Ahhhh, spring time. At my house everything is in bloom; the wild strawberries are ripening all over the yard, the honey bees are buzzing around our magnolias and fragrant, flower laden wisteria vines. The grass is emerald green, and drops of dew burst out of the white oak tree branches where new leaves are sprouting, scenting the air with that fresh oak aroma. The sun is setting later in the evenings, which are perfect for sitting out in a comfortable chair with your best friend, an oak log fire crackling and smoking in the background, tree frogs chirping happily around the banks of the creek in the valley below. There’s a family of barred owls hooting, chortling and conversing with “Who. Who. Who cooks for you’allllll?” They are plotting, planning and triangulating the warrens of bunnies that run rampant under the ivy and monkey grass on the hill, their safe haven from the yelping bloodhound that patrols the fence line. It’s not yet oppressively hot and humid, and mosquitoes are noticeably absent. Breezes blow out of the northwest, having come across the peaks of the Blue Ridge, descending right into the Triad, importing scents of fresh evergreen and snowy streams. From the south the buckled jet stream is pumping in wave after wave of warm, salty gulf coast air. Eventually those two systems are going to mix it up, swirl into the heavens and burst out into a symphony of thunder and pouring rain that evaporates off the mossy, sun-heated creek stone porch behind my house, unlocking an earthy fragrance that accentuates everything else.
This is my tranquil spot. It’s a melting pot of scents and sounds. It’s a special place to have a pour.
Typically I enjoy these evenings with a glencairn in hand, filled with thick syrupy bourbon, but occasionally I want something else. A hoppy craft beer from the local brewery. A glass of dry red wine. Maybe a mix of simple syrup, bourbon and bitters, sipping pleasantly with some bluegrass or A Prairie Home Companion, wafting soft twangs of Foggy Mountain Breakdown out of the porch speakers. Ghosts of Flatt and Scruggs. Sometimes I go super low budge, with a Coors Light in a vintage Rick Mears can coozy if there is a race on the radio. Sometimes I don’t even need the coozy, as the can won’t be filled long enough to get warm. Like you, there are any number of drinks I could apply to any number of situations, and I always know what’s right for the time.
It’s almost never a rye.
Self-admittedly, I’m not much of a rye drinker, but when the bottle of 2016 Michter’s 10yr rye arrived at my home, I was excited. In truth I’d never had the M10 rye, partially because of my avoidance of rye, but also because I cannot get it where I live. Not to mention, they didn’t even release one last year. At 10 years, it’s older than most other ryes on the market. It’s not ultra proofy, coming in at a mild 92.8%. But the color is dark and rich. I tore at the green wax and filled my glass. The whole walk out to the back porch, an aroma of sweet, dark rootbeer candy was wafting out of my glencairn and washing out right under my nose. I let it sit for a bit to get a little more air before plunging in.
The nose is so good. I could huff on this for hours. It’s just so smooth and sweet. In fact it made me think of classic southern sweet tea, so sweet that you can smell it across the room and develop dental cavities before you even taste it. The sweet tea component was very forward in the profile. But this one was sweetened with brown sugar rather than white. Vanilla dances up out of the glass. There is also a fruit component, a mild orange rind and citrus to my nose. I didn’t get the strong spice that I get from other ryes.
The flavor is subtle, soft and sweet. There is a nice baking spice component. Think French toast simmering on a griddle, all buttery but with some spicy cinnamon, loaded onto a plate and slathered with real mountain maple syrup. The oak is detectable in the profile, though it’s behind the sugar, coming through with a toasty aroma. It’s faintly like bread baking in an open hearth, reminiscent of the summertime exhibitions of primitive life at the pioneer village I grew up near. Finally, I tasted honey. Not the super sweet clover variety, but the wild gold we get out of the hollow log, comb and all. It’s more earthy, like linden honey or maybe buckwheat, the varieties that have a bit of spice to go along with the sweetness.
Maybe there is some bit of flavor lost at the lower proof, but I had no complaints. I felt that the mellowness exhibited here is just so relaxing. Springtime sunsets behind an approaching thunderhead. Wind in the trees. A couple of people I talked to missed the classic rye profile and spice that they find in some of the other big ryes, but for me this is just right. The spice is there when the flavor approaches the finish. The finish is simple and straight forward. It hits on the sides of the tongue, then works its way around, hovering on the back of the palate. The post nose is heavy oak, full on dank barrel stave and char that gets butter soft overnight.
The M10 Rye doesn’t have the mechanically powerful punch that I look for in most pours, but for me, in the relaxed frame of mind I’m in, the lower proof is a welcome change. It means I can have four more glasses without destroying my tongue, and in truth I did have two more pours after the first one. I have another bottle of rye, a younger green wax dubbed the Soul Mate. This tops the Soul Mate. Every time.
The 2016 Michter’s 10yr Rye is just a great sipping drink. It needs very little air, though it continues to open as it sits. It’s easy. Mild. Mellow. Relaxing. Perfect for that spring evening. In fact it’s great for any evening.