The growth in local rye has been inspiring for those who see the spicy grain as the pride of Pennsylvania's spirit heritage. Dad's Hat in Bristol and Pittsburgh's Wigle led the charge, followed by Pipersville's Hewn Spirits, Thistle Finch in Lancaster, and the newly revived Kinsey brand in Kensington. And now comes rye from South Jersey.
It's fair to assume anything from Cooper River Distillers in Camden would reflect roughly the same terroir as those from just across the river in Philadelphia.
And a portion of James Yoakum's latest small batch is indeed made with unmalted barley from the increasingly popular Deer Creek Malthouse in Glen Mills (the unmalted grain lends an almost wheaty flavor). But 63 percent of the mash bill comes from rye that is as Garden State as it gets, grown on the Anthony Sparacio Farm near Vineland. And it's that rye that rings true in a spirit that's deeply ambered despite just one year of aging.
An initial kiss of sweet caramel segues into grassy spice, a whiff of fresh-cut wood, a citrusy fruitiness from the grain (highlighted by the orange twist in a Manhattan) that finishes with a lingering breath of mint. All this comes at a fairly steep price - $65 a bottle - that reflects the challenging economies of scale and strong demand so far for each tiny 80-bottle batch. The price should come down as production rises, Yoakum says. But while those new batches age, it's already clear there's a place on my shelf for Jersey rye.
- Craig LaBan
Cooper River Rye Whiskey, $64.99 for 750 ml bottle, Cooper River Distillers (34 N. Fourth St., Camden) and Benash Liquors (2405 Rte. 38, Cherry Hill); $12 per glass at the Farm & Fisherman Tavern, 1442 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill; $10 per glass at the Irish Mile, 350 Haddon Ave., Westmont.