It’s not often, if ever, that a lover of spirits gets to taste a 138-year-old whiskey.
A member of my bourbon club in Greensboro, North Carolina, presented us with an 1879 bottle of Holmes Best Old Monongahela pure rye whiskey from Pittsburgh. He collects empty bottles, he told us. But this one was full.
No worries, he said. Twenty bucks a glass.
I figured it was worth a shot, so to speak, even if it winded up tasting like cough syrup and soggy tree bark.
Which it kind of did.
The whiskey was amber and clean. It smelled of oak and dried fruit and a bit sweet at first on the palate. It was certainly drinkable, though a taste of medicine, flavored with burnt oranges, was a bit caustic and lingered a bit longer than was comfortable.
“Back then,” says a post of Sku’s Recent Eats, “American whiskey usually meant rye whiskey, and Old Monongahela Pennsylvania style rye was one of the major categories of rye.”
But, of course, comparing how whiskey was supposed to taste in 18-whatever and what we expect it to taste like today is like weighing bourbon against rye. Not the same thing. Plus, our palates have evolved, or maybe devolved, over time.
Still, it’s good to see rye continue to emerge back into popularity, and it was quite to treat to taste this little piece of history.
That bottle is now empty. Put it on the shelf, where it probably belongs.