Iowa is known for many things--pork, dairy, Lutherans, Starfleet captains--but production of alcoholic beverages isn't high on many people's list of Iowegian exports. Until relatively recently, it was a 3.2% beer state, wine production was limited to the Germans in the Amana colonies and a few vineyards that crept over the river from Galena, Illinois. And spirits? Nah.
Nevertheless, there are some old men in the town of Templeton in the western part of the state--the part that's so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days straight-- who would beg to differ. They're making small batches of one of the most gentle rye whiskies on the planet, rye that makes the best Manhattan you'll ever stir up, rye whose limited distribution is causing a frenzy of hype.
Until recently, Templeton Rye, which started back in the 19th century and was a favorite of Al Capone, wasn't available outside of Iowa and Illinois. The distillery lay abandoned for many years after repeal, and was only restarted a few years ago. The recipe? Known only to those old, probably euchre-playing old men.
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These days, due to demand (but it's still only available in a handful of states), some of the Templeton Rye is distilled in Indiana, a move necessitated by a thirsty country and the need to expand the facilities and hire staff in a small town. Eventually, though, the plan is to have all the Templeton Rye made, bottled and distributed from Templeton.
This is not harsh hooch; this is surprisingly easy to drink. People seem to be unable to resist comparing it to bourbon, perhaps because it doesn't have the sour tinge that, say, Bulleit or Sazerac ryes have. Its vanilla scent is muted, with warm spices up front, and it's--dare we say it?--a delicate whisky. Like the people in its home state, it's not brash, not assertive, which makes it a great choice for simple cocktails or just in a snifter.
Templeton Rye is currently available mostly to bars with a demonstrated craft cocktail bent, but you can get it at Hi-Time Liquors.