Moss Island Drams: Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey

I first tried Hudson Manhattan Rye at a family gathering in Charleston, SC. A double, neat, kept me intrigued and satisfied for hours. Returning home, I looked for it in my regular store and didn’t see it. Then last week I met a friend for drinks at Turning Stone Casino and enjoyed a ludicrously overpriced dram. My friend’s reaction: “My god, that’s straight gasoline.” (They say you either like rye or you don’t…)

Moss Island DramAmerican Rye Whiskey must be distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye, and must be aged in charred, new oak barrels. By law. (Canadian whisky is often referred to as rye, but can’t be sold as such in the U.S. unless it meets the requirements.) Once upon a time, rye was the key ingredient in Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, and Old Fashioned cocktail recipes, but it’s been supplanted by the current rage for bourbon.

Hudson Manhattan Rye is produced by Tuthilltown Spirits, in Gardiner, NY. ( It’s made from a 100% whole grain rye mash (sourced from local farms), double-distilled, aged in American Oak for “less than four years,” and bottled at 46% abv (92 proof).

I mentioned Manhattan Rye to my brother-in-law David, who took up the challenge and delivered a bottle the next day. There are few experiences as thrilling as holding an unopened bottle of a spirit you’ve been thinking about. Pure anticipation. The wax seal took some effort to remove, which added to the fun.

The color is deep amber, almost ruby. The nose is spicy and intense, recalling my friend’s gasoline comment. Swirling in the glass, it exhibits an oily consistency that lingers. The first sip is unexpectedly sweet, with effervescent spice that quickly explodes on the palate. The body is heavy and deep; caramel prominent early on, followed by cinnamon and then vanilla. It finishes long, tingling with reminisces of clove and campfire smoke.

Tuthilltown’s web site suggests recipes for the classic rye cocktails, which might interest some. Personally, I find that a simple double in a brandy glass has all the flavor of the best cocktail; I fear a combination would diminish the fascination, in the same way the best root beer and the finest vanilla ice cream combine to make a float less than the sum of its parts.