking open some straight rye whiskey, the tipple of our nation’s hearty, freedom-loving forebears. One of my go-to choices is: Russell’s Reserve, 6-Year-Old, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (45 percent abv; $45): This warming, super smooth, fun, light-ish yet wonderful rye whiskey offers aromas and flavors of almonds, caramel, honey, vanilla, oak, cherries, banana bread, racy/spicy cinnamon, and New York rye bread. Mild mannered as rye whiskies go, but just superb.


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