My father was a Jack Daniel’s man. Not that he drank a lot of it, at least not when I was around. He mixed it with 7-Up and once in a while would let me have a sip. (He also sprinkled salt into his infrequent Miller High-Life beer, poured into a tall pilsner glass. But we won’t dwell on that.)
My under-legal-age drinking was mostly beer, because, well, that’s what you did. A tavern near Gonzaga University in Spokane would fill your gallon jug with Lucky beer for a dollar-fifty. The hardest part was finding an upperclassman to make the purchase for you. We were ahead of our time: empty cider or distilled water glass containers have been replaced by fancy “growlers.”
When I reached legal age I mimicked my father’s taste, blending bourbon with 7-Up. Eventually I realized the sugar was masking the flavor of the whiskey, so I began replacing the sugary soda with plain water. (That’s bourbon and branch for Texans.) The proportion gradually became less water and more bourbon, until it was no water, just melting ice to dilute the liquor. Unlike dear dad, I didn’t limit myself to Jack, trying less expensive and more expensive brands, depending upon how affluent I felt.
One evening, in a local place frequented by hip foodies, the board above the bar included in the list of spirits something called Sazerac Rye. I tried it; I liked it. I also learned it was hard to find in liquor stores in the West. One time in New Orleans, where it originated, I asked a server if they had Sazerac whiskey. He muffled a laugh and said, “Well, yeah. Of course!” I also learned of a Sazerac cocktail, originally made with cognac, absinthe, bitters and a little sugar.
The so-called Millennial Generation has shown a taste for whiskey, reviving sales after years of decline. Drinkers had trended to vodka, tequila and other light-colored distilled products. Consumption of bourbon, with its sweetness and pastoral Kentucky and Tennessee aura, plateaued. Rye whiskey, identified with industrial Pennsylvania, faded into near oblivion.
The younger drinkers are changing that. Consumption of brown liquor is increasing. More bartenders on the West Coast know how to make a decent Sazerac cocktail. The about-to-close Veritable Quandary restaurant in Portland even offered tasty variations called “Diplomatic Victory” and “Diplomatic Immunity.” (The VQ will supposedly be reincarnated at a nearby location.)
Liquor-store shelves now display an assortment of rye brands. The label closely identified with the less-sweet whiskey, “Old Overholt,” is making a comeback. If you’re a whiskey drinker, especially rye, thank a millennial for helping its return to prominence.